The US Department of Labors Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a hazard alert for workers at fracking sites using silica in the extraction process.
Among the many concerns related to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking (the practice of extracting natural gas from shale rock deep underground), the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just added another one. In a recent news release, OSHA issued a hazard alert for employees working on fracking operations where fine sands—or silica—are used in the extraction process.
Why is silica used?
Silica—different-sized particles of sand, usually crystalline quartz—is driven deep into shale deposits along with millions of gallons of water, viscous gels, and other toxic chemicals to crack open the dense rock formations to release gas.
Data collected by the US National Institute for the Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at several fracturing sites in the US found that employees who worked downwind of fracking equipment used to mix, move, and blend different sands “had the highest silica exposures.”
What's the problem with silica?
OSHA’s hazard alert states, “Workers who breathe silica day after day are at greater risk of developing silicosis, a disease in which lung tissue reacts to trapped silica particles, causing inflammation and scarring, and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Silica also can cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease.”
"Frac sand" used in Canada too
According to news reports, many fracking sites in Canada depend heavily on “frac sand” in their operations. An energy industry proposal would propel $1 billion worth of silica sand into shale rock formations in northeastern BC where the Horn River, Liard, and Montney Basins are located.