Systematic review of the association between oil and natural gas extraction processes and human reproduction

Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep 15;106(4):795-819. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.07.1099. Epub 2016 Aug 25.


This systematic review identified 45 original published research articles related to oil and gas extraction activities and human reproductive endpoints. Reproductive outcomes were categorized as [1] birth outcomes associated with maternal exposure, [2] semen quality, fertility, and birth outcomes associated with adult paternal exposure, [3] reproductive cancers, and [4] disruption of human sex steroid hormone receptors. The results indicate there is moderate evidence for an increased risk of preterm birth, miscarriage, birth defects, decreased semen quality, and prostate cancer. The quality of the evidence is low and/or inadequate for stillbirth, sex ratio, and birth outcomes associated with paternal exposure, and testicular cancer, female reproductive tract cancers, and breast cancer, and the evidence is inconsistent for an increased risk of low birth weight; therefore, no conclusions can be drawn for these health effects. There is ample evidence for disruption of the estrogen, androgen, and progesterone receptors by oil and gas chemicals, which provides a mechanistic rationale for how exposure to oil and gas activities may increase the health risks we have outlined. The results from this systematic review suggest there is a negative impact on human reproduction from exposure to oil and gas activities. Many of the 45 studies reviewed identified potential human health effects. Most of these studies focused on conventional oil and gas activities. Few studies have been conducted to evaluate the impact of unconventional oil and gas operations on human health. The impact of unconventional oil and gas activities may be greater than that of conventional activity, given that unconventional activities employ many of the same approaches and use dozens of known endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.

Keywords: Birth defects; cancer; endocrine disrupting chemicals; environmental pollution; fracking; hormonal activity; human reproduction; hydraulic fracturing; oil and natural gas; prenatal exposure; preterm birth; semen quality.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fertility / drug effects
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / chemically induced
  • Genital Neoplasms, Male / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Hydraulic Fracking
  • Infertility / chemically induced
  • Infertility / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Natural Gas / adverse effects*
  • Oil and Gas Fields*
  • Oil and Gas Industry*
  • Paternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Petroleum / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Receptors, Steroid / drug effects
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / pathology


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Natural Gas
  • Petroleum
  • Receptors, Steroid