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Issue No. 26 - February 15, 2014

1. Fracking linked to birth defects

A new study from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado has found that babies with congenital heart defects and neural tube defects are more likely to be born to mothers who live in the proximity of natural gas development. The likelihood of these birth defects was found to increase as the density and proximity of natural gas installations increased.

Specifically, the study, which examined 124,842 births
in rural Colorado between 1996 and 2009, found a 30% greater incidence of congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers living within 10 miles of 125 or more gas wells compared to mothers with no wells within a 10-mile radius of their homes. Similarly, neural tube defects occurred twice as frequently in the babies of mothers living in the areas of highest gas well density, compared to those with no gas well within 10 miles of their homes.

In this well-researched article (, Feb. 4, 2014), Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk reviews the findings from a number of recent studies (to which links are provided in the article) on the health effects of air pollution from shale gas and oil development. He describes a number of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and others known to be released into the air and water by unconventional fossil fuel extraction, and explains some of their harmful effects on human health, which include changing human DNA, disrupting hormones, and causing abnormal cell growth in fetuses. Many of the chemicals are known to be carcinogenic.

Nikiforuk notes that "chemicals now widely used by the shale gas fracking industry include many that are hazardous even at low or barely detectable levels. These include the bacteria killers, glutaraldehyde and 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide (DBNPA); the corrosion stopper propargyl alcohol; and the foaming agent 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), as well as lubricants containing naphtha."

2. Cuadrilla lacks radioactive waste permits, withdraws fracking applications

Radioactive Wastewater
(Photo: Thomasnet)

Along with the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (see Item #1 above, and here), fracking "flowback" wastewater brings naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) from deep in the ground to the surface, which means that the wastewater is radioactive.
Under UK regulations that were revised in 2011 to comply with EU regulations, this wastewater is no longer classed as industrial effluent that can be treated and discharged to surface water. Now a radioactive waste permit is required.

Cuadrilla, the company whose hydraulic fracturing operations caused earthquakes in Blackpool in 2011 has withdrawn its applications to conduct fracking in Lancashire because it lacks the necessary radioactive waste permits, as this article in the UK Independent (Jan. 27, 2014) reports (excerpts below).

"When Cuadrilla fracked near Blackpool it found traces of naturally occurring uranium and thorium, as well as levels of radium that were 90 times higher than naturally occurs in drinking water."

"Previously, regulations classed the waste water as industrial effluent, allowing Cuadrilla to pour two million gallons into the Manchester Ship Canal after being processed at the Davyhulme treatment works at Trafford."

 This document from the UK environment agency explains the permit requirements and provides the results of wastewater sampling from Cuadrilla sites, showing the levels of heavy metals and radioactive materials found in the wastewater.

Despite this setback, Cuadrilla insists that its plans for fracking in Lancashire "have not stalled", and the company has announced plans to apply for planning permission for eight new wells.

The Irish situation with regard to radioactive waste is summarised on this page from the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There is no mention made of facilities or procedures for disposal of large quantities of radioactive wastewater.

3. UK public support for fracking down despite government efforts

Keep Fracking Out Of The UK
In addition to opposing any new EU legislation regulating unconventional fossil fuel extraction (see also SGBI No. 25), and offering financial incentives to communities that accept fracking, the Guardian has revealed that UK government officials worked privately with industry officials to help manage increasingly hostile public opinion.

Email records obtained through freedom of information requests revealed that government officials met informally with industry officials and discussed "stakeholders" to target as well as "lines to take" in response to a report on the health impacts of fracking. One suggested "line" from the government: "We are confident that there is robust and appropriate regulation in the UK to ensure safe operations that minimise impacts to human health."

The communities where shale gas extraction is proposed, however, tend to be less confident about the appropriateness of existing regulations, as this email from a Centrica official to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reveals: "The most common theme [of a county council meeting] was that separate onshore regulation is needed of shale, they clearly don't feel totally comfortable with the current situation/or understand how it will work."

This growing unease with regard to hydraulic fracturing is reflected in the latest of a series of opinion polls conducted by the University of Nottingham.

It is also reflected in the decision by BP not to perform fracking in the UK, as it would attract "the wrong kind of attention" to the company.

Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark Durkan has asserted that it is he, and not UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who will decide whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing in Northern Ireland: “When it comes to Northern Ireland, it’s not David Cameron’s decision, it’s mine.”

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