General, Health and Environmental Concerns

An Overview

“Taking the Handle Off the Fracking Pump:  Human Rights and the Role of Public Health Inquiry in an Age of Extreme Fossil Fuel Extraction”  (Sandra Steingraber, PhD) Please click on this link for a comprehensive, well-written and compelling overview of the effects of oil & gas exploration.

Summary: Horizontal hydrofracking is a form of fossil fuel extraction that turns the earth inside out.  It buries a surface resource that is vital to life (fresh water) and brings to the surface subterranean substances–hydrocarbons, radioactivity, heavy metals, brine–that were once locked away in deep geological strata and which now require permanent containment. Before it is sent down the borehole, the fresh water used to fracture bedrock is mixed with inherently toxic materials.  These include known and suspected carcinogens, neurological toxicants, and chemicals linked to pregnancy loss.  At least one thousand truck trips are required to frack a single well.  These trucks–along with earth-moving equipment, compressors, and condensers–release or create soot, volatile organic compounds, and ozone.  Exposures to this kind of air pollution has demonstrable links to asthma, stroke, heart attack, cancers, and preterm birth. As the shale gas boom sweeps eastward into densely populated areas already struggling with air pollution and whose rivers provide drinking water for millions, public health inquiry is desperately needed to explicate the cumulative health impacts of fracking and to quantify their economic costs. This talk explored the human rights dimensions of fracking and the role of public health research within that context.  Of particular interest were the ethical questions of conducting such research in communities whose residents may be serving, in effect, as involuntary subjects in an ongoing, uncontrolled experiment.  How does our moral obligation to prevent harm square with attempts to monitor the evidence for harm?  What is relationship between mitigation and prevention?  When does research serve to sanction and legitimize polluting activities and when does it challenge them? (SOURCE: Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy Conference Lectures)

Further Study is Needed before We Forge Ahead

Health Effects of Fracking for Natural Gas Need Study, Says CDC Scientist, Bloomberg, Jan 4, 2012
The CDC (center for disease control & prevention) said “We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health,"said Christopher Portier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Fracking and Cancer

Report from Steingraber On Cancer Risk in Texas’s Fracking Zone: 

“ I feel that I am on firm ground—and so is Josh Fox—in saying that the breast cancer incidence in particular areas of Texas look different than the rest of the state and that these areas happen to be where fracking goes on intensely. Given that drilling and fracking operations involve releases of known and suspected breast carcinogens–and benzene is one–it is reasonable, and morally right, to ask if fracking might be involved with the creation of these patterns. Until the answers are in, benefit of the doubt goes to breasts, not to the chemicals thatcause cancer in breasts. And the burden of proof belongs on the shoulders of the gasindustry to demonstrate safety, not on the backs of women, who would have to suffer anddie order to demonstrate without a doubt that fracking causes breast cancer. When public health is at stake, the trigger for action is indication of harm, not proof of harm. Stop fracking. Do the research. Investigate these patterns.”

Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Infant Health: Evidence from Pennsylvania

“The immediate outcomes of interest are infant health at birth measures (low birth weight, premature
birth, small for gestational age and 5 minute APGAR scores). This study examines
singleton births to mothers residing close to an unconventional natural gas well from
2003-2010 in Pennsylvania. The di erence in di erences approach compares birth
outcomes before and after a gas well was completed for mothers who live 2.5 km
(approx. 1.5 miles) from gas development. The results suggest that exposure to
NGD before birth increases the overall prevalence of low birth weight by 25 percent,
increases overall prevalence of small for gestational age by 17 percent and reduces 5
minute APGAR scores, while little impact on premature birth is detected.”

Download full report here.

Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health

NEW SOLUTIONS, Vol. 22(1) 51-77, 2012, Scientific Solutions, MICHELLE BAMBERGER & ROBERT E. OSWALD
To describe how exposures may occur, and to report health effects, the authors of this study conducted interviews with animal owners in six states (Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas) affected by gas drilling.

Communities living near hydrocarbon gas drilling operations have become de facto laboratories for the study of environmental toxicology. The close proximity of these operations to small communities has created a variety of potential hazards to humans, companion animals, livestock and wildlife. These hazards have become amplified over the last 20 years, due in part to the large-scale development of shale gas drilling (horizontal drilling with high-volume hydraulic fracturing), encouraged by the support of increased drilling and exploration by U.S. government agencies [1]. Yet this large-scale industrialization of populated areas is moving forward without benefit of carefully controlled studies of its impact on public health. As part of an effort to obtain public health data, we believe that particular attention must be paid to companion animals, livestock, and wildlife, as they may serve as sentinels for human exposures, with shorter lifetimes and more opportunity for data collection from necropsies.

Click here to download the entire study

One Colorado Town Takes the Time to Study the Impacts Before Drilling

The Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment (HIA)
This document, commissioned by the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, provides objective information and evidence-based recommendations to increase the potential health benefits of natural gas drilling in the Battlement Mesa PUD, while minimizing potential health risks. (Read how this document came about through a citizen action group such as ours)

The summary of Findings and Regulations from this document makes some great key points:

What we know: Air pollution is a known hazard to the public health. There is sufficient information available to indicate that even with current practices and technologies the natural gas industry produces large amounts of air pollutants. In addition, Antero’s recent well development activities on the Watson Ranch pad resulted in short term health impacts. Antero has proposed additional mitigation measures for the project in Battlement Mesa but these mitigations are as yet untested. Further mitigation measures may be needed to reduce the likelihood of health effects. As it stands, the Antero project has the potential to pollute the air and negatively impact the public health in Battlement Mesa. Many information gaps exist.
What we do not know: Currently, there is not enough information to determine whether or not current federal, state, and COGCC regulations and rules are sufficient to protect public health from air pollution resulting from natural gas development and production in high population density areas such as the Battlement Mesa PUD.

What we know: Water pollution is hazardous to the public health. Garfield County Oil and Gas studies, EPA studies, and other studies demonstrate that natural gas development and production can release contaminants to domestic water supplies and compromise water quality. Individual circumstances can influence the potential contamination of water. In Garfield County, accidents and malfunctions have been the most common cause of water contamination from natural gas development and production. However, the Mamm Creek Hydrological Study indicates some impacts to groundwater, such as increased levels of chloride and methane, from routine natural gas operations. If a domestic water resource is contaminated, remediation is time and cost intensive and may not restore the water resource to a quality for domestic use.
What we do not know: The hydrogeology in Battlement Mesa has not been characterized and the relationship between groundwater, domestic water supplies, and the Colorado River in not well understood. The extent of the impact of routine natural gas development and production on water quality is not known. Systematic monitoring is needed to verify that ground water is not compromised by routine natural gas development and production operations. Systematic monitoring can also provide early warning if water becomes contaminated.

“Evaluating Potential Health Impacts of Natural Gas Development in a Residential Community using Health Impact Assessment”
VIDEO This presentation focused on the methodology and findings of this work, as well as discussing the strengths and limitations of the HIA and the consequences of political intrusions.