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Dana Drugmand
A Kinder-Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. marker in Otis State Forest identifying the path of the Connecticut expansion project that cuts through protected state forest land in Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

Fracking causes extensive environmental, health, safety harms, new study warns

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By Friday, Mar 16, 2018 Environment 8

In December, acclaimed biologist and anti-fracking activist Sandra Steingraber visited the Berkshires and spoke about the health and climate impacts of fracked gas and pipelines. Now, Steingraber and other health professionals have issued a stark warning that unconventional oil and gas drilling is causing serious health and safety hazards.

On Tuesday (March 13), the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social Responsibility released a comprehensive assessment of the risks associated with natural gas infrastructure and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

This hydrofracturing operation in Pennsylvania is adjacent to the Monongahela River and above an aquifer that are both endangered.

According to the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, Fifth Edition,” fracking “poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.” The report compiles over 1,300 scientific studies as well as investigative research from journalists and government agencies, providing brief summaries of the findings. Among the harms detailed are air and water pollution, public health effects and safety hazards, noise and light pollution, earthquakes, radioactive releases, exacerbation of climate change, threats to agriculture and soil quality, risks from fracking infrastructure, etc.

“What impressed us, as we reviewed and compiled the data, is just how extensive the impacts from drilling and fracking processes are,” said Steingraber, co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “Spikes in toxic air pollution accompany fracking wherever it goes. Drinking water is destroyed. Earthquakes are triggered. Abandoned wells leak. Pipelines explode. Climate-killing methane escapes from every component part. And nearby residents are suffering health problems consistent with their exposures – including newborn infants.”

The tendrils of hydrofracturing natural gas wells spread out on the Upper Green River Valley of Wyoming.

According to the report, public health concerns include low infant birth weight and preterm birth, respiratory impacts such as asthma, increased cancer risk, and occupational health and safety problems.

“All of the health impacts of methane gas are worrisome. Many of these health risks are borne heavily by people living near extraction wells, with scientific research showing an increased risk of respiratory disease, childhood cancer, and adverse pregnancy outcomes,” said Regina LaRocque, M.D., M.P.H., of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Fracking waste water is often stored in open waste pits such as these, near Summit, Pennsylvania. Leaks from pits can contaminate drinking water supplies.

 

Another concern is contamination of drinking water and groundwater from fracking and disposal of wastewater. “Repudiating industry claims of risk-free fracking, studies from across the United States present irrefutable evidence that groundwater contamination occurs as a result of fracking activities,” the Compendium states. Wastewater disposal presents a particular problem without adequate solutions, as the wastewater is laced with toxins. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company faced a disposal problem after hydrostatic testing of its Connecticut Expansion projectpipeline last fall resulted in over 500,000 gallons of contaminated water.

That pipeline, part of which runs through Otis State Forest, ignited intense local opposition including over 100 arrests of protestors. Many activists cited climate concerns as justification for their direct action against the pipeline. “To go further down the road of fossil fuel use is a gross violation of public safety,” Dennis Carr, one of those arrested for trespassing, stated during a September hearing in Southern Berkshire District Court.

The Compendium points to climate change as yet another risk associated with fracking. Methane, the main component of fracked gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. When methane escapes into the atmosphere through leaks and venting, it exacerbates the destabilization of our climate system. Studies consistently show that fracking and associated infrastructure leak more methane than previously estimated, and that rising methane levels are now driving adverse climate impacts.

 

A map depicting the natural gas pipelines traversing Massachusetts.

“Methane poses risks to people in Massachusetts, where we have an extensive system of pipelines that leak gas and associated pollutants. Methane is also an especially potent greenhouse gas, and an important contributor to climate change,” said LaRocque. “Here in Boston, we are already experiencing the effects of climate change, with extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The Lancet Commission on Climate and Health has called climate change the greatest public health threat of our time.”

“As physicians, we need to make people aware that extracting and burning fossil fuels has immediate health risks,” she added. “We need to encourage policymakers to help us make a rapid transition to non-polluting, renewable sources of energy.”


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. douglass truth says:

    there’s now so much gas from fracking that new plastics factories – for water bottles, for instance – are being built just to make use of it. (nat gas is the precursor to many plastics.) it’s a multi-dimensional catastrophe.

    1. Doug — So good to hear from you, out there in the wild Sierra Mountains of California, keeping an eye on your former Berkshire stomping grounds. You’ll be interested to know that the town of Great Barrington is considering a ban on those plastic water bottles, for just the reasons you allude to.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        David, my inderstanding is that the ban is specific to water bottles of a liter or less. You miscategorize the effort. If it were truly a “ban” on plastic water bottles, all sizes would be included. If it is really about the negative effects, why not all plastic containers? Water, soda, peanut butter, spice containers, etc.
        The proposed ban would be ineffective at best and an extreme annoyance more likely…I guess we could all bring heavier, more fragile, glass bottles of water to little league games, picnics, and other events where broken glass and ease of cartage are factors.

      2. Steve Farina says:

        Huh, I wanted to add this link:

        https://theberkshireedge.com/environmental-activists-want-to-ban-the-sale-of-popular-water-bottles/

        Which led me to actually read the proposal, as you provided it:

        https://drive.google.com/file/d/1D6nehnCF0LoO4guZfu6b80OActLcUPNp/view

        It doesn’t mention plastic AT ALL. It is a proposed ban of ALL one liter or less Water bottles – glass, plastic, or any other so called “single use” container. And yes, it is only for WATER. Not sparkling water, not juice, not soda, only the healthiest refreshment, revitalizer, and cleanser available in its natural liquid form.
        Of course, we could all buy their logo embossed stainless steel containers. I am sure the production of stainless steel has no adverse environmental impact (yes, sarcasm).

  2. Pete says:

    Steve,
    Good points all. Any ideas on how to attack this problem? Should a ban be on all plastic containers, not just water? Banning sounds fine, but there has to be alternatives. Should the beverage producers be incented to come up with greener containers? US packaging is state of the art, try opening a package of flashlight batteries!

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Thanks, Pete. I don’t think we should be banning plastic containers, given the wide spread use of plastics in so many areas of commerce. Our time would be better spent educating and encouraging people to recycle on purpose. The Egremont Green Committee recently ran an article here on the Edge:
      https://theberkshireedge.com/egremont-green-news-watch-out-for-wishful-recycling/
      I just left the GB transfer station a little bit ago and was dismayed to see plastic bags, paper bags, and foil lined cardboard soup boxes in the glass/plastic bin. Let’s start with the simple things. I became a lifelong recycler in the mid 70s and in fact at that time used to volunteer to help people load newspapers into our (Hauppauge Environmental Program) big dumpster. We used to have to jump in and remove the paper bags people would throw in as they were not readily recyclable at the time. Fortunately we have come a long way since then in what we recycle.
      Maybe we need some volunteer students to go to the xfer stations and help people properly sort their recyclables.

      1. Pete says:

        I think that is the best approach. Somehow we have to change people’s behavior as banning these types of things is probably unenforceable anyway. I guess we need to start with our kids. I get aggravated by the over packaging we have with everything. I was surprised recently when I received a new stereo system in the mail
        And it was packed with peanuts that dissolved in water, thus no requirement to dispose of them, throw them in the sink and run the water to dissolve them. I was quite impressed!

  3. Richard Allen says:

    It would be nice to see some actual data-based evidence of the harm, with comparisons to the harm/benefit of the alternatives. In similar situations that I’ve researched, the alternative is often worse.

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