Sierra Club NationalWest Virginia Sierra Club
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
> Chapter Home
> Newsletter Home
 
> Archives
> Editorial contact
 

Shale Gas Drilling Bad for your Health
click for print view

by Beth Little | 2013

The evidence is over-whelming - get a gas well (or 2 or 3) and get sick!

Although we keep hearing about health problems of people and animals near shale gas drilling sites, there is no official recognition of a need for better regulations to pro-tect public health. There are studies of risks or compilations of cases, but until there is a serious, ongoing, peer-reviewed scientific study of cause-and-effect, the indus-try can cry “All evidence is anecdotal!”
 
The information on the risks of health impacts from shale gas drilling is piling up:
 
• In March 2012 researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health report that air pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for people living near drilling sites. They identified a number of potentially toxic hydrocarbons in the air near wells: benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, hep-tane, octane, diethylbenzene and more.  http://www.erierising.com/human-health-risk-assessment-of-air-emissions-from-development-of-unconventional-natural-gas-resources/
 
• Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) finds that releases of volatile organic compounds from oil and gas operations increased 60 percent over five years. http://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/implementation/air/sip/dfw/ad_2011/10022SIP_ado_111811.pdf
 
• TCEQ found elevated benzene levels at 21 of 94 Barnett well sites tested.  http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2010/01/texas_agency_finds_high_benzen.html
 
• Baylor University reported a higher incidence of asthma in children living in the Barnett shale region: asthma rates for children in Tarrant County were more than twice the national average. http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=98474
 
• In 2011 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Ad-ministration (NOAA) reported higher levels of methane, butane, propane and other chemicals coming out of the gas fields of northern Colorado and eastern Utah. And Wyoming’s drilling fields report ozone levels as high as 124 parts per billion (ppb) – higher than Los Angeles levels and far higher than EPA’s maximum level of 75 ppb. http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_20042330 ;
“Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources.” 2/11/2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969712001933
 
• October 2012: Pennsylvania residents living near gas facilities have high incidences of negative health symptoms.
http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Health-Report-Summary-FINAL.pdf
 
Some reports recommend further scientific study:
 
• “An Exploratory Study of Air Quality Near Natural Gas Operations” by TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange) found selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were at concentrations greater than those at which prena-tally exposed children in urban studies had lower developmental and IQ scores. The study recommended, “The human and environmen-tal health impacts of the NMHCs, which are ozone precursors, should be examined further given that the natu-ral gas industry is now operating in close proximity to human residences and public lands.”  http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.air.php
 
• A survey documenting numerous cases of animal and owner health problems with potential links to gas drill-ing concluded, “Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incom-plete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncon-trolled health experiment on an enormous scale.”
Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health,by Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswald, NEW SOLU-TIONS, Vol. 22(1) 51-77, 2012 (http://www.slopefarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Bamberger_Oswald_NS22_in_press.pdf)
 
There are doctors calling for scientific studies. Last October more than 250 health professionals in New York signed on to a letter asking state officials to study health risks related to gas drilling before permitting hydraulic frac-turing in the state. Physicians, scientists, and medical groups in New York have been warning the governor that the health risks of fracking are real and ominous, based on evidence from fracking communities in Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other states.
 
Marilyn J. Heine, M.D., President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said, “Regardless of the environmental controversy, and regardless of how slowly or how quickly this new industry develops, we recognize that there is al-ready a need to conduct epidemiological studies and to educate ourselves and the public about the best ways to keep our communities healthy. Nothing frustrates me more than having my medical expertise hand-cuffed by lack of
research.”
 
In Canada, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health says the Alward government needs to take “targeted and strategic actions” to prevent and mitigate any negative health impacts associated with the development of the shale gas industry in the province. “There are social and commu-nity health risks from this industry,” Dr. Eilish Cleary states in her 82-page report. Cleary recommends requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the popu-lation on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts.
 
The New Brunswick College of Family Physicians is calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the prov-ince until more research is done on the controversial process used to extract shale gas. President Dr. Anick Pelletier wrote in a recent letter to members of the legislature, “By this letter, we are urging you to protect our valuable resources and the public’s health by putting a moratorium on hydraulic frac-turing development in New Brunswick until further research can prove that the benefits clearly outweigh the risk of this practice.” The group, which represents about 700 family doc-tors in the province, is concerned about the potential contamination of public water supplies, as well as possible air pollution or toxic spills.
 
So why aren’t there any studies of the actual impacts to health from fracking?
 
It takes a while to conduct scientific studies — months if not years. It also takes funding, and funding is being politically suppressed. 

New York doctors built their case for a rigorous independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of fracking, testified before the state Assembly and wrote Cuomo to demand action. But the governor declined to fund an HIA in his budget. When Pennsylvania legislators tried to earmark about 1 percent of the state’s $200 million in drilling impact fees to establish an official state registry for individuals who claim injury or illness due to drilling, Corbett’s office worked to kill the effort.
 
And in the U.S. Congress a group of energy leaders in the House of Representatives wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to warn her to exer-cise caution about allowing the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study the health effects of fracking.
 
They singled out a particular CDC administrator as unsuitable to conduct the study. His thought crime: he had once been quoted as saying fracking fluids contain “potentially hazardous chemical classes,” and work near certain drill-ing sites “is turning up data of concern.”
 
When genuine science poses a threat, the industry calls on politicians to banish genuine science. The GOP House members, Corbett, and Cuomo have answered that call.

Other Articles

  • 2013
    Table of Contents


     
     

© copyright Sierra Club 1892-2012