Study: Fracking Leads to Higher Heart Attack Risks

A Black man holding his chest

Nipitphon Na Chiangmai / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A study published in April found that higher levels of fracking activity were associated with more heart attacks.
  • Middle-aged men, who make up most of the workers in hydraulic fracturing-related industries, were most likely to die from heart attacks.
  • Health issues related to hydraulic fracturing may pose a burden on rural healthcare.

Doctors have criticized fracking (hydraulic fracturing), a drilling method used to extract natural gas or oil from the earth, for contributing to health issues like asthma, birth defects, and even cancer. Now, a new study is linking the practice to heart attacks.

Researchers reviewed data from 2005 to 2015 on unconventional natural gas development and acute myocardial infarction—a heart attack—in counties in New York, where fracking is banned, and Pennsylvania, where it is not.

The researchers found that heart attack rates were higher in Pennsylvania residents. Areas with higher fracking activity were associated with 1.4% to 2.8% increases in heart attack hospitalizations, varying a bit per age group and per level of fracking activity.

The April study was published in the Environmental Research journal.

The Marcellus Formation—a sedimentary rock buried thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface—stretches across the New York State and Pennsylvania border. In Pennsylvania, it's used for fracking. Because both areas share similar geography and demographics, researchers decided to compare counties in both states.

Fracking Leads to Air Pollution and Stress

The researchers also found that there was a 5.4% increase in heart attack deaths in men between the ages of 45 and 54. "It was interesting to see such consistency in our findings for the group of middle-aged men," Alina Denham, MS, a PhD candidate at the University of Rochester and one of the authors of the study, tells Verywell. "We did not specifically hypothesize this, but this finding makes sense."

Men are more likely to be working in fracking-related industries, making them more likely to be exposed to most exposed to fracking-related air pollutants.

Although the research didn't examine the exact reasons why fracking may cause heart attacks, "air pollution and stress are two potential ways, as these are recognized risk factors of heart attacks," Denham says.

Air pollution can lead to greater cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. And the light and noise pollution workers are exposed to when operating the fracking wells is also associated with increased stress, which is another contributor to CVD.

What This Means For You

If you live in the United States and want to learn more about potential hydraulic fracturing in your area, you can visit the FracTracker Alliance website or use its app. You can select a state from the list on its website to explore data and maps about oil and gas activity.

A Burden on Rural Health Care

Previous research shows that fracking pollutes the air with compounds such as Benzene, Ethylbenzene, m/p-Xylene, and o-Xylene, which are all linked to different health issues. Since fracking often takes place in rural areas in the U.S., fracking may be posing a threat to rural hospitals, which continue to struggle due to a lack of resources.

"To the extent that hydraulic fracturing is prevalent in rural areas, as is the case in [Pennsylvania] and most of the United States, and given that rural health care, in general, is becoming less accessible, it would be accurate to say that," Denham adds.

Moving away from fracking and creating more "green-collar" jobs—those geared to sustainability and other environmental causes—may offer some health benefits for workers, if it reduces their exposure to air pollution and other harmful chemicals. "Transitioning to wind power or other 'greener' energy sources could reduce exposure to air emissions from energy extraction," study co-author Elaine L. Hill, PhD, a University of Rochester associate professor, tells Verywell.

However, not all "green-collar" jobs are risk-free. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work notes that "reducing the amount of waste being sent to landfills, for example, has resulted in higher rates of accidents and illnesses among workers whose job it is to process it." The agency argues that these green industries need "to make sure that they benefit workers' safety and health, as well as the environment."

Reducing Your Risk of Cardiac Issues

Experts stress the importance for doctors and other relevant health professionals to inform people in rural areas about these CVD health risks. "We do think that clinicians and public health workers can play a significant role in raising awareness about exposure to hydraulic fracturing increasing risk of heart attack," Denham says.

If you live or have lived near areas where hydraulic fracturing takes place, it may also be helpful to inform your doctor. "For example, if one has other risk factors of heart disease that are more modifiable than their environmental exposures, this can be an area of focus for them," Denham says. "If they can reduce the exposure, by purchasing an air filter, for example, this can also help."

Other steps you can take to reduce your risk of or control heart disease include:

  • Prevent or control high blood pressure
  • Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control
  • Aim for a healthy weight
  • Get regular exercise
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol
  • Avoid smoking
  • Manage stress levels
  • Manage diabetes if you have this condition
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Physicians for Social Responsibility, Concerned Health Professionals of NY. Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction).

  2. Denham A, Willis M, Croft D, Liu L, Hill E. Acute myocardial infarction associated with unconventional natural gas development: a natural experimentEnviron Res. 2021;195:110872. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2021.110872

  3. Lee B, Kim B, Lee K. Air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseaseToxicol Res. 2014;30(2):71-75. doi:10.5487/tr.2014.30.2.071

  4. Wollin K-M, Damm G, Foth H, et al. Critical evaluation of human health risks due to hydraulic fracturing in natural gas and petroleum production. Arch Toxicol. 2020;94(4):967-1016. doi:10.1007/s00204-020-02758-7

  5. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Workers’ safety and health in green jobs.

By Julia Métraux
Julia Métraux is a health and culture writer specializing in disability.