International Human Rights & Fracking. Sisters of Mercy Guide

A Guide to Rights-Based Advocacy -International Human Rights Law and Fracking.

This Guide is produced by the Sisters of Mercy (NGO), Mercy International Association: Global Action, enjoying special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. We wish to thank Franciscans International for their consultation in its development.


The hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry is booming. So are industry cash settlements and property buyouts for people who say fracking has ruined their water, lowered their house prices and destroyed their quality of life. From farm animals dropping dead overnight to low birth weights in human infants, fracking is becoming synonymous with harm, and the process is seen to harm ecosystems, as well as animal and human health.

Often overlooked in the fracking debate is the fact that fracking can breach international human rights law in multiple ways. What can also be overlooked is the fact that existing international human rights mechanisms are available to people on the ground in asserting their rights.

This Guide aims to contribute to the debate on fracking by outlining how International Human Rights Law can empower and reposition people and communities as rights-holders, providing an extensive overview of accountability mechanisms to address threats or harms from fracking. These can be many and include violations to the right to health, water, food, housing, freedom of information and expression, the rights of children, and the cultural and collective rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and peasant communities.

As with all new and emerging technologies, the risks and negative impacts of fracking are also new and emerging, and the legal frame- work must keep pace with these consequences.

This challenges civil society actors to contrib- ute to the dialogue and debate about what is appropriate in the name of economic progress and the thirst for fuel and, conversely, what must be halted or changed.

We hope that this Guide will contribute to the improvement of environmental, social and economic policy with regard to fracking and, indeed, as policy applies to any other extractive technology or activity seeking to affect or exploit the natural environment.

As such, this Guide is also a tool for govern- ments as a reminder of their responsibilities both toward their citizens and in preventing rights violations by non-state actors such as extractive industries.

Primarily, however, this is a guide for action by individuals in claiming their rights. Whether you as a reader are an individual affected by fracking in your community, or belong to a campaigning group wishing to highlight global concerns, you can use this Guide to take action.

The Guide focuses on how the existing international human rights framework can be applied to the issue of hydraulic fracturing with a view to understanding the impact of fracking on human rights and how action can prevent human rights violations.

The business sector can also benefit from using this Guide to become better informed about its responsibilities in upholding people’s rights and respecting the Earth.


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Known and Potential Impacts of Fracking

  • Water pollution
  • Air pollution
  • Damage to crops and livestock
  • Earthquakes
  • Deforestation
  • Significant greenhouse gas emissions
  • Noise pollution
  • Property damage
  • Devaluation of home values
  • Higher traffic accident rates
  • Localized inflation as temporary workers drive up prices
  • Risks for human life and health, and that of other species

Many risks are unknown due to restrictions on freedom of information about fracking operations.

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There are many known potential impacts of fracking, and the study of fracking risks is growing rapidly. Of the known potential impacts, water pollution has likely received the most attention, but the process also poses risks of air pollution, damage to crops and livestock, earthquakes, deforestation, significant greenhouse emissions, noise pollution, property damage and devaluation of homes, higher traffic accident rates and localized inflation as temporary workers drive up prices. Related to water and air pollution, there are significant risks for human life and health, and that of other species.

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The existing international human rights framework has evolved to the point of recognizing the interdependence between human rights and the integrity of the environment, which are often violated and/or promoted simultaneously. To this end there is a growing understanding that:

“Human rights law … recognizes that human rights and environmental protection depend on each other. To enjoy human rights fully, it is necessary to have a safe and healthy environment; and to have a safe and healthy environment, it is critical to protect human rights.” 17

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A report by the New York Depart- ment of Health102 notes that “There are numerous historical examples of the negative impact of rapid and concentrated increases in extractive resource development resulting in indirect community impacts such as interference with quality-of-life (e.g., noise, odors), overburdened transportation andhealth infrastructure, and dispro- portionate increases in social problems, particularly in small isolated rural communities.”


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