Fracking and our Health

Concerns about the health-related effects of hydrofracked gas drilling (fracking) top the list of issues underlying the fundamental question of whether fracking is safe for animals and human beings.  Health professionals have directed particular attention to adults who are vulnerable to chronic illnesses such as asthma and cancer and to children.

The first article comes via Dr. Sandra Steingraber, one of the most prominent activists addressing the health issues associated with hydrofracking:

Health Impact Assessments Prove Critical Public Health Tool: Best Way to Gauge Impact of Gas Drilling On Communities

Apr. 22, 2013 — As natural gas development expands nationwide, policymakers, communities and public health experts are increasingly turning to health impact assessments (HIA) as a means of predicting the effects of drilling on local communities, according to a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health.

The report, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, highlights lessons learned when scientists from the school were hired to assess the possible health impacts of fracking in a small western Colorado town.

“Health impact assessments can be a useful public health tool to determine the possible health effects of natural gas development on the local level,” said the study’s lead author Roxana Zulauf Witter, MD, MPH, at the Colorado School of Public Health. “In fact, our study is now being looked at as a model nationwide.”

In 2009, the Colorado School of Public Health was contracted by Garfield County to conduct a health impact assessment of 200 proposed natural gas wells in the community of Battlement Mesa.

The team found that the natural gas project could contribute to health effects such as headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea and nosebleeds and a possible small increase in lifetime cancer risks as a result of air emissions.

The project would also increase safety risks and mental health effects due to traffic and community changes associated with the industrial activity.

According to the study, the HIA offers a roadmap for other communities and industry to follow in determining the health impacts of gas drilling. It also develops recommendations to reduce those impacts.

“We believe we accomplished the important objective of elevating public health into many levels of natural gas policy discussion,” the study said. “The Battlement Mesa HIA provides substantial and valuable guidance for local decision makers to protect public health.”

At the same time, the industry can use HIA findings to identify and eliminate health issues before they become problems.

“The whole goal is to provide recommendations to reduce impacts before you start,” Witter said. “The assessment is a means to an end. It’s a critical public health tool.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Colorado Denver.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Roxana Z. Witter, Lisa McKenzie, Kaylan E. Stinson, Kenneth Scott, Lee S. Newman, John Adgate. The Use of Health Impact Assessment for a Community Undergoing Natural Gas Development. American Journal of Public Health, 2013; : e1 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301017
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

 Ellen Cantarow on health effects of fracking, especially in Pennsylvania



The Downwinders: Fracking Ourselves to Death in America
In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, big energy equals big pollution
by Ellen Cantarow
Published on Thursday, May 2, 2013 by TomDispatch.com
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/05/02-3
Water and sand are mixed and then pumped through the tubes at pressures 
over 6,600 psi into the well during fracture stimulation (fracking) at 
the Marcellus Shale formation in Camptown, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Julia 
Schmalz/Bloomberg)More than 70 years ago, a chemical attack was launched 
against Washington State and Nevada. It poisoned people, animals, 
everything that grew, breathed air, and drank water. The Marshall 
Islands were also struck. This formerly pristine Pacific atoll was 
branded “the most contaminated place in the world.” As their cancers 
developed, the victims of atomic testing and nuclear weapons development 
got a name: downwinders. What marked their tragedy was the darkness in 
which they were kept about what was being done to them. Proof of harm 
fell to them, not to the U.S. government agencies responsible.

Now, a new generation of downwinders is getting sick as an emerging 
industry pushes the next wonder technology -- in this case, high-volume 
hydraulic fracturing. Whether they live in Texas, Colorado, or 
Pennsylvania, their symptoms are the same: rashes, nosebleeds, severe 
headaches, difficulty breathing, joint pain, intestinal illnesses, 
memory loss, and more. “In my opinion,” says Yuri Gorby of Rensselaer 
Polytechnic Institute, “what we see unfolding is a serious health 
crisis, one that is just beginning.”

The process of “fracking” starts by drilling a mile or more vertically, 
then outward laterally into 500-million-year-old shale formations, the 
remains of oceans that once flowed over parts of North America. Millions 
of gallons of chemical and sand-laced water are then propelled into the 
ground at high pressures, fracturing the shale and forcing the methane 
it contains out. With the release of that gas come thousands of gallons 
of contaminated water. This “flowback” fluid contains the original 
fracking chemicals, plus heavy metals and radioactive material that also 
lay safely buried in the shale.

The industry that uses this technology calls its product “natural gas,” 
but there’s nothing natural about up-ending half a billion years of safe 
storage of methane and everything that surrounds it. It is, in fact, an 
act of ecological violence around which alien infrastructures -- 
compressor stations that compact the gas for pipeline transport, ponds 
of contaminated flowback, flare stacks that burn off gas impurities, 
diesel trucks in quantity, thousands of miles of pipelines, and more -- 
have metastasized across rural America, pumping carcinogens and toxins 
into water, air, and soil.

"Natural gas corporations... are imposing on us the requirement to 
locate our homes, hospitals and schools inside their industrial space.”

Sixty percent of Pennsylvania lies over a huge shale sprawl called the 
Marcellus, and that has been in the fracking industry’s sights since 
2008. The corporations that are exploiting the shale come to the state 
with lavish federal entitlements: exemptions from the Clean Air, Clean 
Water, and Clean Drinking Water Acts, as well as the Superfund Act, 
which requires cleanup of hazardous substances. The industry doesn’t 
have to call its trillions of gallons of annual waste “hazardous.” 
Instead, it uses euphemisms like “residual waste.” In addition, fracking 
companies are allowed to keep secret many of the chemicals they use.

Pennsylvania, in turn, adds its own privileges. A revolving door 
shuttles former legislators, governors, and officials from the state’s 
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) into gas industry 
positions. The DEP itself is now the object of a lawsuit that charges 
the agency with producing deceptive lab reports, and then using them to 
dismiss homeowners’ complaints that shale gas corporations have 
contaminated their water, making them sick. The people I interviewed 
have their own nickname for the DEP: “Don’t Expect Protection.”

The Downwinders

Randy Moyer is a pleasant-faced, bearded 49-year-old whose drawl reminds 
you that Portage, his hardscrabble hometown in southwestern 
Pennsylvania, is part of Appalachia. He worked 18 years -- until 
gasoline prices got too steep -- driving his own rigs to haul waste in 
New York and New Jersey. Then what looked like a great opportunity 
presented itself: $25 an hour working for a hydraulic-fracturing 
subcontractor in northeastern Pennsylvania.

In addition to hauling fracking liquid, water, and waste, Randy also did 
what’s called, with no irony, “environmental.” He climbed into large 
vats to squeegee out the remains of fracking fluid. He also cleaned the 
huge mats laid down around the wells to even the ground out for truck 
traffic. Those mats get saturated with “drilling mud,” a viscous, 
chemical-laden fluid that eases the passage of the drills into the 
shale. What his employer never told him was that the drilling mud, as 
well as the wastewater from fracking, is not only highly toxic, but 
radioactive.

In the wee hours of a very cold day in November 2011, he stood in a huge 
basin at a well site, washing 1,000 mats with high-pressure hoses, 
taking breaks every so often to warm his feet in his truck. “I took off 
my shoes and my feet were as red as a tomato,” he told me. When the air 
from the heater hit them, he “nearly went through the roof.”

Once at home, he scrubbed his feet, but the excruciating pain didn’t 
abate. A “rash” that covered his feet soon spread up to his torso. A 
year and a half later, the skin inflammation still recurs. His upper lip 
repeatedly swells. A couple of times his tongue swelled so large that he 
had press it down with a spoon to be able to breathe. “I’ve been fried 
for over 13 months with this stuff,” he told me in late January. “I can 
just imagine what hell is like. It feels like I’m absolutely on fire.”

Family and friends have taken Moyer to emergency rooms at least four 
times. He has consulted more than 40 doctors. No one can say what caused 
the rashes, or his headaches, migraines, chest pain, and irregular 
heartbeat, or the shooting pains down his back and legs, his blurred 
vision, vertigo, memory loss, the constant white noise in his ears, and 
the breathing troubles that require him to stash inhalers throughout his 
small apartment.

In an earlier era, workers’ illnesses fell into the realm of “industrial 
medicine.” But these days, when it comes to the U.S. fracking industry, 
the canaries aren’t restricted to the coalmines. People like Randy seem 
to be the harbingers of what happens when a toxic environment is no 
longer buried miles beneath the earth. The gas fields that evidently 
poisoned him are located near thriving communities. “For just about 
every other industry I can imagine,” says Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell 
University, coauthor of a landmark study that established fracking’s 
colossal greenhouse-gas footprint, “from making paint, building a 
toaster, building an automobile, those traditional kinds of industry 
occur in a zoned industrial area, inside of buildings, separated from 
home and farm, separated from schools.” By contrast, natural gas 
corporations, he says, “are imposing on us the requirement to locate our 
homes, hospitals and schools inside their industrial space.”

The Death and Life of Little Rose

Little Rose was Angel Smith’s favorite horse. When the vet shod her, 
Angel told me proudly, she obligingly lifted the next hoof as soon as 
the previous one was done. “Wanna eat, Rosie?” Angel would ask, and 
Rosie would nod her head. “Are you sure?” Angel would tease, and Rosie 
would raise one foreleg, clicking her teeth together. In Clearville, 
just south of Portage, Angel rode Little Rose in parades, carrying the 
family’s American flag.

In 2002, a “landman” knocked on the door and asked Angel and her husband 
Wayne to lease the gas rights of their 115-acre farm to the San 
Francisco-based energy corporation PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric.) At 
first, he was polite, but then he started bullying. “All your neighbors 
have signed. If you don’t, we’ll just suck the gas from under your 
land.” Perhaps from weariness and a lack of information (almost no one 
outside the industry then knew anything about high-volume hydraulic 
fracturing), they agreed. Drilling began in 2002 on neighbors’ land and 
in 2005 on the Smith’s.

On January 30, 2007, Little Rose staggered, fell, and couldn’t get up. 
Her legs moved spasmodically. When Wayne and Angel dragged her to a 
sitting position, she’d just collapse again. “I called every vet in the 
phone book,” says Angel. “They all said, ‘Shoot her.’” The couple 
couldn’t bear to do it. After two days, a neighbor shot her. “It was our 
choice,” says Angel, her voice breaking. “She was my best friend.”

Soon, the Smiths’ cows began showing similar symptoms. Those that didn’t 
die began aborting or giving birth to dead calves. All the chickens 
died, too. So did the barn cats. And so did three beloved dogs, none of 
them old, all previously healthy. A 2012 study by Michelle Bamberger and 
Cornell University pharmacology professor Robert Oswald indicates that, 
in the gas fields, these are typical symptoms in animals and often serve 
as early warning signs for their owners’ subsequent illnesses.

The Smiths asked the DEP to test their water. The agency told them that 
it was safe to drink, but Angel Smith says that subsequent testing by 
Pennsylvania State University investigators revealed high levels of arsenic.

Meanwhile, the couple began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, 
fatigue, throat and eye irritation, and shortness of breath. Wayne’s 
belly began swelling oddly, even though, says Angel, he isn’t heavy. 
X-rays of his lungs showed scarring and calcium deposits. A blood 
analysis revealed cirrhosis of the liver. “Get him to stop drinking,” 
said the doctor who drew Angel aside after the results came in. “Wayne 
doesn’t drink,” she replied. Neither does Angel, who at 42 now has liver 
disease.

By the time the animals began dying, five high-volume wells had been 
drilled on neighbors’ land. Soon, water started bubbling up under their 
barn floor and an oily sheen and foam appeared on their pond. In 2008, a 
compressor station was built half a mile away. These facilities, which 
compress natural gas for pipeline transport, emit known carcinogens and 
toxins like benzene and toluene.

The Smiths say people they know elsewhere in Clearville have had similar 
health problems, as have their animals. For a while they thought their 
own animals’ troubles were over, but just this past February several 
cows aborted. The couple would like to move away, but can’t. No one will 
buy their land.

The Museum of Fracking

Unlike the Smiths, David and Linda Headley didn’t lease their land. In 
2005, when they bought their farm in Smithfield, they opted not to pay 
for the gas rights under their land. The shallow gas drilling their 
parents had known seemed part of a bygone era and the expense hardly 
seemed worth the bother.

With its hills and valleys, the creek running through their land, and a 
spring that supplied them with water, the land seemed perfect for 
hiking, swimming, and raising their son Grant. Adam was born after all 
the trouble started.

Just as the couple had completed the purchase, the bulldozers moved in. 
The previous owner had leased the gas rights without telling them. And 
so they found themselves, as they would later put it, mere “caretakers” 
on a corporate estate.

Today, the Headleys’ property is a kind of museum of fracking. There are 
five wells, all with attendant tanks that separate liquids from the gas, 
and a brine tank where flowback is stored. Four of the wells are 
low-volume vertical ones, which use a fracking technology that predates 
today’s high-volume method. A couple minutes’ walk from the Headleys’ 
front door stands a high-volume well. A pipeline was drilled under their 
creek.

“Accidents” have been a constant. When the well closest to the house was 
fracked, their spring, which had abounded in vegetation, crawfish, and 
insects, went bad. The DEP told the Headleys, as it did the Smiths, that 
the water was still safe to drink. But, says David, “everything in the 
spring died and turned white.” Adam had just been born. “No way was I 
exposing my kids to that.” For two years he hauled water to the house 
from the homes of family and friends and then he had it connected to a 
city water line.

All the brine tanks have leaked toxic waste onto the Headley’s land. 
Contaminated soil from around the high-volume tank has been alternately 
stored in dumpsters and in an open pit next to the well. The Headleys 
begged the DEP to have it removed. David says an agency representative 
told them the waste would have to be tested for radioactivity first. 
Eventually, some of it was hauled away; the rest was buried under the 
Headleys’ land. The test for radioactivity is still pending, though 
David has his own Geiger counter which has measured high levels at the 
site of the well.

An independent environmental organization, Earthworks, included the 
Headleys among 55 households it surveyed in a recent study of health 
problems near gas facilities. Testing showed high levels of contaminants 
in the Headleys’ air, including chloromethane, a neurotoxin, and 
trichloroethene, a known carcinogen.

Perhaps more telling is the simple fact that everyone in the family is 
sick. Seventeen-year-old Grant has rashes that, like Randy Moyer’s, 
periodically appear on different parts of his body. Four-year-old Adam 
suffers from stomach cramps that make him scream. David says he and 
Linda have both had “terrible joint pain. It’s weird stuff, your left 
elbow, your right hip, then you’ll feel good for three days, and it’ll 
be your back.” At 42, with no previous family history of either 
arthritis or asthma, Linda has been diagnosed with both. Everyone has 
had nosebleeds -- including the horses.

Five years into the Marcellus gas rush in this part of Pennsylvania, 
symptoms like Randy Moyer’s, the Smiths', and the Headleys' are 
increasingly common. Children are experiencing problems the young almost 
never have, like joint pain and forgetfulness. Animal disorders and 
deaths are widespread. The Earthworks study suggests that living closer 
to gas-field infrastructure increases the severity of 25 common 
symptoms, including skin rashes, difficulty breathing, and nausea.

Don’t Expect Protection

DEP whistleblowers have disclosed that the agency purposely restricts 
its chemical testing so as to reduce evidence of harm to landowners. A 
resident in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Washington County is suing the 
agency for failing fully to investigate the drilling-related air and 
water contamination that she says has made her sick. In connection with 
the lawsuit, Democratic state representative Jesse White has demanded 
that state and federal agencies investigate the DEP for “alleged 
misconduct and fraud.”

In the absence of any genuine state protection, independent scientists 
have been left to fill the gap. But as the industry careens forward, 
matching symptoms with potential causes is a constant catch-up effort. A 
2011 study by Theo Colborn, founder of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange 
and recipient the National Council for Science and Environment’s 
Lifetime Achievement Award, identified 353 industry chemicals that could 
damage the skin, the brain, the respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune, 
cardiovascular, and endocrine (hormone production) systems. Twenty-five 
percent of the chemicals found by the study could cause cancers.

David Brown is a veteran toxicologist and consultant for an independent 
environmental health organization, the Southwest Pennsylvania 
Environmental Health Project. According to him, there are four routes of 
exposure to gas-field chemicals: water, air, soil, and food. In other 
words, virtually everything that surrounds us.

Exposure to water comes from drinking, but showering and bathing makes 
possible water exposure through the skin and inhaling water vapor. “Air 
exposure is even more complicated,” says Brown. The impacts of 
contaminated air, for example, are greater during heavy activity. 
“Children running around,” he says, “are more apt to be exposed than 
older people.” What further complicates the emerging toxicology is that 
chemicals act not as single agents but synergistically. “The presence of 
one agent,” says Brown, “can increase the toxicity of another by 
several-fold.”

Brown deplores the government’s failures to heed citizens’ cries for 
help. “No one is asking, ‘What happened to you? Are there other people 
who have been affected in your area?’ I teach ethics. There’s a level of 
moral responsibility that we should have nationally. We seem to have 
decided that we need energy so badly... that we have in almost a passive 
sense identified individuals and areas to sacrifice.”

Circles of Trust

No one I interviewed in communities impacted by fracking in southwestern 
Pennsylvania drinks their water anymore. In fact, I came to think of a 
case of Poland Spring as a better house gift than any wine (and I wasn’t 
alone in that). Breathing the air is in a different universe of risk. 
You can’t bottle clean air, but you can donate air purifiers, as one 
interviewee, who prefers to be unnamed, has been doing.

Think of her as a creator of what a new Pennsylvania friend of mine 
calls “circles of trust.” The energy industry splits communities and 
families into warring factions. Such hostilities are easy to find, but 
in the midst of catastrophe I also found mutual assistance and a 
resurgence of the human drive for connection.

Ron Gulla, a John Deere heavy equipment salesman, is driven by fury at 
the corporation that ruined his soil -- his was the second farm in 
Pennsylvania to be fracked -- but also by deep feeling for the land: “A 
farm is just like raising a child. You take care of it, you nurture it, 
and you know when there are problems.”

Gulla credits Barbara Arindell, founder of the country’s first 
anti-fracking organization, Pennsylvania’s Damascus Citizens for 
Sustainability, with teaching him about the dangers of the industry’s 
efforts. Now, he is a central figure in an ever-widening network of 
people who are becoming their own documentarians. Everyone I interviewed 
brought out files of evidence to show me: photographs, videos, news 
reports, and their own written records of events.

Moreover, in the midst of ongoing stress, many have become activists. 
Linda Headley and Ron Gulla, for instance, traveled with other 
Pennsylvanians to Albany this past February to warn New York State 
officials not to endorse fracking. “A lot of people have said, ‘Why 
don’t you just walk away from this?’” says Gulla. “[But] I was raised to 
think that if there was something wrong, you would bring it to people’s 
attention.’”

“You have to believe things happen for a reason,” says David Headley. 
“It’s drawn so many people together we didn’t know before. You have 
these meetings, and you’re fighting [for] a common cause and you feel so 
close to the people you’re working with. Including you guys, the 
reporters. It’s made us like a big family. Really. You think you’re all 
alone, and somebody pops up. God always sends angels.”

Still, make no mistake: this is an alarming and growing public health 
emergency. “Short of relocating entire communities or banning fracking, 
ending airborne exposures cannot be done,” David Brown said in a recent 
address in New York State. “Our only option in Washington County... has 
been to try to find ways for residents to reduce their exposures and 
warn them when the air is especially dangerous to breathe.”

In the vacuum left by the state’s failure to offer protection to those 
living in fracking zones, volunteers, experts like Brown, and fledgling 
organizations like the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health 
Project have become the new protectors of citizens’ health. Growing 
numbers of fracking victims, including Angel and Wayne Smith, are also 
suing gas corporations. “If I could go back to 2000, I’d show them the 
end of the road and say, ‘Don’t come back,’” Angel told me. “But we’re 
in the situation now. Fight and go forward.”
© 2013 Ellen Cantarow
Ellen Cantarow

Ellen Cantarow, a Boston-based journalist, first wrote from Israel and 
the West Bank in 1979. Cantarow has written on women in the labor force, 
social activism, and the Middle East. Her work has been published in the 
Village Voice, Grand Street, and Mother Jones, among other publications, 
and was anthologized by the South End Press. More recently, her writing 
has appeared at Counterpunch, ZNet, TomDispatch and Common Dreams.

4/25/13

Here’s the latest from a shale victim at ground zero south of Washington Pa.  Same story, different place. In this case the company is CNX, while in other local events it has been Atlas or Range. The continuing steady stream of these stories leads one to believe fracking and subsequent gas production cannot be done safely.

 

Here is the latest firsthand story:

 

“CNX has a large red pipe system 30’x10′ on the adjacent hillside.  They have been releasing a liquid from it during the week of April 15th and several other times in April.  I have a few videos of the releases.  On thursday April 18th I was sitting in my yard when they released two areas of the pipe.  These two large geysers shot up approx. 20 feet in to the air.  It sounds like a jet engine in my yard.  Later that evening my eyebrows began to get itchy and red.  I thought nothing of it.  The next morning I woke up with a rash on the left side of my face (side of my face that was downwind of the release area), eyebrows, hairline and all over my chest and a few spots on my wrists.   The top of my head was also very itchy.  I thought I had poison ivy and did not want my face to swell up over the weekend.  I made an appointment with the Dr who assured me the rash was NOT poison ivy.  He was unable to diagnose the rash and gave me prednizone and told me to take benadryl.  I informed him of the release of a liquid substance and he seemed concerned.”

 

 

 

“When I returned home I decided to stop by the site of the red pipe to show the rash to the gas well employees and to ask what was in the ADLER tanks.  The supervisor on site assured me that they were NOT releasing anything from the red pipes.  I told him that I had video of it.  He then agreed that if I saw anything coming out of the tanks that it was only natural gas.  I showed him the rash on my face and neck and asked him what was in the red tanks.  He mumbled a few things, one being something about fresh water and something about sand.  I figured I would not get anything else out of him and left.”

 

“I called the DEP minutes after leaving the site.  Carrie Valor came out today to look at the red pipe system.  She has to do some research on what the name of the system is called.  It collects the gas from gas well site NV 42 and sends it to the seller line.  She said they were performing a “blowout” to release the liquids in the natural gas and also the gas itself that was in the line.  I asked what liquids would be in the gas line.  She replied all of the liquids that would be in the newly drilled NV42 well.  She mentioned hydrates.”

 

“I have videos of this liquid gas coming straight for my house!”

 

“My face and neck felt better yesterday. The rash had gone away but showed up on my wrists and ears.  Today the rash is back on my neck and left side of my face and on my wrists.  I have a headache and my stomach is upset.  My throat also hurts slightly but only when the rash is on my face.”

 

“Carrie said that they should not be releasing the gas on a regular basis.  I am praying it will never happen again.”

 

“My son also has a small area on his stomach.”

 

 

 

Across U.S., Health Concerns Vie with Fracking Profits

NEW YORK, Mar 8 2013 (IPS) – Peter “Pete” Seeger is a 93-year old U.S. folk legend who resides near Wappingers Falls in southern New York. He can be spotted occasionally on the traffic-heavy Route 9, flanked by world peace signs and armed with a banjo.

Activists behind a New York Police Department vehicle at an anti-fracking demonstration in Manhattan, New York City organized by CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking. The demonstration was aimed at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was holding a policy summit in the New York Sheraton across the street. Credit: Adam Welz for CREDO Action/cc by 2.0Activists behind a New York Police Department vehicle at an anti-fracking demonstration in Manhattan, New York City organized by CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking. The demonstration was aimed at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was holding a policy summit in the New York Sheraton across the street. Credit: Adam Welz for CREDO Action/cc by 2.0

Seeger is famous for his protest songs – which tackle topics ranging from U.S. wars abroad to environmental degradation at home.

Last month, Seeger signed a letter – along with hundreds of health professionals and local organisations – addressed to Governor Andrew Cuomo, encouraging him to take into account “any and all public health impacts before deciding whether or not to allow fracking in New York”.

The letter – released to the public on Feb. 27 by Concerned Health Professionals of NY – warned of “public health consequences” that have emerged in neighbouring Pennsylvania, where fracking is allowed.

Formally termed “high pressure hydraulic fracturing”, fracking is a method used to capture natural gas from shale rocks. It requires horizontal drilling deep beneath the earth’s surface, then pressurising fluid to fracture shale rocks, which allows natural gas to escape.

According to the letter, health risks associated with fracking include hazardous air pollutants; improper disposal of radioactive wastewater; and climate-altering methane emissions.

“What they’re finding in Pennsylvania are people with rashes, nosebleeds, people with serious abdominal pain and so on,” said Sandra Steingraber, a distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College and founder of Concerned Health Professionals of NY.

“In general, we need better data on all this, and the problem is that fracking got rolled out across the landscape without any advanced health studies being done,” she told IPS.

On Mar. 6, the New York State Assembly voted to extend the moratorium on fracking until 2015, which would delay drilling for two more years and make way for new health assessments to be conducted.

The legislation must now pass through the state Senate and be approved by Cuomo if it is to take hold.

“This is the first time in my knowledge that the oil and gas industry (may be) stopped in its tracks because of unanswered questions about health,” said Steingraber.

Will Fracking Spread Internationally?When asked whether fracking will expand to the global south, Michael T. Klare – director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College – told IPS, “It will happen, but they (currently) don’t have the capacity to do it on their own.“So countries, like China, are buying into (U.S.) companies to acquire the know how to do so,” he said.If shale gas projects were to expand into Poland and Ukraine, which are currently exploring the option, “(it) would be a blow to Russia, because Russia now is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe, and depends on that for income and for political influence,” he added.David G. Victor, a professor at the Graduate School of School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, told IPS, “Cheap natural gas will make it harder for countries (in the global south) to justify natural gas projects, because the price they’re going to get for the gas will be much lower.”“If you’re Nigeria or any of these countries that are exporting liquified natural gas, you get 10 dollars or 12 dollars per BTU for your gas when you deliver it… that’s a tonne of money.“There are a lot of places that could produce a lot of gas very quickly, but the problem is getting it to the markets. That’s the main difference between gas and oil,” he added.

On the price of coal, Victor said, “While stock prices have come down a lot, the long-term contracts are more stable.”

He cites a few reasons: the weak world economy has lowered demand for coal, which has driven down its prices; and coal burning is facing more regulations, due to the heavy pollution it causes.

“The third reason is low natural gas prices here in the U.S.,” he said.

In response to an IPS inquiry, Christopher Neal, a senior communications officer at the World Bank, stated, “The Bank is not financing shale gas exploration or projects involving hydraulic fracturing, and there are no planned projects of this nature.”

U.S. energy trends

The decision in New York came at a time when natural gas is abundant in the U.S., at unprecedented levels, largely due to fracking.

But with increasing awareness of fracking’s potential side effects and the lack of regulations over the industry, a national opposition is growing as well.

“There are a couple of other states that have moratoriums: New Jersey has one, Maryland has one – and North Carolina is developing new rules on fracking,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“Companies that aren’t highly regulated don’t have to prove anything, and therefore, data is not collected. So we don’t have the type of data (on fracking) that we might for another industry, because it has been so severely under-regulated,” she told IPS.

Part of the reason fracking rolled out with little oversight was due to the influence of powerful oil and gas industries in politics.

Michael T. Klare, director of the Five College Programme in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, told IPS, “The experience in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is that local people just get steamrollered by the oil companies and their lawyers and lobbyists.”

He said, “The biggest (player) is ExxonMobil, because they bought XTO (Energy), which was the biggest natural gas company using fracking… and they’ve been pushing (fracking) very hard. And other giant companies are in on the act.”

The U.S. energy mix

Proponents of fracking argue that natural gas is cleaner than coal, and could act as a bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

However, “When you say bridge, people use it to mean different things. For example, how long a bridge, how wide a bridge, how high a bridge… it’s just a term that doesn’t have a lot of details,” said Mall of NRDC.

Klare, a defence correspondent at The Nation, warned, “Companies and utilities that might invest in renewable sources of energy are all rushing to convert their electricity generation to natural gas.

“These facilities will be in operation for decades to come, so there’s no sign that the country’s moving in the direction of renewable energy… It’s unclear where this bridge is leading to, except more gas,” he told IPS.

David G. Victor, a professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, noted that renewable technologies are currently unreliable, in terms of “keeping the lights on”.

“There’s a world of difference between some engineer thinking about a clever solution that works in the laboratory under ideal conditions, and then (using it in) actual power grids,” he said, arguing that they exist in small markets and depend too heavily on subsidies.

When asked about renewable energy, Klare agreed that they were in infant stages.

“Renewable energy is a much younger, newer kind of energy. Naturally, at this stage of its development, it’s less efficient and more expensive than oil and natural gas,” he said.

However, Klare argued that renewable energy deserves more government support, saying that this would be good for the U.S. in the long term.

“After all, oil has been around for 150 years, and natural gas has been around for 50 years or so. They’ve had more time; they’ve had a lot of government subsidies along the way and they still get government subsidies,” said Klare.

Mall of NRDC added that there is also a middle ground: “As long as we do need natural gas… There are much better ways to produce it, with much stronger protections and much cleaner methods than the industry is using now,” she said.

Mall cited ways to capture air pollutants, encase wastewater in steel tanks, use less toxic chemicals in fluids and keep fracking away from watersheds.

Health and community

Mall said, “Because of (U.S.) property laws, a lot of (homeowners) don’t own the oil and gas rights beneath their property. Therefore, they can’t stop (fracking) on their own land, and they’re not (fully) compensated for the damage to their own land.”

Steingraber, author of “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment” (2010), added, “There are potential avenues of (chemical) exposure to people who didn’t consent to any of this.”

She noted that health problems associated with chemical exposure from fracking are expensive ones.

“We’re talking about preterm birth, which is the leading cause of infant mortality and the leading cause of disability (in the U.S.),” she said.

“Before we decide that fracking is this bonanza economically, providing royalty money and so on, we really need a full picture of the costs and benefits,” she argued.

“The job of government (is) to protect people from harm… whether that’s protecting us from some invading foreign army, or against chemicals others are putting into environments that get into our bodies,” she said.

 

 

 

Following are  numerous current research resources developed by Earthworks (see acknowledgement below) that address health-related issues surrounding hydrofracking conducted in the Marcellus Shale region of the Eastern United States.
No Fracking without Regulations — HEALTH

 

“If the DOH Public Health Review finds that the SGEIS has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS. The regulations simply codify the program requirements.”

— DEC Commissioner Martens on 2/12/12

 

Can the DEC issue HVHF drilling permits without Regs?? NO FRACKING WAY!

Well, they can certainly try that approach, but the DEC seems to be forgetting that it is obligated to follow the law, abide by their own policies, and not act in an “arbitrary and capricious” fashion.

The DEC has already

1. declared in the 2009 SGEIS that new regulations would be issued,

2. actually proposed draft HVHF regulations,

3. declared in the 1992 GEIS that the gas drilling regulations (which haven’t been updated since) needed revision to conform to 1981 amendments to the gas drilling statute, and

4. has not made even the basic amendments to the regulations required by the 1992 SGEIS in order to bring the regulations up to 1988 standards.

The DEC does not have the authority to radically depart from the course of action it set out on, to act contrary to the DEC’s own policies and determinations, or in an unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious way. And it is unreasonable and without basis for the DEC to try to backtrack and issue HVHF gas drilling permits without first issuing proper and protective gas drilling regulations.

CEDC is prepared to sue the DEC to stop any attempt by the DEC to issue HVHF gas drilling permits before comprehensive amendments to the DEC’s gas drilling program have been put in place.

Without a finalized SGEIS, the DEC will not be able to meet the deadline for promulgating its proposed HVHF regulations. The DEC will have to start the rulemaking procedure from scratch (and with more comprehensive regulations). The DEC does not want to restart the rulemaking process – they’d rather just skip it.

 

If the DEC tries, as Commissioner Martens suggested it will, to issue HVHF permits without having adequate regulations in place, it will have bought itself at least one lawsuit – and one that we believe the DEC has little hope of winning.
No SGEIS for at least a “few more weeks”

The Commissioner of the Department of Health, Dr. Shah, wrote a letter to the Commissioner of the DEC, Joe Martens, on 2/12/12 and informed the DEC that the Department of Health’s review of the SGEIS would take a “few more weeks.”

Background

By way of background, the SGEIS is a supplemental environmental review of the Department of Mineral’s regulatory gas drilling program as it relates to “High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing.” This environmental review is mandated by a state law called the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA.

The SGEIS for HVHF was ordered in 2008 by then Governor Patterson when a law was enacted that provided for 640 acre spacing units. Previously the standard “spacing unit” was 40 acres. The Governor ordered the supplement to the 1992 GEIS for gas drilling to address citizen concerns about new environmental impacts from horizontal drilling in bedrocks like the Marcellus shale.

The DEC released an initial draft of the SGEIS in 2009 and then a revised draft SGEIS in 2011. The public commented extensively on both drafts of the SGEIS, and many demanded that the DEC include a study on the impacts to public health in the SGEIS. This past September, the DEC requested that the Department of Health (DOH) review the health impact analysis included in the SGEIS (but the DEC would not agree to a full blown health impact assessment).

The DOH appointed three outside experts to assist with its review and the DEC had hoped that the DOH review would be complete by now.

However, on 2/12/12, the DOH reported that its review would not be completed for a “few weeks.”

OK, so what does that mean?

The DEC cannot issue permits for HVHF gas drilling until the SGEIS is completed.

The SGEIS cannot be completed until the DOH reports back to the DEC. So there can be no HVHF gas drilling permits until after after the DOH reports back to the DEC.

In response to Dr. Shah’s letter, DEC’s Commissioner Martens stated that if the DOH find that the SGEIS adequately addresses public health impacts that the DEC will proceed to finalize the SGEIS and begin processing permits 10 days after that without having the HVHF regulations in place.

The DEC will miss the HVHF Regulation Deadline and the proposed HVHF Regs will Expire

The delay in the DOH review of the SGEIS means that the DEC will be unable to meet the deadline for finalizing the proposed HVHF regulations and they will expire. New regulations will require a new round of public hearings and comment.

 

Background

As explained above, the SGEIS is an environmental impact review and is required under a state law called SEQRA. The purpose of the environmental review is usually to identify potential impacts from an individual project, and is sometimes to review “generically” the environmental impacts from an entire regulatory program.

Separate and aside from that environmental review is the process of enacting REGULATIONS that govern the terms by which the DEC issues gas drilling permits. An environmental impact statement is not intended to act as a substitute for a regulatory program but is designed to inform (read: come BEFORE) and provide the scientific basis to determine what regulations are required to adequately protect the environment and public heath.

 

Back in 1992, the DEC appears to have properly understood the relationship between the 1992 GEIS and the traditional gas drilling regulations. The Findings Statement declared:

“The State’s oil, gas, solution mining and gas storage regulations have not been updated since 1982 and extensive regulatory revisions are needed. … One of the major purposes of this generic environmental impact statement is to present the framework, justification and recommendation for essential regulatory changes to these industries in New York State.” GEIS

So GEIS first and regulations second. And if the DEC were to proceed in a rational manner and if it followed its own determination, it would have updated and amended its gas drilling regulations after the 1992 GEIS was completed. And then when HVHF came to the scene, the DEC would complete a supplemental environmental review (the SGEIS), and then after determining the potential environmental impacts, adopted further new amendments to the gas drilling regulations to ensure protection of public health and the environment.

But the revised regulations that the 1992 GEIS proposed were never promulgated.

 

And the DEC has been trying to avoid enacting gas drilling regulations, having a preference to rely on “permit conditions” and relying on regulations that haven’t been substantially updated since 1972. SGEIS

It wasn’t too surprising that when the 2011 SGEIS was released, GONE was the language from the 2009 SGEIS that stated after the SGEIS process was complete, the DEC would “be in a position to rationally determine what additional measures or procedures should become fixed principles that would supplement or improve the Department’s existing regulatory framework”

In the fall of 2011, using the same comment period and public hearings used for the SGEIS, the DEC issued proposed draft HVHF regulations. And just as the DEC has to comply with the provisions of SEQRA in completing the SGEIS, the DEC must also follow New York State law in the process of adopting or amending the proposed HVHF regulations.

The law governing the regulatory process is called the State Administrative Procedures Act or “SAPA.” The purpose of SAPA is to guarantee “that the actions of administrative agencies conform with sound standards….It insures that equitable practices will be provided to meet the public interest.”

SAPA imposes specific time limits on the rulemaking process. Specifically, SAPA generally requires that all rules be adopted (or expire) within one year of the date of the last public hearing on the proposed rules. For the HVHF regulations, that deadline was November 29, 2012. The DEC was not able to meet this deadline. So the DEC invoked a provision of SAPA that allows for the one year deadline to be extended for another 90 days. (SAPA § 202(3))

 

OK, What Does This Mean?

This means that the proposed HVHF regulations need to adopted no later than February 27, 2013. But the HVHF regulations cannot be adopted until AFTER the DEC adopts the SGEIS. A step in “completing” the SGEIS is publishing a Notice of Completion of the SGEIS in the Environmental Notice Bulletin (ENB). No sooner than ten days after the Notice is published, but before taking any other action, the DEC must issue a written findings statement.

The February 13th deadline that has been looming large in the press, and on our minds, came from a combination of the publishing schedule of the ENB (Wednesdays) and the ten day “waiting period.” The Notice has to be submitted at least one week before it gets published. In order to get the Notice of Completion published 10 days prior to February 27th, the Notice would have to be submitted tomorrow. And the DOH has made it clear that that isn’t going to happen.

This means that the DEC will have to start over with the rulemaking process for the proposed HVHF regulations IF it promulgates the regulations.

CEDC is a non-profit organization led by Helen and David Slottje, whom the Visionaries frequently feature in these posts.  See also our pages LEGAL ISSUES and BREAKING NEWS.

New research links health problems with oil and natural gas development
Largest-ever survey of Marcellus Shale residents living near gas facilities reveals pattern of health symptoms associated with oil and gas development
October 18th — The largest health survey to-date of Marcellus Shale residents living near oil and gas development shows a clear pattern of negative health impacts associated with living near gas facilities, according to a new report released by Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project today.  Released in association with ShaleTest, Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania surveyed 108 residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties, and conducted air and water tests at more than half of the households were surveys were completed.
“For too long, the oil and gas industry and state regulators have dismissed community members’ health complaints as ‘false’ or ‘anecdotal’.” said Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks’ Eastern program coordinator and the project’s lead author. She continued, “The industry tries to shift blame onto residents themselves or onto any other possible source than oil and gas facilities, Now we know better. With this research, they cannot credibly ignore communities any longer.” 
Gas Patch Roulette’s main conclusions are that
  • Chemicals associated with oil and gas development are present in communities where development occurs.
  • Residents in these communities report that after gas development began, they developed new health problems — many of which are known consequences of exposure to these chemicals.
State governments, which are largely responsible for protecting the public from irresponsible oil and gas development, have until recently refused to act on behalf of the public.
“The clear association between gas development and public health impacts revealed by this research demands that states stop ignoring the problem and start developing the standards necessary to protect the public,” said President of Subra Company and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Wilma Subra. She continued, “It’s clear that nationwide, because of regulatory inaction and a lack of corporate accountability, states are playing roulette with public health.”
Other findings of the report include that
  • Those living closer to gas facilities report higher rates of impaired health.
  • Children living near gas development reported negative health impacts that seem atypical in the young.
  • Chemicals detected by air and water sampling have been associated by state and federal agencies with both oil and gas development and with many of the health symptoms reported in the surveys.
“It is clear from both the lab results and the reported health affects that the exploration of natural gas comes with consequences,” said Calvin Tillman, former mayor of gas-impacted DISH, Texas and founder of ShaleTest.  He continued, “Industry needs to step up to the plate and quit denying they are damaging our lives and property. The people in this survey are innocent bystanders that deserve better from the industry that is exploiting them, and the governments that are letting it happen.”
“Pennsylvania and many other states are forging ahead with oil and gas development without considering the public interest,” said Steinzor. “That needs to change. And they can start by refusing to permit new drilling until regulators can assure the public that they’ve taken all necessary to steps to prevent risks to their health.”
More Information:
Interviews with impacted residents who participated in this project available upon request.
All reports and supporting information: http://health.earthworksaction.org/
***
Earthworks, and its Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), is dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.
ShaleTest.org is a non-profit organization that will collect environmental data, and provide environmental testing to lower income families and neighborhoods that are effected by natural gas exploration.
Twitter: earthworksrocksFacebook: earthworksaction

Healthy Schools and the dangers of gas drilling

 


Yesterday on The Capitol Press Room, Susan had Claire Barnett (of the Health Schools Network) and Jeff Jones on to discuss schools and gas drilling.
Claire mentioned that NY State allows gas & oil wells on school grounds, but that this practice is banned in Texas because of the incident in New London, Texas in 1937 when a school blew up from natural gas seeping up from under it:
Of the 500 students and forty teachers in the building, approximately 293 died. Some rescuers, students, and teachers needed psychiatric attention, and only about 130 students escaped serious injury.
There are a number of schools in the upstate region with active or orphaned oil or gas wells on the property.  They pose the risk of  illness, injury, or death to every student that attends these schools. 
The DEC apparently feels that gas or oils wells near schools do NOT pose a substantial risk to the children’s health or well-being, and  there is NO oversight for these wells, nor water sampling being conducted by these schools to ensure the water quality has not been impacted by their proximity to oil or gas wells.