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Unconventional natural gas and environmental exposure

Hydraulic fracturing typically involves the drilling of wells vertically and then horizontally in the natural gas reserve, and the injection of large volume of fracking fluid (water, sand and various chemicals) to fracture the rock formation, freeing the trapped natural gas. Northeastern British Columbia is an area of intensive unconventional natural gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The region sits on an important source of natural gas, the Montney Formation. Approximately 30,000 wells have been drilled so far in Northeastern British Columbia. Information on impacts of hydraulic fracturing activity is limited, but recent literature highlighted the risk of environmental contamination. Some chemicals used or associated with hydraulic fracturing may contaminate the soil by accidental spills, leaks, or during disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids. It is also known that hydraulic fracturing operations can release volatile organic compounds such as benzene, as well as trace elements naturally occurring in the rock formation. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected reproductive and development toxicants, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and respiratory irritants.


Communities and First Nations in Northeastern British Columbia raised concerns about the health effects associated with this industry. To answer the concerns of the communities regarding hydraulic fracturing, we have developed multiple research projects.

Quantifying environmental exposure to contaminants emitted by hydraulic fracturing in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada

Given the challenges associated with environmental and biological monitoring of contaminants, our team is generating comprehensive data to better understand the impacts of fracking operations on air quality in Northeastern British Columbia, the region producing 25% of natural gas in Canada. Our team is developing chemical transport models to estimate exposure to air contaminants known to be released during fracking operations. We will also investigate if these modeled fracking emissions are associated with the density and proximity of fracking wells. Finally, we will investigate the associations between the modelled air pollution data and levels of volatile organic compounds measured in indoor air, tap water and urine samples of the EXPERIVA cohort.

This project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering (University of Toronto) and the University of Toronto Scarborough. 

Principal Investigators:

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Marianne Hatzopoulou (Faculty of Engineering, University of Toronto)


Environmental exposure to particulate matter in pregnant women living in a region of intensive hydraulic fracturing activity in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada

It is known that hydraulic fracturing can impact air and water quality through the release of various contaminants such as volatile organic compounds and trace elements. We are currently measuring the exposure of the EXPERIVA study participants to these chemicals. This project aims to complement the environmental monitoring of EXPERIVA by estimating the exposure of the participants to other stressors like particulate matter. Particulate matter is a broad class of aerosols emitted during hydraulic fracturing operations via the use of diesel trucks and generators on sites of natural gas exploitation. 


Specifically, the aims of this project are to:

1) Collect data on particulate matter concentrations in Northeastern British Columbia during the pregnancy of the EXPERIVA study participants

2) Estimate the exposure of the EXPERIVA study participants to particulate matter using a modified version of the Inverse Distance Weighting calculation. 

Principal Investigator:

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin (University of Toronto Scarborough)


Marc-André Verner (Université de Montréal)

Kristina Walker Whitworth (Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, USA)



XSeed Program (University of Toronto Scarborough and Faculty of Engineering, University of Toronto)

Research Competitiveness Funds (University of Toronto Scarborough)

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