What health considerations are there?


Mobile labor forces can contribute to disease transmission within a community, whether they consist of long-haul truckers, migrant farm workers, military personnel, or, in this case, industry workers assigned to shale development sites during the exploratory drilling and development phases. 1

In North America, the main reported communicable disease risk for communities undergoing shale gas development 2 appears to be an increase in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases – notably chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – introduced by project workers as they pursue sexual contacts with local partners (see the Social Impacts section). In Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, for example, one study found that the average increase in the occurrence of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases was 62% greater in counties experiencing shale development over those that were not. 3  In another example, syphilis rates began rising in Alberta, Canada along with tar sands development in the province. 4

There is some debate about whether adverse impacts such as an increase in the disease burden or increased crime levels are proportionate to the increase in population or are due to the particular characteristics of the temporary workforce. It is nonetheless evident that such increases, whether absolute or proportionate, can place a health burden on local health care infrastructure and resources, particularly in smaller communities. 5 


  1. Yorghos Apostolopoulos and Sevil Sonmez (eds.), Population Mobility and Infectious Disease (New York: 2007).
  2. In other parts of the world, shale gas development may pose more of a disease risk for industry workers, where the rate of endemic disease is high, both vector-borne and through person-to-person transmission — e.g., illnesses like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and cholera.  Food and drinking water contamination may also pose risks for itinerant workers in some regions.  In North America, particularly in the northeast, there can be exposure to Lyme disease through tick bites, and the industry should caution workers to wear protective clothing in certain areas.
  3. Food and Water Watch, “The Social Costs of Fracking:  A Pennsylvania Case Study” (September 24, 2013).
  4. Josh Wingrove, “Alberta’s Rate of Syphilis Infection Still Rising,” The Globe and Mail, last modified August 23, 2012.
  5. Ron Dutton and George Blankenship, “Socioeconomic Effects of Natural Gas Development” (Denver, Colorado:  August 2010), paper prepared to support NTC Consultants under contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 23.