From Tempo to Tara: a personal testimony

FFAN

Dr. Geralyn McCarron, originally from Tempo in County Fermanagh, is now a GP in Australia.  Recently she decided to find out what effects fracking has had on a rural residential community five hours’ drive away from her surgery in Brisbane.  Read here her shocking story and the conclusions which she draws for our situation here and now.

NB Chief Medical Officer for Health’s visit

As we mentioned way back in December 2012 (well, it feels like a long time ago),  we’re delighted to host a presentation by Dr. Eilish Cleary, Chief Medical Officer for Health for New Brunswick in Canada.  She will be visiting Enniskillen on Monday 28th January and speaking at the Killyhevlin Hotel at 8pm about her recent report on fracking and its effects on public health.

This will be a fascinating insight into the realities of fracking, of importance to all local people and particularly health professionals and public servants.  Invitations to the event have been sent to local GPs, elected representatives and to Chief Medical Officers throughout the UK and Ireland.  Members of the public are also of course warmly invited and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on the 28th.

Click on the link below to download a poster which can be printed and displayed or emailed to other interested groups.

CMOHNB poster 28.01.2013

 

 

The radioactive genie

A new report in New York, written by a scientist with thirty years’ experience on the National Council on Radiation Protection, points out that:

“Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums.

Importantly, the type of radioactive material found in the Marcellus Shale and brought to the surface by horizontal hydrofracking is the type that is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over,

Radioactivity in the environment, especially the presence of the known carcinogen radium, poses a potentially significant threat to human health,

Therefore, any activity that has the potential to increase that exposure must be carefully analyzed prior to its commencement so that the risks can be fully understood.”

The report lays out “potential pathways of the radiation” through the air, water and soil. Through soil it would get into crops and animals eaten by people.

Radium causes cancer in people largely because it is treated as calcium by the body and  becomes deposited in bones.  It can mutate bones cells causing cancer and also impact on bone marrow. It can cause aplastic anemia—an inability of bone marrow to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. Marie Curie, who discovered radium in 1893 and felt comfortable physically handling it, died of aplastic anemia.

“Radioactive materials and chemical wastes do not just go away when they are released into the environment. They remain active and potentially lethal, and can show up years later in unexpected places. They bio-accumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching humans.”

Under the fracking plan for New York State, “there are insufficient precautions for monitoring potential pathways or to even know what is being released into the environment,” it states.

Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education, which is based in Port Washington, New York, and also editor of the report, commented as it was issued: “Once radioactive material comes out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for thousands of years, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate or mitigate. Sooner or later, it’s going to end up in our environment and eventually our food chain. It’s a problem with no good solution—and the DEC is unequipped to handle it.”

As for “various disposal methods…contemplated” by the agency “for the thousands of tons of radioactive waste expected to be produced by fracking,” Wood said that “none…adequately protect New Yorkers from eventual exposure to this radioactive material. Spread it on the ground and it will become airborne with dust or wash off into surface waters; dilute it before discharge into rivers and it will raise radiation levels in those rivers for everyone downstream; bury it underground and it will eventually find its way into someone’s drinking water. No matter how hard you try, you can’t put the radioactive genie back into the bottle.”

Furthermore, said Wood in an interview, in releasing radioactive radium from the ground, “a terrible burden would be placed on everybody that comes after us.  As a moral issue, we must not burden future generations with this. We must say no to fracking—and implement the use of sustainable forms of energy that don’t kill.”

 

Read the full article here:

Fracking for gas not just a toxic chemical risk | Enformable.

Photograph of fracking pools by eggrole, under Creative Commons licence on Flickr. 

Fracking and health: a unique opportunity

DR EILISH CLEARY, Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick, Canada has recently released a report into the Public Health aspects of shale gas development using fracking. This ground breaking report covers many important issues and we at Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network are incredibly fortunate to host Dr Cleary for a presentation here in Enniskillen. She will be addressing many of the topics raised in the New Brunswick report and this will be of relevance to us all, whether Fermanagh residents, health professionals or the government. Dr Cleary’s presentation is on Monday 28th January 2013 at 8.00pm in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen and all are very welcome to attend.

As a taster, here is a synopsis of her report, prepared by Dr. Carroll O’Dolan, chair of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network:

New Brunswick Report into Public Health & Shale Gas Development [Fracking]. 2012

The Chief Medical Officer of Health [CMOH] for New Brunswick, Canada, Dr Eilish Cleary, commissioned and published a report, in September 2012, into Shale Gas Development and its impact on Public Health. The report is very perturbing reading with regards to the risks we face with fracking.

Shale Gas Development is better known by the name Fracking or more correctly High Volume Hydraulic Fracking [HVHF] and has only recently become available to the oil and gas industry. HVHF is very different from the traditional fracking which has been used by the industry for the last sixty years. The scale and intensity of the new operations, combined with the vastly increased amounts of water required, has led some states in the USA and other Countries to consider this a new and unproven industry.

New Brunswick [NB] and the Northwest of Ireland share many similarities; notably both have many rural communities and small towns. Both areas also depend on the viability of their agriculture and tourism industries to sustain and underpin their local communities and towns now and into the future.

The NB report is divided into four main parts:

Guiding Principles for the Protection of Public Health.
What We Know Now and What We Don’t Know Now.
Recommendations for the Protection of Public Health.
Conclusions.

The Executive Summary states that:

‘unless proper controls are put in place there is a risk of spoiling any benefits from economic gains through adverse health outcomes’.

It goes on to say that

‘Government needs to take targeted and strategic actions aimed at prevention and mitigation of negative health impacts, which includes building capacity in local and provincial services and infrastructure. These will need to be put in place prior to further development as the current infrastructure, capacity, processes and legislation are not adequate to meet these needs. In addition, as this industry is new and evolving, monitoring of the health of the population will be important on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts. This will allow for modifications, if warranted, a slow down or halting of further development.’

Many aspects of Public Health that will be impacted by Fracking are dealt with in the report, one of which is the “Boomtown Effect”.

‘This effect occurs when a rapid change in population, industrialization and economic prosperity also leads to a host of social ills that impact community health. These can include increased rate of crime, drug and alcohol abuse. Sexually transmitted infections[STIs] and domestic violence; inadequate supply of quality housing; increased cost of living; increased community dissatisfaction; increased mental and social services case loads; increased hospital admissions; insufficient infrastructure; insufficient capacity in public services, including policing, local government, social services and health care. The Boomtown Effect is thought to be more intense for small communities with a traditional way of life that did not previously involve the industrial sector responsible for the boom.’

The assumed positives of the “Boomtown Effect” don’t always occur, the report says:

‘One could expect that as a result of economic gains due to increased income, energy and employment, there would be an indirect positive benefit in health status as a result of this industry, however clear evidence to support this was not found in the course of this review’.

The CMOH report covers all the areas of known and unknown risk relating to Fracking and this very fact that it is an evolving industry with a very short track record means that the  precautionary principle and burden of proof considerations must be paramount.

Precautionary Principle: when an activity or occurrence raises threats of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

Burden of Proof: the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful falls on those undertaking the activity rather than on Public Health authorities to prove that the activity is harmful.

There are many recommendations in the report; all are common sense, mostly relating to the gathering and monitoring of various markers, both direct and surrogate, of pollution and health. The very first recommendation states that equitable distribution of risks and rewards is required. Other recommendations refer to protection of health relating to changes in social and physical environments, protection of future generations and implementation and overseeing and monitoring of the industry.

All these recommendations will take time and money and the report states that much of the costs should be absorbed by the industry; however proper oversight is required to ensure genuine independence between the industry and the regulators.

There are so many aspects to Fracking that impact on Public Health that much more detailed investigation is warranted before we make the ‘dash for gas’. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is currently investigating the impacts of fracking on drinking water and ground water; the full report is due out in 2014.

The CMOH report states:

‘Although this [USEPA]  will probably be the most definitive study ever regarding potential impacts on water, it is not designed to assess all the possible public health risks and as such is not a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment’

The report continues;

‘The public discussion on shale gas has been dominated to date by chemical toxicity concerns and has focused on water and hydraulic fracturing chemicals; while these are important, there is a risk of overlooking other potentially more problematic considerations, such as community health issues and the potential for physical injury. The scientific literature and medical literature has not widely reported or studied factors such as potential impacts to community health, mental health and socioeconomic wellbeing but rather also has been focused on issues surrounding potential environmental toxicants’

The report lists these environmental toxicants as including petroleum, heavy metals [mercury, cadmium, lead] radioactive waste and highly saline flow back fluid that all carry the risk of entering the surface or ground water. Also present are risks to air quality, noise, vibration, continuous illumination and physical hazards due to extensive heavy truck use.

Public Health Departments need to be involved in the investigation of Fracking, yet to date they have not been, as the report states:

‘ Although Health concerns are often noted as an important preoccupation among the public, there has been a notable lack of participation of Public Health agencies in many of the ongoing initiatives to regulate the industry elsewhere. This may be due to a general lack of understanding about the potential impacts on health, little precedent to draw on for learnings or plans that could be followed, a narrow scope of what “health” means, and/ or a belief that engineering controls and regulators can mitigate all of the potential impacts’.

This CMOH report by Dr Cleary and her team is a timely reminder and warning that we should not take High Volume Hydraulic Fracking as a proven and safe industry. Fracking may well cost our communities dearly in health and health care expenditure if we do not assess all the risks properly.

‘Ultimately this simply translates to, what is the cost of being wrong about estimating risk? If we believe the risks are moderate and acceptable and can be mitigated but we are wrong, what is the worst that can happen? If we believe the risks are extreme and unacceptable and we are wrong, then what?’

The above quote is a chilling message. This assessment of risk comes from a reliable and truly independent source whose job it is to protect Public Health. We must insist that the Government take heed and await the proper evaluation of Fracking by a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment. At present the Northern Ireland Government is planning only an Environmental Impact Assessment which entails a more superficial view of Health than is required. What is becoming apparent is that only a truly comprehensive Health Impact Assessment by trained Public Health Doctors can fully investigate the long term consequences for Public Health. Geologists, Engineers and Environmental Scientists all have their specific skills in the assessment of HVHF but none can properly assess Public Health. If the risks, once assessed, for our communities are deemed too high then fracking must not proceed.

Dr Carroll O’Dolan.
Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners
& Chairperson of Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network

Dec.  2012.

Read Dr Cleary’s report in full here.

 

 

Dr. O’Dolan and Mr. Poots

Following FFAN’s meeting with the Environment Minister on 5th September and subsequent correspondence, the FFAN Chair, Dr. Carroll O’Dolan, wrote to the Minister of Health, Mr. Edwin Poots.  He asked Mr Poots to ensure that the Department of Health be represented within the inter-departmental Shale Gas Forum, and to meet with FFAN to discuss the serious public health concerns arising out of fracking.

Mr. Poots replied (second page here), declining to meet FFAN at this time, but confirming that the Chief Environmental Health Officer had represented the Department at the first formal meeting of the Shale Gas Forum on 18th October.

Shale causes rise in gas pollution

Flaring, the deliberate burning of gas at the sites of wells and refineries, is an heart-breaking problem for both local people and worldwide. Gas flares release poisonous chemicals including benzene, nitrogen dioxides and dioxin into the air, causing cancer, respiratory problems, leukemia and other blood-related diseases. As well as being a gigantic waste of precious energy, it also contributes enormously to carbon dioxide emissions, speeding up climate change and all its related tragedies.

This new exclusive article in the Chicago Tribune shows how, after years of much-needed decline, the amount of gas flared globally is once more increasing – thanks to shale gas extraction.

Exclusive: Shale causes rise in waste gas pollution – chicagotribune.com.

Mythbusters 2 – Chemicals


The myth: Fracking can be carried out without using chemicals.

The reality:

1.  As far as we can tell, modern high-pressure fracking of horizontal wells* hasn’t been carried out anywhere in the world without using chemical additives.  These are necessary for simple functions such as keeping the sand particles suspended in the water and preventing build-up of bacteria and living matter in the pipes.  But the chemicals used are far from simple – in New York State 260 constituents of fracking fluid have been listed. These include:

  • chemicals toxic to humans, animals and aquatic life.
  • substances known to cause cancer
  • mutagenic substances
  • chemicals with damaging reproductive effects

2. If it were possible to leave these chemicals out of the fluid, then fracking would have to be carried out at much higher pressures, making it more likely that pipes and seals could crack, leading to leaks and contamination of water and soil.

3. Even if chemicals were not used in the actual hydraulic fracturing operation, they would still be used in other parts of the process, such as the drilling of the wells.

4. Even if chemicals were not added to the fracking fluid, the liquid that flowed back to the surface would still contain contaminants picked up from deep underground.  These can include heavy metals such as arsenic, forms of oil and gas, high levels of salt and radioactive materials.

5. Remember that the company which obtains the initial licence to extract the gas will not necessarily be the same as the one that finally carries out the fracking operations and finally that ‘promises’ to local people contained in public relations material have no legal effect.

 

* There was an early form of low-pressure hydraulic fracturing which used water to flush out the remains of oil or gas from conventional vertical wells.  It is in the interests of some  to keep us confused about the difference between the two.

More new research

Two more recent and reliable studies:

HOW ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION CAN IMPACT HUMAN HEALTH; THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM IN PARTICULAR. Dr ADAM LAW. MD. { 2011 }.

NATURAL GAS: SHOULD FRACKING STOP? PROFESSOR R. HOWARTH & PROFESSOR T. INGRAFFEA.
PUBLISHED IN “NATURE” JOURNAL { 2011 }

 

Latest research

  The chair of FFAN, Dr Carroll O’Dolan, has put together this very useful list of the latest authoritative research available on the subject of fracking.

FFAN

1) TYNDALL CENTRE, UNIVERSITY of MANCHESTER.
SHALE GAS REPORT COMMISIONED BY THE CO-OPERATIVE BANK { 2011}

http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/technical-report/2011/shale-gas-provisional-assessment-climate-change-and-environmental

2) U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY DRAFT REPORT INTO GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION IN WYOMING {2011}
“ EXPLANATION BEST FITTING THE DATA [IS THAT] CONSTITUENTS ASSOCIATED WITH HYDRAULIC FRACTURING HAVE BEEN RELEASED INTO THE WIND RIVER DRINKING WATER AQUIFER”
3) EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT: POLICY DOCUMENT {2011}
IMPACTS OF SHALE GAS AND SHALE OIL EXTRACTION ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND ON HUMAN HEALTH.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY PAGE 9.
4) THE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTION INDEX, COLORADO.
REPORT – NATURAL GAS OPERATIONS FROM A PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE { 2011}
www.endocrinedisruption.com ON HOME PAGE CLICK INTO THE REPORT.
5) DOCTORS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AUSTRALIA INC. [ D E A ] http://www.dea.org.au
INQUIRY INTO COAL SEAM GAS { 2011 }

Fuelling Ireland’s public health problems

Fuelling Ireland’s public health problems — Irish Medical Times. (click on link to read the article in full)

“[F]ive issues can be identified that raise concerns about the impact of fracking on health.   Firstly, the process of fracking uses a wide variety of chemicals,  including friction reducers, surfactants, gelling agents, scale inhibitors, acids, corrosion inhibitors, antibacterial agents and clay stabilisers. Additional naturally occurring heavy metals and radioactive materials may also be mobilised from the rock during its fracture, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, thorium and uranium and these may also interact with the chemicals in the fluid.

In addition, the possibility of accidental release of chemicals and gases through fire, vandalism, or spills and leaks from poor practices is an ongoing risk.

Toxic mud and fluid by-products from the drilling and fracking, as well as spills of oil and gas wastes, are not uncommon. The health impact of such chemicals depends on factors such as the toxicity, dose, route and duration of exposure, and the vulnerability of the people being affected…

Secondly, air may also be contaminated by volatile chemicals released during drilling (combustion from machinery and transport) and from other operations, during methane separation or by evaporation from holding ponds. Methane gas is also explosive….

Thirdly, fracking requires substantial amounts of water, 1.5 million gallons per well …  A shortage of water would pose considerable threats to health and well-being of people living in the area. The company proposes using some of the waste water for fracking. However, this will very possibly involve the burning off some of the toxic residues leading to additional air pollution, as well as storage difficulties.

Fourthly, the soil may be contaminated by drilling sludge, which may contain drilling mud, hydrocarbons, radioactive material and heavy metals. This would have serious consequences for grasslands used for leisure or agriculture purposes. The consumption of meat and or milk from animals grazing on such land would also give rise for concern.

Finally, the British Geological Survey states that it is well established that fluid injections can cause small earthquakes and fracking has been associated with two small quakes near Blackpool.

It is widely recognised that we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gasses. The adoption of fracking is a step away from a solution to the problem of climate change. We must leave any remnants of fossil fuel in the ground, instead of seeking ever more expensive and environmentally destructive methods of extracting them. … In the interests of public health, we must not allow fracking in Ireland.

Any tragedy is upsetting; an avoidable tragedy is all the more so.”

(Dr. Elizabeth Cullen)