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Ohio Utica Shale

Federal agency looking at health of workers involved in fracking

By Bob Downing Published: May 19, 2014

From Bloomberg News today:

By Jim Efstathiou Jr.

The Obama administration is investigating the health risks of hydraulic fracturing after at least four deaths among oilfield workers since 2010 in North Dakota and Montana.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said the workers were exposed to high levels of volatile hydrocarbons during the drilling process known as fracking.

"NIOSH is actively conducting research on exposures for workers," Christina Spring, a spokeswoman with NIOSH’s parent agency, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, said today in an e-mail.

Fracking that has helped push U.S. oil and gas production to record levels also has spurred worries about tainted water as well as earthquakes triggered by pumping the wasterwater underground.

In fracking, chemically treated water and sand are injected into shale rock to free trapped oil and gas. When the fluid returns to the surface as wastewater, it contains volatile hydrocarbons from the rock formation, according to the NIOSH. The fluid is temporarily stored in tanks or pits on the surface.

Hydrocarbons can affect the eyes, lungs and nervous system and at high levels also may lead to an abnormal heartbeat, NIOSH said today in a blog post. Workers can be at risk when they measure the fluid in the tanks with hand-held gauges using access hatches.

Williston Basin

The deaths occurred at wells in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana, the institute said, citing media reports and government agencies. Some of the deaths remain under investigation.

"Often these fatalities occurred when the workers were performing their duties alone," according to the blog post.

The institute is asking oil and gas drillers to help assess the risks of exposure to chemicals in used fracking fluids. It is recommending that companies develop different ways to measure the fluid stored in tanks and to provide hazard awareness training.

"We are also looking to convene a meeting in the near future with our partners to look at the data that we currently have and discuss a path forward in collecting additional data, potentially through environmental sampling or other avenues," NIOSH’s Spring said.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group for the oil and gas industry, had no immediate comment on the agency’s posting.

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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.