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Issue No. 59 - July 1, 2015

1. Majority of MEPs support fracking moratorium in symbolic vote

Protests against fracking for shale in London

For the first time, a majority of MEPs (338 to 319) has voted in favour of an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Europe in view of its "risks and negative consequences for the climate, the environment, and public health." The MEPs voted in support of Amendment 1 to the Energy Security Strategy report.

However, as the final report as a whole was not adopted, the moratorium on "any new operations involving the exploration or extraction of unconventional fuels within the EU until this is proven to be safe for the environment, citizens, and workers" will not take effect.

While some pro-fracking groups in the European Parliament voted against the amendment and the report as a whole, the European United Left – Nordic Green Left group (GUE/NGL), which voted for the fracking moratorium, opposed the final report on the grounds that it "underlined the importance of nuclear energy" and "moves in the same direction as neoliberal policies."

The votes of Irish MEPs on the fracking moratorium amendment were as follows:
  • For: Boylan (SF), Carthy (SF), Flanagan (Ind), Harkin (Ind), Ni Riada (SF)
  • Against: Childers (Ind), Clune (FG), Hayes (FG), McGuinness (FG), Kelly (FG)
  • Absent: Crowley (FF)
Despite the defeat of the final report, the vote in favour of an EU moratorium on unconventional fossil fuel exploration and extraction is considered "a milestone for the European anti-fracking movement" by the environmental group Food & Water Europe, whose director Geert De Cock commented: "Today’s vote in the Parliament provides a clear indicator that the public acceptance for the fracking industry is crumbling across the EU."

Adding its voice to those calling for an EU-wide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is the CHEM Trust, a UK charity that investigates the risks caused by chemicals to human health and wildlife. On June 20, 2015, the CHEM Trust published a new scientific study which highlights the risks of water, land, and air pollution from fracking, as well as the risks to oil and gas workers and to wildlife. It makes 18 recommendations, such as full disclosure of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations and the requirement of an Environmental Impact Assessment for all sites.

2. One death every six weeks among fracking workers in North Dakota

Oil and gas fatalities in the Bakken reports that on average, oil and gas drilling accidents in the Bakken shale play in North Dakota have caused one worker death every six weeks, for a total of at least 74 deaths since 2006. Politico Magazine partner Reveal, of The Center for Investigative Reporting, provides exclusive analysis of data from US and Canadian regulators. The actual number of deaths is likely to be higher than the number recorded by regulators, given shortcomings in the public systems for accounting for deaths in the oil and gas industry.
In addition to providing statistics on the total number of deaths due to fracking accidents, the Reveal analysis provides details of several specific incidents in which workers died or were left with severe burns, amputated limbs, and other injuries. The report cites Justin Williams, lawyer for the family of Brendan Wegner, a worker killed at the age of 21 in a rig explosion in 2011: “The Bakken is the most dangerous oil field to work in the US. The energy producers never pay for their mistakes; the insurance company for the contractor pays. It doesn’t give them any incentive to change the procedures that are unsafe.” The analysis highlights the use of performance bonuses paid by industry to workers for working quickly, and makes the connection between the culture of high productivity with the high number of deaths. As of January 28, there had been three deaths in 2015. According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which does not include certain fatalities, such as the deaths of independent contractors, there were 15 worker deaths in the Bakken in 2012, 14 in 2013, and 12 in 2014.

3. Elevated levels of metals and toxic chemicals found in Barnett Shale area well water

The University of Texas at Arlington studied water supplies in the Barnett Shale
The University of Texas at Arlington studied water supplies in the Barnett Shale
Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington have published a peer-reviewed study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology which reveals elevated levels of various metals and chemical compounds associated with hydraulic fracturing in public and private water wells throughout the Barnett Shale, as reports the Star-Telegram. The study analysed 550 groundwater samples from wells drawing from the aquifers that overlie the 5,000 square miles of the Barnett shale. There are more than 20,000 "unconventional drilling wells" using hydraulic fracturing in the area covered by the aquifers.

The researchers found elevated levels of 10 different metals and 19 chemical compounds, including BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes). At least one BTEX compound was found in 381 out of 550 samples. The study also found elevated levels of methanol and ethanol, both of which are used in unconventional drilling.

The UTA research contradicts the recently released findings of a long-awaited report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That report found that "there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources" but "did not find evidence that these mechanisms have lead to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."

Cited by the Star-Telegram, Alan Septoff, of the environmental group Earthworks made the following comment on the difference between the findings of the UTA and EPA studies: "I would argue that 550 wells over many square miles meets any reasonable definition of widespread…It is not pollution from one well, but it is pollution from many wells."

See also the following articles dealing with the new UTA research:

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