When New York state was considering whether or not to permit the fossil fuel extraction method known as fracking in the mid-2010s, a group of scientists and health professionals researched all the peer-reviewed studies they could find on the topic. They collected about 400 papers, assembling them together into easy-to-understand language, with findings that there are both negative health and climate impacts from natural gas fracking, which is still widely used in neighboring Pennsylvania.
Dr. Sandra Steingraber is a biologist and one of the scientists who worked on the project called the Compendium on Fracking. Their research helped convince then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York. Steingraber’s group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, has released a compendium every year since 2014. The 9th edition, published in collaboration with Physicians for Social Responsibility, was just released in October 2023.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Dr. Steingraber about the 2,500 peer-reviewed studies now included in a fully searchable public document, with an emphasis on the hazards of gas stoves and liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
So public health data tends to be very, what we call, noisy. But in this case with fracking, it’s very consistent. Ninety percent of the studies that have gone out to look to see if there are risks and harms of fracking have found them. And so as we continue to release these updated studies, we also began to expand our focus because people were asking us questions about, “Well, what about pipelines and compressor stations and fracked gas power plants? What about gas storage facilities and the sand-mining that accompanies frack mining? And what about gas stoves inside our home, which represent the terminus of the fracking pipeline?”
So with each addition that we’ve released over the years, we have added new chapters and new subject matters to it. And so this year, we took a really close look at gas stoves and gas appliances. And from our perspective as public health scientists, we see the combustion of fracked gas inside of our homes as the terminus of the fracking pipeline.
Literally, the pipeline begins where the fracked gas comes out of the ground and the shale bedrock is shattered, and it ends inside of our own kitchens with the combustion of that fracked gas, which leads to indoor air pollutants.
It’s very clear that they create risks for health, namely asthma in children, but also heart attack and stroke risk in adults. And so this edition is getting a lot of attention, I think, because people have deep emotional feelings and, of course, deep familiarity with their kitchen stoves in ways that compressor stations and flare stacks and other parts of the fracking infrastructure project we don’t have this sort of domestic, intimate relationship with. I’m a single mom myself. I would make dinner on my stove while overseeing homework at the kitchen counters.
MELINDA TUHUS: People have been cooking with gas stoves in their homes for decades and nobody knew that it was a problem. So how are they showing health impacts?
DR. SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, we were surprised to find that gas stoves have been studied thoroughly to look at their impact on respiratory health with data going back to the 70s. There are dozens of studies. They’re all very consistent and they’re all very troubling. And so our job, as scientists in the public interest, was to really pull all of these studies together out of this sort of obscurity of the peer-reviewed medical literature, translate them into plain-spoken English and then present them to the public. And that is what we do in all the chapters of the compendiums, according to 16 topic areas.
But we also then look at trends in the data across topic areas and summarize those so you don’t have to read all 2,500 footnotes to get a sense of what the trends look like. And so we do this for gas stoves, but we also do it for pipelines. We also do it for flare stacks and compressor stations. We look at risks for earthquakes. We look at risks for radiation exposure. We look at air pollution, water contamination, climate risks, health risks of all kinds, worker health and safety issues. So we have chapters on all of these things.
MELINDA TUHUS: So one other thing I wanted to ask you about is that over the last several years, the US has become the top exporter of liquified natural gas, so-called, or LNG, which has such a huge carbon footprint and also huge implications for public health, especially in the Gulf Coast where most of them are located. Does your new compendium look at the latest on that?
DR. SANDRA STEINGRABER: LNG is a big topic for our new compendium. It has its own chapter and is identified in the front matter as one of the big trends, yes. Liquified natural gas is the form of fracked gas that we use when we want to sell gas to some place where pipelines don’t reach, namely across oceans. And so liquified natural gas is actually created not through pressure — you can’t actually liquefy methane and turn it into a gas. You have to use cryogenics. And so it’s super chilled down to -400 degrees, where it turns into a liquid and is more compact. The volume than shrinks remarkably. And so you can load it on ships and send those ships to some other nation state.
So we are basically shattering the bedrock of our nation to extract this vapor, methane, carbon with four hydrogens around it, liquefy it and send it all around the world. And there are risks and harms to the communities where the LNG terminals are located. It’s a lot of air pollution because in order to purify the gas during the chilling process, there are a lot of impurities in the gas that would freeze, and you have to vent those out and that includes benzene. So a lot of these dangerous other hydrocarbons that are mixed in with the gas are vented into the communities where LNG is created in order to super chill the gas and load it on the ships.
For more information, visit Concerned Health Professionals of New York’s website at
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