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Issue No. 11 - July 1, 2013

1. Assessing the health impacts of fracking

Toxic & Dirty Secrets

This article from Ecowatch outlines the findings of a new report, Toxic and Dirty Secrets:The Truth about Fracking and Your Family's Health (34 pages), issued by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a leading US environmental watchdog organisation. The study focuses on the health risks associated with the chemicals released into the air and water by hydraulic fracturing, noting that these risks are particularly high for pregnant women and children:

"Fracking exposes children and mothers to chemicals and substances such as methane, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), arsenic, radium, ozone, formaldehyde, radon, nitrogen oxides, methylene chloride, and silica sand. These substances are associated with low birth weight, birth defects, respiratory problems, cancer, and fertility problems."

Nine other studies related to the environmental and health risks associated with unconventional gas extraction were presented May 30-31, 2013 at a workshop held by the US National Academy of Sciences (the link at left provides access to videos, abstracts, and power point presentations). Topics including Public Health Risks in Shale Gas Development, Risks to Communities from Shale Gas Development, and Risks of Shale Gas Exploration and Hydraulic Fracturing to Water Resources in the U.S. were presented by scholars from some of America's leading universities, including Duke University and Yale. The presentations are summarised in this article: "What is the health impact of fracking?"

Sharing the U.S. experience of unconventional natural gas development with Europe: Assessing impacts upon air quality was presented by Dr. Robert Field of the University of Wyoming to the  European Commission's Green Week Conference 2013 held in Brussels June 4-7, 2013. Dr. Field's presentation concludes with the words: "Health impact assessments are needed to determine risks".

The need for health impact assessments is one of the main conclusions of the 2011 Irish EPA Review Report, which also calls for the removal of the EPA's current immunity from prosecution. The implementation plan issued by Environment Minister Phil Hogan on January 31, 2012 details the schedule for implementing each of the recommendations of this report.

2. Irish Farmers North and South say no to fracking

On June 16, as G8 leaders were gathering in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, farmers from both sides of the border held a tractor run protest to bring their opposition to fracking to the attention of national and world leaders. Between 60 and 70 farmers drove their tractors from Manorhamilton to the Ballroom of Romance in the border town of Glenfarne, County Leitrim, 25 km from Enniskillen.

As reported in the Irish Times, farmers in the border region are concerned that if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to go ahead, it will have grave consequences for Irish agriculture generally.

The Irish Times article quotes John Sheridan (Ulster Farmers' Union) as saying: "Three of the five biggest infant milk producers in the world are based on the island of Ireland,” he said. “The food and drink industry is worth €24 billion in the South and probably close to €30 billion North and South – and fracking could ruin that industry."

The article also cites Pat Gilhooley, chairman of the Leitrim branch of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), with regard to fracking as a local election issue: "We have to turn up the heat...The IFA is a lobby group which represents 90,000 people and I can assure you of our full support."

The IFA's concerns about the risks posed by fracking are outlined in the organisation's submission to the EPA's recent public consultation on the terms of reference for its planned study on the environmental and health impacts of unconventional gas exploration and extraction.

Two recent studies describe the effects of shale gas extraction on the dairy sector in Pennsylvania:

In New Zealand, the dairy cooperative Fonterra has said that it will no longer source milk from land affected by oil and gas fracking waste.

3. Two new reports on fracking groundwater contamination in North America

Gas Migration

Two new reports provide evidence that hydraulic fracturing contaminates water supplies.

The first, Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction (abstract, full text), authored by Robert B. Jackson of Duke University and published June 19, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that "Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006)." Well water was also found to be contaminated with ethane and propane, also associated with fracking.

The second, Brief Review of Threats to Canada's Groundwater from the Oil and Gas Industry's Methane Migration and Hydraulic Fracturing (93 pages) was issued by Jessica Ernst, the Canadian environmental consultant who has visited Ireland twice on speaking tours.

The Ernst report provides documented evidence of groundwater contamination in the United States and Canada, such as the following (p. 34):

"In 2006, the Texas Railroad Commission recorded 351 cases of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas activity. In 2007, New Mexico recorded 705 incidents of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas development since 1990. Pennsylvania environmental regulators “determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012.”

This quote, from journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, opens the report:

"As somebody who has reported for 20 years on this industry in [Alberta], I can tell you I've met hundreds of people in this province who have signed confidentiality agreements once their water was blown, once their livestock was killed, once a member of their family were injured, once they lost most of their grass or their trees as a result of fouling events, contamination events, air pollution, you name it. It is common practice in this province to buy people out, and then buy their silence ... so there is no record of how this industry quite often performs badly."

Here are two recent articles on the use of non-disclosure agreements by the oil and gas industry in the United States:

Issue No. 10     June 15, 2013
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