Five years of Shale Gas: Public Health Impacts

The evidence is now clear

Five years ago, American Journal of Public Health  published an article discussing
the potential harm to the environment and human health from horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing of shale. At that time the USA were importing oil and gas to meet their demands but the price at pump was high so the pressure to explore locally.

Since 2011, there has been not only a surge in drilling for natural gas and oil in the United
States (e.g., California, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania,
Texas) and in other countries (e.g., Australia), but also a huge increase in the number of published studies focused on environmental and public health impacts associated
with UGD (unconventional gas development).

After five years, the same journal published an update stating that the evidence is clear of the harmful effects on human health and environment from UGD and advises focusing on policies.

We again stress the importance, indeed urgency, to focus on fair and sensible energy
policies, and to be mindful of the implications that such policies have on our environment and on population health. Ignoring the body of evidence, to us, is not viable option anymore.

Read the entire article here.

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GEAI calls for study of Public Health impacts of Fracking

GEAI members are very concerned about the recent revelations concerning the main contractor (CDM Smith Ireland) of the EPA-led research on Fracking, as published in an article by Ronan McGreevy in today’s Irish Times.

“The confirmation of strong links between CDM Smith and the oil and gas industry calls into question the independence of the researchers and the trustworthiness of any research results,” said Dr Aedín McLoughlin, spokesperson of GEAI.  “This research study was initially proposed to assist Government to make policy decisions about fracking in Ireland.  Instead what we have is a study led by a company engaged in promoting fracking in Europe and focussed on developing regulations that could enable the fracking industry to operate in Ireland.  There is no policy dimension at all in the study.

The main issues of concern to us all are the impacts of fracking operations – exploration and development – on Public Health.  The vast majority of submissions to the EPA concerning this research demanded a full study of such impacts and only lip service is currently being paid to those demands.

We now call on the Government to immediately commission a full study of the Public Health impacts of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction, led by the Public Health Division of the Department of Health and HSE, including a review of all peer-reviewed literature on the subject such as was carried out in New York State recently.  Such a study is vital to the development of policy on Fracking. ”

An inspiring meeting in Glenfarne

Janice Raine-Conick, Julia Walsh, John Armstrong, Renee Vogelsang, Aedín McLoughlin and Irina Tiugan.

Janice Raine-Conick, Julia Walsh, John Armstrong, Renee Vogelsang, Aedín McLoughlin and Irina Tiugan.

Three leaders of the New York Campaign against Fracking – Julia Walsh, Renee Vogelsang and John Armstrong – told the story of their success in getting a review of the Public Health impacts of Fracking by the New York State Department of Health, followed by consideration of the review and a full ban on fracking by Governor Cuomo.

Julia, spokesperson of New York Frack Action said that from the beginning the aim of the campaign was a full Ban on Fracking and for seven years, the campaign repeated this demand. A key component of the campaign was their “Dear Governor Cuomo” strategy, where campaigners followed the Governor and protested at every event he attended. “In the end, if we were not there protesting, he assumed he had arrived at the wrong venue!” Julia joked. On a more serious note, she reiterated the importance of being visible to the person making the decision; “If that is your Minister for Energy, shadow him, be visible, don’t let him think you are gone away.”

John Armstrong warned against the common refrain of the oil and gas industry where they propose to frack, “We’re going to get it right!”. “They will promise you gold standard regulations, consultation, money, anything to convince you that this time all will be well,” said John. “But everywhere they go, they are followed by well failures, air pollution, water contamination and sicknesses in communities. Like cigarettes, regulations don’t make fracking safe!”

Renee warned that the campaign against fracking is not just about science – organisation is essential. Writing, demonstrating, getting a political mandate. We have to create a megaphone of our voices so that we reach every member of the public. The most important aim of the campaign – DO NOT LET FRACKING INTO IRELAND!

The three campaigners were hosted by Good Energies Alliance Ireland, Love Leitrim and Northwest Network Against Fracking during their visit to Ireland.

FRACKING BY THE NUMBERS

How big is the fracking industry?

Environment America have produced a report which gives a startling picture of the extent of fracking in US and some of the impacts caused by this industry.  [Download report] “Fracking by the Numbers” needs wide circulation – the scale of the industry and its use of land, water and chemicals is not realised; neither is the scale of the impacts of fracking on water use and contamination as well as air emissions.  The following is a synopsis:

National Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Fracking

• Fracking Wells since 2005 82,000
• Toxic Wastewater Produced in 2012 (billion gallons) 280
• Water Used since 2005 (billion gallons) 250
• Chemicals Used since 2005 (billion gallons) 2
• Air Pollution in One Year (tons) 450,000
• Land Directly Damaged since 2005 (acres) 360,000

Toxic wastewater:

Fracking produces enormous volumes of toxic wastewater—often containing cancer-causing and even radioactive material. Once brought to the surface, this toxic waste poses hazards for drinking water, air quality and public safety:

  • Fracking wells nationwide produced an estimated 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012.
  • This toxic wastewater often contains cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, and has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. In New Mexico alone, waste pits from all oil and gas drilling have contaminated groundwater on more than 400 occasions.
  • Scientists have linked underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes.
Water use:

Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well.

  • Fracking operations have used at least 250 billion gallons of water since 2005.
  • While most industrial uses of water return it to the water cycle for further use, fracking converts clean water into toxic wastewater, much of which must then be permanently disposed of, taking billions of gallons out of the water supply annually.
  • Farmers are particularly impacted by fracking water use as they compete with the deep-pocketed oil and gas industry for water, especially in drought-stricken regions of the country.
Chemical use:

Fracking uses a wide range of chemicals, many of them toxic.

  • Operators have hauled more than 2 billion gallons of chemicals to thousands of fracking sites around the country.
  • In addition to other health threats, many of these chemicals have the potential to cause cancer.
  • These toxics can enter drinking water supplies from leaks and spills, through well blowouts, and through the failure of disposal wells receiving fracking wastewater.
Air pollution:

Fracking-related activities release thousands of tons of health-threatening air pollution.

  • Nationally, fracking released 450,000 tons of pollutants into the air that can have immediate health impacts.
  • Air pollution from fracking contributes to the formation of ozone “smog,” which reduces lung function among healthy people, triggers asthma attacks, and has been linked to increases in school absences, hospital visits and premature death. Other air pollutants from fracking and the fossil-fuel-fired machinery used in fracking have been linked to cancer and other serious health effects.
Global warming pollution:

Fracking produces significant volumes of global warming pollution.

  • Methane, which is a global warming pollutant 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is released at multiple steps during fracking, including during hydraulic fracturing and well completion, and in the processing and transport of gas to end users.
  • Global warming emissions from completion of fracking wells since 2005 total an estimated 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Damage to our natural heritage:

Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.

  • Infrastructure to support fracking has damaged 360,000 acres of land for drilling sites, roads and pipelines since 2005.
  • Forests and farmland have been replaced by well pads, roads, pipelines and other gas infrastructure, resulting in the loss of wildlife habitat and fragmentation of remaining wild areas. In Colorado, fracking has already damaged 57,000 acres of land, equal to one-third of the acreage in the state’s park system.
  • The oil and gas industry is seeking to bring fracking into our national forests, around several of our national parks, and in watersheds that supply drinking water to millions of Americans.
Fracking has additional impacts not quantified here

—including contamination of residential water wells by fracking fluids and methane leaks; vehicle and workplace accidents, earthquakes and other public safety risks; and economic and social damage including ruined roads and damage to nearby farms.

To address the environmental and public health threats from fracking across the nation:

States should prohibit fracking. Given the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts, constructing a regulatory regime sufficient to protect the environment and public health from dirty drilling—much less enforcing such safeguards at more than 80,000 wells, plus processing and waste disposal sites across the country—seems implausible. In states where fracking is already underway, an immediate moratorium is in order. In all other states, banning fracking is the prudent and necessary course to protect the environment and public health.

• Given the drilling damage that state officials have allowed fracking to incur thus far, at a minimum, federal policymakers must step in and close the loopholes exempting fracking from key provisions of our nation’s environmental laws.

• Federal officials should also protect America’s natural heritage by keeping fracking away from our national parks, national forests, and sources of drinking water for millions of Americans.

• To ensure that the oil and gas industry—rather than taxpayers, communities or families—pays the costs of fracking damage, policymakers should require robust financial assurance from fracking operators at every well site.

More complete data on fracking should be collected and made available to the public, enabling us to understand the full extent of the harm that fracking causes to our environment and health.

Defining “Fracking”

In this report, when we refer to the impacts of “fracking,” we include impacts resulting from all of the activities needed to bring a shale gas or oil well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracturing operations that use at least 100,000 gallons of water), to operate that well, and to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of “fracking” that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured—a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction.

Will the EPA include a Health Impact Assessment in the new research study?

Glass of milky brown water in DimockOver 1,300 submissions were received by the EPA concerning the proposed Terms of Reference for their new Research Study on fracking. The majority of those demanded a study on the impacts of Health on the whole process of fracking.
Among many other individuals and groups, GEAI demanded a full Health Impact Assessment (HIA). We believe that only this can give a true picture of the impacts of fracking on health and the community. Attention is now turning to the process of scoping and carrying out this study. One of the rights of individuals under the Aarhus Convention (ratified by the Irish Government last year) is public participation in environmental decision-making:
Arrangements are to be made by public authorities to enable the public affected and environmental non-governmental organisations to comment on, for example, proposals for projects affecting the environment, or plans and programmes relating to the environment, these comments to be taken into due account in decision-making, and information to be provided on the final decisions and the reasons for it.”
Two conclusions can be reached:
1. Since most of the submissions received looked for Health impacts to be studied, the EPA now has to either agree to this, or give the reasons why not.
Indications are that they have agreed to include some form of Health study but the public must be informed as to what kind of study is proposed and we can demand input into this decision as well. Nothing less than a full Health Impact Assessment would be adequate.
2. There are fundamental flaws in the process by which this study is being managed.
  • There is no representation from the target communities on the Steering Committee managing this study; neither are there members from the Departments of Health or Agriculture.
  • There is no accountability to the public since the EPA and associated organisations have immunity from prosecution.
  • There are no further proposals to enable the public affected to comment on amended Terms of Reference, the scope of the research study, or draft reports.
The “public consultation” we have had, although a step in the right direction, is not enough. The public MUST be involved at every stage of this extremely important study. We have seen how public opinion and lobbying can influence Government decisions. We now must demand input into the research study process.
Picture: Glass of milky brown water in Dimock, Pennsylvania (From Marcellus Protest)

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