While environmentalists have long attempted to link hydraulic fracturing to earthquakes and air pollution, a study suggests this burgeoning extraction process can also lead to gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Hydraulic fracturing — more commonly referred to as fracking — is the process by which pressurized liquid breaks apart rock, allowing the capture of natural gas and other resources. While the new technique has unleashed a U.S. shale oil boom, it remains controversial among environmentalists.
There now appears to be concerns with hydraulic fracturing and sexual disease. Increased fracking activity in Ohio has resulted in higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, according to a study conducted at the Yale Public School of Health. Yale researchers found that cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea increased approximately 20 percent in Ohio counties with high developments of shale.
How can such an industrial process lead to issues in the bedroom?
Nicole Deziel, the study’s lead author, argues that out-of-state workers are typically brought in because of their specialized skills. These employees — mostly single, straight men — bring with them their “masculinized social norms” as they work at camps located in rural areas. These men are theoretically having more casual sex with the locals and rising the rates of STDs. The study notes that in nine eastern Ohio counties where high shale development is taking place, a 21-percent increase in gonorrhea and a 19-percent increase in chlamydia took place.
Syphilis rates were notably unaffected, but this is presumably because the disease is more associated with homosexual intercourse.
However, these findings have been seriously questioned. Experts have pointed out that STD rates have been climbing in Ohio since before the introduction of hydraulic fracturing.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the shale gas industry directly, but to do with population growth,” stated Dr. Charlotte Gaydos, an STD expert at Johns Hopkins University, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “It makes sense anytime there’s an activity in the area which increases the influx of the migration of a population that it might be associated. It has been studied a lot.” (RELATED: Fracking Has Cut More CO2 Emissions Than All Renewable Energy Combined)
Others have been more critical of the findings.
“There are no conclusions from this study: only potential and possible links,” said Jackie Stewart, state director of Energy In Depth. “It’s a bit dubious,” Stewart went on. “[The researchers] fail to explain the rise in cases of STIs in the decade prior to shale development, but go to great lengths to highlight an increase in the years since.”
Stewart pointed out the county in Ohio with the biggest rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2016 was Hamilton — a county with no shale wells.
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