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Issue No. 89 - October 1, 2016

1. New studies add to knowledge of fracking health impacts

Fracking Kills

Recent studies (August 2016) reinforce the findings of previous research indicating the adverse impacts of fracking on human health.

1.  Environmental Health Perspectives published research by scientists from Johns Hopkins University which links fracking in Pennsylvania to an increased incidence among residents of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, and severe fatigue. The study found that Pennsylvania residents with the greatest exposure to unconventional gas drilling are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of these health problems than people living farther from fracking activity.

The researchers received responses to a questionnaire from 7,785 adult primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System, which covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. Of the respondents, 1,765 (23%) suffered from migraines, 1,930 (25%) experienced severe fatigue, and 1,850 (24%) had chronic rhinosinusitis, defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms. The researchers used publicly available well data to estimate the participants' exposure to fracking activity, taking into account the size and number of wells in the area in which they lived and the distance between the wells and their homes. The results of the research indicate that people at greatest exposure to fracking activity were nearly twice as likely as those with the lowest exposure to suffer from some combination of the health problems studied.

This study is the third from Johns Hopkins to associate fracking with severe health problems. The first of the three studies, published in October 2015, found that expectant mothers living near fracked wells were at a greater risk of premature births and high-risk pregnancies than those with less exposure to fracking. The second, published in July 2016, found that proximity to unconventional natural gas wells increased the likelihood of asthma attacks.

2.  The journal Endocrinology published a study by researchers from the University of Missouri, which linked exposure to chemicals released during hydraulic fracturing to reproductive and development problems in mice. The scientists believe exposure to these chemicals could cause similar problems in humans.

The researchers mixed 23 fracking chemicals in varying concentrations and added them to the drinking water of female mice from gestational day 11 through birth. This prenatal exposure to chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas development was found to suppress pituitary hormone concentrations, increase body weights, alter uterine and ovary weights, and increase heart weights and collagen deposition, among other adverse health effects. These effects were noted at even the lowest concentrations of the chemicals to which the mice were exposed, which were lower than the concentrations of these chemicals that have been reported in drinking water.

According to study leader Susan Nagel, "Female mice that were exposed to commonly used fracking chemicals in utero showed signs of reduced fertility, including alterations in the development of the ovarian follicles and pituitary and reproductive hormone concentrations. These findings build on our previous research, which found exposure to the same chemicals was tied to reduced sperm counts in male mice. Our studies suggest adverse developmental and reproductive health outcomes might be expected in humans and animals exposed to chemicals in regions with oil and gas drilling activity."

The research team's previous research linking the chemicals to lower sperm counts in male mice is discussed here.

2. Currently operating coal, oil and gas fields sufficient to blow carbon budget

The Sky's Limit

As reported in the Guardian and Common Dreams, US-based think tank Oil Change International (OCI) has published a new study which shows that the carbon emissions that would be produced from burning the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating fields and mines are more than enough to push global warming past the internationally agreed limit of 2C.

This report follows previous research published in 2011 by the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, which showed that, for the world to remain within its "carbon budget" (the amount of carbon that can be released before the 2C threshold for global warming is reached), only 20% of known fossil fuel reserves could be burned, with the remaining 80% likely to become "stranded assets", a risk for investors. At the time, Bill McKibben, of, wrote this piece in Rolling Stone, which contributed to the start of the fossil fuel divestment movement.

While the Carbon Tracker research focused on known reserves, the new study from OCI considers only oil and gas fields and coal mines that are already in operation, and concludes that, even if coal were phased out immediately, oil and gas from currently operating fields alone will be enough to push the world past the 1.5C limit that is increasingly accepted as the threshold for preventing catastrophic climate change.

In the press release accompanying the report, Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of OCI, comments: "If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry," echoing the report's finding that the first and most important step to take is to stop any new development of fossil fuel infrastructure.

According to report author Greg Muttitt, "There are only three possibilities here. We can manage the decline of our existing fields, shifting to clean energy and redeploying workers. Or we continue to develop new reserves that then have to be shut down suddenly, stranding assets, costing investors, and causing havoc in fossil fuel extraction dependent communities. Or we just carry on as we are – and wreak economic, ecological and human catastrophe on the world."

In this article in the New Republic, Bill McKibben comments on the new report, noting that "If we're serious about preventing catastrophic warming...we can't dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any new pipelines. Not a single one. We're done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we've already put in production."

Commenting on the OCI report in the Guardian, columnist George Monbiot writes: "For the first time we can see the numbers on which the [Paris] agreement depends, and their logic is inescapable. Governments can either meet their international commitments or allow the prospecting and development of new fossil fuel reserves. They cannot do both.

"...The notion that we can open any new reserves, whether by fracking for gas, drilling for oil or digging for coal, without scuppering the Paris commitments is simply untenable."

3. TiSA documents reveal threats to climate action

TiSA - Another Secret Free Trade Agreement putting the Paris Agreement in a straight jacket

The EU and 22 other countries around the world are currently engaged in secret negotiations to conclude a free trade agreement related to services, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

According to Global Justice Now, TiSA would extend the principle of technical neutrality to cover energy policy, which could prevent countries from implementing policies that would favour renewable energy over fossil fuels.

The latest negotiating text, obtained and published by Greenpeace Netherlands stipulates that its energy neutrality provisions would apply to equally to renewable and non-renewable energy sources, while nuclear power would be exempt.

The leaked Energy Annex contains the following provisions:

"1. Each Party shall work to alleviate market distortions and barriers to competition in the supply of energy related services, including the distortions originating from the dominant position of [national] energy companies.

2. Each Party shall ensure that it has and enforces such laws and regulations as are necessary and appropriate to address anti-competitive conduct in the energy related services markets."

The Greenpeace analysis points out that the deregulation process required by TiSA could have "hugely negative impacts" on the ability of governments to implement the climate policies required to meet their commitments under the Paris COP21 agreement and to keep global warming within 1.5C over pre-industrial levels. Greenpeace argues that "to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the point where the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided, governments must be allowed to interfere and use all policy tools available to them", including introducing measures in favour of renewable energy that could be considered "anti-competitive".

Greenpeace further points out that while the Paris Agreement does not have an enforcement mechanism, TiSA does, meaning that its requirements would be more binding on states than the climate agreement.

As an example of what TiSA would mean, Greenpeace cites the case of Eneco, an integrated Dutch energy company owned by a group of local governments. In 2013, Eneco came under pressure due to liberalising laws from the Dutch parliament and was forced to split its production and distribution businesses. As a result, Eneco cut their renewable energy investment by 400 million euro and cancelled the construction of new offshore windfarms.

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