Psychosocial Impact of Fracking: a Review of the Literature on the Mental Health Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing

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The process of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial energy acquisition technique often viewed with disdain by the public, due to its potential for environmental harm. However, the mental health and psychological well-being of fracking communities, including potential benefits and detriments, are often overlooked. We reviewed the literature on the association between fracking and psychological functioning, finding that although persons living in fracking communities may experience some minimal, initial benefits such as land lease income or infrastructure development, they may also experience worry, anxiety, and depression about lifestyle, health, safety, and financial security, as well as exposure to neurotoxins and changes to the physical landscape. Indeed, entire communities can experience collective trauma as a result of the “boom/bust” cycle that often occurs when industries impinge on community life. Impacted communities are often already vulnerable, including poor, rural, or indigenous persons, who may continue to experience the deleterious effects of fracking for generations. An influx of workers to fracking communities often stokes fears about outsiders and crime; yet, it must be recognized that this population of mobile workers is also vulnerable, often ostracized, and without social support. Practitioners, researchers, and policy makers alike should continue to investigate the potential psychological ramifications of fracking, so that effective and targeted intervention strategies can be developed, disseminated, and implemented to improve mental health in fracking communities.