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)

 

Enniskillen meeting report

 There were people standing around the edges of the room, in the hallway and spilling out into the car park for Dr Aedin McLoughlin’s presentation at the Clinton Centre on Wednesday 28th September. Dr McLoughlin presented the case for and against shale gas extraction, covering issues including health, quality of life and the effects on the local economy. The aim of the evening was to share information in order to help Fermanagh residents to make an informed decision as whether this gas extraction is welcome in their county. Mr Tom Noble, former Principal of the Erne Integrated College, very ably chaired the meeting, allowing those in attendance to ask questions and share concerns. He ensured that opinions both for and against the process were aired in a respectful manner. Dr Carroll O’Dolan of Florencecourt and Marius Leonard of the Corralea Activity Centre were also on the panel to answer queries.

Some local elected representatives were in the audience and they were called upon by others to “get off the fence” and make their position on the controversial fracking process known. Some were ready to state their views while others said that they would make up their minds when they felt they had all the necessary facts. This was welcomed by other residents, although the urgency of the issue was also emphasised.

The farming community raised issues particularly relevant to them. While leasing their land to the gas exploration companies may seem a lucrative opportunity for farmers, some expressed concerns about the potentially lethal waste that would be left behind and their ultimate responsibility for clearing it. It was also noted with anxiety that the chemical benzene, a petroleum product  found in the flowback fluid coming up from the shale layer, could have a disastrous effect on the local agri-food industry if a leakage occurred. There was also much concern about the fact that planning permission was not required for the laying of gas pipes and that they could be run through any property without the owners’ permission.

Some of the landowners in attendance were very angry that any gas which might be extracted would almost certainly be exported and that very little if any would be used locally, meaning that the local economy would not benefit from lower fuel prices.

Dr O’Dolan was very concerned about the health implications of the process. The precise effects on human and animal health are very difficult to quantify, given that baseline studies are not generally carried out prior to exploration, but it has certainly not been shown that the procedure is safe for people, livestock or wildlife. He suggested we should wait until technology developed further and potential risks were mimimised. After all the gas, if left in the shale layer, is not going anywhere!

The audience was reminded that this process continues to be extremely controversial worldwide, that it is banned in many countries and states, and that pending law suits and protests are ongoing in countries such as the US and Australia where its use is more widespread. In England shale gas extraction has also caused much controversy with recent small earthquakes in Lancashire having been associated with the fracking process in the area. If this were to happen in Fermanagh, people were left to imagine, for example, the impact on the Marble Arch Caves, one of the county’s most important tourist attractions.

The meeting ended with the chairperson reminding those in attendance that the organisers – Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network – were not asking people to say a blanket “no” to shale gas extraction; rather, that they should become informed about the process before they say “yes”.

Further information meetings will be held in Newtownbutler on 4th October and Florencecourt on 26th October. Meetings are also being planned for Derrygonnelly, Garrison and Belleek.