(Photo credit: Daniel Foster / Flickr)

About two decades ago, natural gas production in the U.S. began to boom, largely because of the growth of fracking – a technique for extracting large volumes of gas from deep underground.

Burning natural gas produces less carbon pollution and releases fewer harmful particles to the air than burning coal. But Barbara Gottlieb of the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility says fracking is not without its own consequences for human health.

She says the process can emit toxic pollution, such as benzene and formaldehyde, into water and the air.

And there’s a growing body of research associating active fracking sites with a range of symptoms, from headaches to premature births.

“That’s how extreme these problems are, and they’re terribly worrisome for health professionals,” Gottlieb says.

She says the natural gas industry also contributes to health risks far beyond a fracking site.

“Methane leaks from the wells,” she says. “It leaks from the pipelines and the compressor stations.”

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributes to global warming and the health risks it causes – from heat-related illness to injuries and even death during extreme storms and flooding.

So Physicians for Social Responsibility has called for a ban on fracking and a rapid transition to clean energy instead.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.