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.
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.
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.
This peer-reviewed study by veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and Veterinary Medicine Professor of Pharmacology Robert Oswald, both of Cornell University, is the first scientific study to investigate reports of animal health impacts associated with shale gas development. The study is based on interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. It also documents associations between health symptoms experienced by animals and the health problems suffered by humans. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts.
Bamberger and Oswald conclude, “Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.”
Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources
Lisa M. McKenzie, Roxana Z. Witter, Lee S. Newman, John L. Adgate
From abstract: We estimated health risks for exposures to air emissions from a NGD project in Garfield County, Colorado with the objective of supporting risk prevention recommendations in a health impact assessment (HIA). We used EPA guidance to estimate chronic and subchronic non-cancer hazard indices and cancer risks from exposure to hydrocarbons for two populations: (1) residents living >½mile from wells and (2) residents living ≤½mile from wells.
Residents living ≤½mile from wells are at greater risk for health effects from NGD than are residents living >½mile from wells. Subchronic exposures to air pollutants during well completion activities present the greatest potential for health effects.
Science of the Total Environment
21 Mar 2012 [Epub ahead of print]