The Role of Ethics in Shale Gas Politics explores the question of how to determine the right course of action when the science is uncertain. “In the face of scientific uncertainty, national and international governments must make decisions on how to proceed. So far, the results have been varied, with some governments banning the process, others enacting moratoria until it is better understood, and others explicitly sanctioning shale gas development.”
Authors de Melo-Martín, Hays, and Finkel argue that when the science surrounding shale gas development is uncertain and there are many perceived costs and benefits in developing this resource,
(1) protection from serious harm generally takes precedence over the enhancement of welfare; (2) minimizing false negatives [e.g. concluding that there is no harm when harm has not yet been conclusively proven] in this case is more respectful to people’s autonomy; and (3) alternative solutions exist that may provide many of the same benefits while minimizing many of the harms.
Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development
Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development, authored by John L. Adgate,*,† Bernard D. Goldstein,‡ and Lisa M. McKenzie†, provides a detailed review of the range of potential risks to public health and evaluates the state of the evidence. Up to date, extensive overview.
ABSTRACT: The rapid increase in unconventional natural gas (UNG) development in the United States during the past decade has brought wells and related infrastructure closer to population centers. This review evaluates risks to public health from chemical and nonchemical stressors associated with UNG, describes likely exposure pathways and potential health effects, and identifies major uncertainties to address with future research.
The New Brunswick Lung Association (NBLA) position statement (2012) on shale gas development focuses on respiratory health.
“NBLA supports a precautionary approach to development of unconventional natural gas deposits in New Brunswick. This includes supporting a moratorium on the exploration, development, and production of unconventional natural gas until:
–The provincial government implements the recommendations of New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
— Outcomes of those recommendations indicate that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted in a way that does not negatively impact the health of people living in New Brunswick.
— A third-party independent agency provides a full-life-cycle comprehensive and realistic cost/ benefit analysis of the expected revenues and all costs to New Brunswickers that can be used to make a decision to proceed, or not, with Shale Gas development.
The association notes, “The risks associated with shale gas extraction are substantial and the level of magnitude at which it is carried out is unprecedented. To provide context, in Pennsylvania alone 5,364 wells have been drilled since 2007, a number expected to rise to over 100,000 within the next few decades. Regardless of the strength of regulation and safe practice, accidents will occur and water and air will become contaminated (Hays and Law, 2012).”
The NBLA concludes, “While no energy production method is completely benign, the large-scale development of shale gas resources and their potential impacts on human health and world climate call for precaution. Potential exposure pathways must be further investigated, and epidemiologic research is needed to quantify short- and long-term risks to human populations in New Brunswick.”
Read the full statement…
High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing of shale formations has the potential to make natural gas a significant, economical energy source, but the potential for harm to human health is often dismissed by proponents of this method. While adverse health outcomes of medical conditions with long latency periods will not be evident for years and will depend on the exposure, duration of exposure, dose, and other factors, we argue that it would be prudent to begin to track and monitor trends in the incidence and prevalence of diseases that already have been shown to be influenced by environmental agents. The dirty downside of modern, unconventional natural gas development, as well as the potential for harm, is discussed. Review Article from ISRN Public Health
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said one of the study’s authors, Susan C. Nagel, PhD, of the University of Missouri School of Medicine. “With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The study examined 12 suspected or known endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in natural gas operations and measured their ability to mimic or block the effect of the body’s male and female reproductive hormones. To gauge endocrine-disrupting activity from natural gas operations, researchers took surface and ground water samples from sites with drilling spills or accidents in a drilling-dense area of Garfield County, CO.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project was created in response to individuals’ and communities’ need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information and health services associated with natural gas extraction.
In Pensylvania, where new laws gag physicians from sharing information about fracking chemicals with their patients, the need for trusted health information is crucial.
SWPA-EHP provides an onsite nurse practitioner and also serves as a resource center for information on the potential routes of exposure from hazardous substances, as well as strategies for limiting the risk of health effects.
This peer reviewed study by Dr. Theo Colborn details the health risks related to air pollutants generated by natural gas operations. Researchers documented a range of volatile chemicals and correlated them with well site operations. They documented the presence of numbers of chemicals at levels which could have multiple health effects on adults as well as on prenatally exposed children. Many of the chemicals found in the air are endocrine disruptors.
A new peer-reviewed study finds that milk production and milk cows decreased in Pennsylvania counties where shale gas drilling is most prevalent.
From the abstract:
Unconventional natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania has accelerated over the past five years, and is unlikely to abate soon. Dairy farming is a large component of Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy. This study compares milk production, number of cows, and production per cow in counties with significant unconventional drilling activity to that in neighboring counties with less unconventional drilling activity, from 1996 through 2011. Milk production and milk cows decreased in most counties since 1996, with larger decreases occurring from 2007 through 2011 (when unconventional drilling increased substantially) in five counties with the most wells drilled compared to six adjacent counties with fewer than 100 wells drilled.
It will take years for the full health impact of natural gas development to be known. Authors of a new peer-reviewed study urge that steps be taken now to protect the health of humans and the planet. Modern Natural Gas Development and Harm to Health: The Need for Proactive Public Health Policies argues that the natural gas industry must make changes now to protect the health of people and animals.
The paper provides a literature review of unconventional natural gas development and its effects on human health. It focuses on impacts on children’s health, general harm to health, water contamination and air and soil contamination.
On Moyers & Company, biologist, mother and activist Sandra Steingraber explains why she was willing to go to jail for blocking access to the construction of a storage and transportation facility involved in the controversial process of fracking. Steingraber has become internationally known for building awareness about toxins she says are threatening our children’s health by contaminating our air, water and food. She talks to Bill about these “toxic trespassers,” and how we must act to stop them.
With government captured by the very industries it’s supposed to regulate, Steingraber has lost patience with politicians and corporations, but says our kids need to know “mom is on the job” of preventing destruction to the environment.