Extreme urgency for NI politicians to ensure and guarantee a ban on petroleum (oil and gas) licenses in Northern Ireland

Concerned community groups, including FFAN, are stating the extreme urgency for NI politicians to ensure and guarantee a ban on petroleum (oil and gas) licenses in Northern Ireland [NI].

During this momentous time when the COP26 climate change conference was recently held in Glasgow, our own politicians are planning to undermine the very fabric of meaningful change. The NI Department of Economy [DfE, DUP minister] is presently in the final stages of bringing their petroleum policy to the NI Executive and Assembly for a vote before Christmas 2021.

This policy currently does not include the very obvious option of banning petroleum licenses altogether in NI. Instead, it will have various policy options on how to regulate the industry. The agenda for policies to be brought forward has to be jointly agreed by the two parties that make up the OFMDFM (office of first minister & deputy first minister).

These parties are SF and the DUP. Thus only SF can, using their power over the agenda, insist that the DfE add the policy option of a complete ban on petroleum licensing to the policy. So please lobby your SF MLAs and all in that party to insist on a policy option of a complete ban on petroleum licensing in NI is included in the DUPs document.

Thank you.

FFAN response to the Hatch Report – Nov 2021

A summary of the ‘Hatch report’ relating to the possibility of petroleum licensing in Northern Ireland recently became available. This summary,
https://www.facebook.com/139276246741759/posts/851207292215314/ was commissioned by the Department for the Economy and delivered to that Dept in July 2021. Below is the response of FFAN [Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network].

In the fifth paragraph, the report states ‘the scale of the potential GVA [gross value added] and the employment impacts are shown to be relatively low, even under the high development scenario’. Then in the graph at the end of the report it states that this same high development scenario is likely to have major adverse impacts on groundwater and surface pollution and abstraction, also major adverse impacts on social cohesion and community wellbeing. This is no surprise to all of the community groups who have been researching this issue for the last ten years. But shocking that these petroleum licenses are even being considered. Thus the Hatch Report has given the NI Executive the answer to the question should we allow petroleum licensing in Northern Ireland; the benefits are low and the risks are too high so the answer can only be No.

Even using this sanitised version of the oil and gas industry presented by the Hatch Report it is full of glaring omissions and commissions.
Once established the fracking will commence at a higher intensity than the report suggests as that is the only way the industry can make money. The oil and gas industry will then leave us in NI to literally clean up the mess and pay the bills.

Other points

  1. None of the authors, based on tender process documents, have any Medical or Public Health qualifications.
  2. The ‘No development scenario’ is dismissed in one sentence early on as simply a baseline. The report says this scenario will have ‘no additional social or environmental impacts on the baseline conditions’. This current baseline protects our health, air and water. It protects our agriculture, tourism and many more jobs. It is the baseline building block for our future prosperity towards a greener sustainable future. This baseline is not a brake on our potential development, but a prerequisite.
  3. The report mentions climate change and net-zero many times, yet repeatedly tries to justify setting up a fossil fuel industry from scratch, in the same year as the COP26 summit.
  4. Section 18: The petroleum licensing Act of 1964 is used in this section to justify the unjustifiable. It must be obvious by now to all parties that this policy has to be updated to reflect the climate emergency that we live in. To meet net-zero by 2050 we must have a zero-tolerance for setting up (and subsidising) a fossil fuel industry in NI. We need a new energy policy to reflect this; specifically that no petroleum licenses will be considered or granted.
  5. Section 20: The report states that the Northern Ireland [NI] assembly debated a motion on a moratorium on onshore [hydrocarbon] development until a bill was brought to ban the same. The report fails to mention that the NI Assembly did not just debate it, but unanimously passed that motion.
  6. Section 31: Lateral drills per well. The report says low intensity will be ten wells & two lateral drills per well, high intensity will be 34 wells & four lateral drills per well. This is a gross underestimate, Wells usually have 8 to12 lateral drills, often up to 16. Tamboran were planning for 60 wells in Fermanagh ~ 1km apart, each well with 12 lateral drills. The more lateral drills created, then the greater the risk of aquifer pollution, fugitive methane emissions and leaks both above and below ground.
  7. Section 40: The report says the oil and gas industry will have a negligible impact on tourism; maybe even increase some trade in restaurants. In reality, the impact on tourism will be negative, large and immediate.
  8. Section 44: Will only have a modest negative impact on the Agri-food sector. This is a highly suspect claim, the negative impact will be huge and long term
  9. Section 47: Health Impact Assessment and associated issues simply stated as not done.
  10. Section 55: States that the UGEE JRP [unconventional gas exploration & extraction joint research programme, Irish-all island group] concludes that ‘there is significant uncertainty around the following topics in particular: Groundwater aquifers could be polluted as a result of the failure or deterioration of well Integrity. These aquifers could also be polluted by the migration of pollutants and gas to the aquifer as a result of the fracking process. The long term leakage of gas after well closure’.

The Hatch report does not even consider the precautionary principle. That the NI Executive should be considering allowing a highly polluting industry into our communities and that this report is unsure of the long term damage to our air and water and thus our health, is truly shocking.

Dr Carroll O’Dolan. MRCGP. MICGP.
Health spokesperson for FFAN
[Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network].

Press Release: Don’t make Fermanagh a ‘Sacrifice Zone’ to fracking

Community campaigners and Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland have pleaded with politicians not to make Fermanagh a ‘Sacrifice Zone’ to fracking. The call was made following a photo shoot at Lough Melvin in Garrison involving one of the iconic symbols of the Extinction Rebellion movement, the ‘Red Rebels’. The lone rebel who represents a call to act against climate change and biodiversity collapse in their distinctive flowing red cloak made an appearance on the shore of the majestic Lough Melvin to draw attention to the threat of the fracking industry gaining a foothold there. The action was even more important as Garrison is one of the license areas under threat.

The Northern Ireland Department for the Economy study on fracking is due to be published imminently. Serious concerns have been raised previously about this study, including that the tender was awarded to a company with strong ties to the oil and gas industry and that there is already an overwhelming volume of peer reviewed scientific, medical and public health research that documents the negative impacts of fracking on communities and the climate. This includes the highly respected, annually updated Compendium of Scientific and Medical findings by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals New York (i)

There is a strong belief amongst community campaigners, who have been working on the issue for over a decade, that in light of the ever-growing availability of existing peer reviewed research on fracking that the new study commissioned by the Department for the Economy was unnecessary. Public opposition to licenses that will invariably result in fracking has been overwhelming. A day before the tender for the DFE study was awarded the Northern Ireland Assembly voted unanimously in support of an immediate moratorium on the issuing petroleum licenses. (Oct 13th 2020). There were also over 5,700 public submissions opposing the EHA and Tamboran license applications while Fermanagh and Omagh and District Council called for a ban on oil/gas prospecting in the DFI Strategic Planning Policy Statement. Over 80 NGO’s and groups including Friends of The Earth NI, Farmers For Action Coleraine, Belcoo GAA Club, and Youth Climate Association NI endorsed a call for an immediate ban on fracking. (ii)

Tom White of Belcoo Frack Free said

“The evidence is conclusive with regards to fracking and its risks to public health, the environment and the climate. We need the Executive to take the actions the Assembly gave them a mandate to do, namely enact the motion of October 13th and have an immediate moratorium on all petroleum licensing, while we wait for the legislative process to prohibit the granting of petroleum licences here. It’s crucial that our political leaders reflect the will of the people, act on our behalf, and remove the threats posed by this industry here in Fermanagh and across other areas of Northern Ireland. “

Dr Carroll O Dolan from the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network said

“The risks of this industry to our health, environment, climate, communities, jobs and prosperity is too high to allow these companies a foot hold in the province. We need the issuing of licenses to stop immediately. We are asking the public to get on to their politicians and ask for this.”

For more information or interview please contact

Tom White (Belcoo Frack Free)
0044 7747 010308

Dr Carroll O Dolan (Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network)
00447780684531

For further information

(i) https://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/

(ii) http://www.safetybeforelng.ie/pressreleases/pressrelease20201127GroundsForUrgentNIExecutiveBanOnFrackingAndDrilling.html

Press statement in advance of Stormont debate

Over this past decade our particular communities have experienced first hand various attempts at oil and gas exploration in Northern Ireland, and the government sector’s system-wide inability to cope with its complexity. Now that the UK is signed up to the Paris Agreement and has made a net-zero carbon commitment, it is time to suspend, not just review, fossil fuel development.

In the interests of protecting public health and the environment from the polluting impacts of this industry, meeting our climate change obligations, and so that other communities don’t have to experience the same stress and disruption that we have, we have come together to call for the Assembly to:

“acknowledge its responsibility to protect public health and the environment and call on the Executive to instigate an immediate moratorium on petroleum licencing for all exploration for, drilling for and extraction of hydrocarbons until legislation is brought forward that bans all exploration for, drilling for and extraction of hydrocarbons in Northern Ireland.”

The motion builds on the 2015 Strategic Planning Policy Statement presumption against the exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction in Northern Ireland introduced by Mark H Durkan, and recognises the moratoria, in various forms, on fracking in England, Scotland and Wales and the ban on fracking in the Republic of Ireland.


Statement issued on behalf of Belcoo Frack Free, LAMP Fermanagh, Protect Our North Coast, Stop The Drill Campaign, Ballinlea Residents Group, Friends of Woodburn Forest, Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, Love Leitrim and Safety Before LNG.

The impact of Fracking on Health: an overview Sept 2020 Version 2.1

The information below is drawn from the CHPNY compendium. CHPNY stands for ‘Concerned Health Professionals of New York State’ and is made up mostly, but not exclusively, of Doctors, Nurses & Medical Academics. Their website is www.concernedhealthny.org this very important compendium is updated every 12-18 months and is ‘open access’ to all, both researchers & public. The first edition in 2014 was 70 pages, it is now more than 360 pages of research.

Fracking in all its different names & guises is used to extract petroleum products, usually methane gas, from underground rocks, often shale or sandstone. It is very damaging to the environment but is especially damaging to human health. Two of the more common names are HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracking] or UGEE [unconventional gas exploration & extraction] all amount to the same thing.

Below is summarised a small fraction of points from current compendium which covers 16 major topics relating to HVHF. A full read of all fracking’s’ negative impacts is both very long and very shocking. The Public Health section, pages 155 to 172, reveals a litany of never-ending and wide-ranging disasters inflicted upon hundreds of communities; everything from increased road traffic accidents to higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea. I begin with the conclusion from the current [June 2019] sixth edition:

‘ All together, findings to date from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations combine to demonstrate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, human health, public safety, community cohesion, long-term economic vitality, biodiversity, seismic stability, and climate stability.

The rapidly expanding body of scientific evidence compiled and referenced in the present volume is massive, troubling, and cries out for decisive action. Across a wide range of parameters, from air and water pollution to radioactivity to social disruption to greenhouse gas emissions, the data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks. There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperilling climate stability upon which public health depends. The only method of mitigating its grave harm to public health and the climate is a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking.

In closing, we cite comments by epidemiologist Irena Gorski, co-author of the 2019 review of fracking’s health concerns published in the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Global Public Health. Her words speak for all who have contributed to this Compendium:

What we found pushes back against the narrative we often hear that say we don’t know enough about the health impacts yet. We have enough evidence at this point that these health impacts should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health….As a fossil fuel, natural gas extraction and use is contributing to climate change, of course. But before conducting this study, I didn’t realize the amount of evidence we have that it may be even worse than coal. We included this in our study because climate change has its own contributions to health impacts. These indirect impacts will take longer to appear than the direct health impacts, but they have the potential to be significant.’

Air pollution

Infant deaths rose six fold in Unitah, Utah over a three year period after the advent of fracking in the area. ‘We know that pregnant women who breath more air pollution have much higher rates of virtually every adverse pregnancy outcome that exists’. {p171}

Lower birth weight and increased premature births [both predictors of increased risk of lifelong ill health] associated with mothers living near fracking sites; cause- air pollution. {p171}

Increased congenital heart defects [and possibly neural tube defects] if mother lived within ten miles [16km] of fracking area. {p171}

Colorado researchers found that BTEX [benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene] four common air pollutants from fracking operations can interfere with human hormones even at levels below the recommendations. BTEX cause sperm abnormalities reduced foetal growth, heart and lung disease. {p57}

281% predicted increase in Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs; known carcinogens and neurological disruptors] due to HVHF in Eaglesford, Texas. {p62}

Review of existing data on air pollutants from fracking operations ‘support precautionary measures to protect the health of infants and children’ {p54}

The John Hopkins University discovered that asthmatic patients are 1.5 to 4 times more likely to suffer an asthma attack if living close to a fracking site compared to people living further away. The study was praised by an independent scientist for its “rigorous research methods”. {p164}

91% increase in thyroid cancer in people living near shale gas developments. {p163}.

Elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found near frack sites. These hydrocarbons are linked to cancer risk, respiratory distress and poor birth outcomes. {p49}

Helicopter survey reveals that methane & VOC leakage at well heads much higher than found in earlier audits. An Engineer given his opinion on study stated ‘It makes regulation very difficult. If you have all these possible sites where you can have leaks, you can never have enough inspectors with all the right equipment being in all the right places at all the right times. It is too complex a system’. {p54}

University of Maryland study shows that fracking can pollute air hundreds of miles downwind of well pads. {p58}

Dangerous levels of benzene in air around fracking sites; Health Official states ‘The concerns of the Public are validated’. {p64}

American Lung Association states air quality in rural areas close to fracking sites now worse than air quality in urban areas. {p65}

Research estimates total annual VOC emissions at fracking sites are equivalent to 100 million cars [USA currently has 150M cars on its roads]. {p63}

University of California meta-analysis of 37 peer reviewed studies on air pollutants associated with fracking identified 61 hazardous pollutants. These pollutants are all either known to [or suspected to] cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm or other serious health effects. {p46}

The Colorado School of Public Health showed an increased risk of ill health, both cancer & non-cancer, of people living near frack pads. {p66}

Parts of Utah, previously with pristine air quality, now have levels of smog and pollution that rival downtown Los Angeles. {p60}

Albany University study shows eight highly toxic chemicals in air samples collected near fracking sites across five states. Most common were benzene & formaldehyde; 29 out of 76 samples far exceeded federal health & safety standards. Lead researcher stated ‘Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities [yet]. But in five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen’. {p59}

For people living within 160m of a frack pad/well lifetime cancer risks were eight times higher than the EPA’s [United States Environmental Protection Agency] upper threshold. Elevated levels of benzene and alkanes were of particular concern. {p49}

Water Pollution

HVHF wells have significant leakage/ integrity problems in both the short & long term. Percentage of leaking wells varies from 5% [immediately], to 50+% at 15 years {p119/124}. The earthquakes triggered by fracking damage both the well casing and also the cement, further increasing the well failure rates {p123/124}. Industry has no solutions for rectifying this chronic problem. Polluted frack waste water, usually tens of millions of litres per frack pad, is lost long term to the hydrologic cycle {p168}. Leaking wells also allow methane to directly enter the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.

Cornell University study showed that fracking fluid and the flow back water interfere with the ability of soil to bond to and sequester pollutants such as heavy metals. Thus fracking fluids may release from soils an additional repository of contaminants that could migrate into ground water. {p107}

University of Missouri team tested chemicals used in one frack area. Of the 24 fracking chemicals tested, all 24 interfered with one or more hormone receptors in humans. There is no safe level of exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals. {p107}

Many confirmed cases of drinking water contamination from fracking in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia & Texas, thus casting doubt on Industry view that this rarely or never happens. {p109}. A Pennsylvania Court found a gas corporation guilty of contaminating a home owner’s drinking water; methane levels were 1,300 to 2,000 times higher than the baseline. {p108}

U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] study of groundwater pollution at HVHF site in North Dakota found that an area of 12 square miles was the result of a well casing failure. Another USGS report into fracking states ‘the knowledge of how extraction affects water resources has not kept pace with the technology’. {p110}

Frack wastewater is the flow back water that returns back up the well after it has been has been fracked. The volume is usually between 5 to 10 million litres, per well fracked. There may be ten to 16 wells per frack pad and each well can be fracked several times. This huge volume of highly contaminated frack wastewater is a very serious pollution hazard. “There is no known solution for the problem of fracking wastewater. It cannot be filtered to create clean drinking water, nor is there any safe method of disposal. Recycling is an expensive, limited option that increases radionuclide levels of subsequent [more concentrated] wastewater. Underground reservoirs that receive fracking wastewater via injection into disposal wells, a practice that is linked to earthquakes, are reaching capacity in many regions in the United States.” {p69}

EPA report demonstrates that a HVHF well that was fractured at 1300m [4,200 feet] contaminated a water supply only 120m [400 feet] from the surface. This dispels the myth that HVHF cannot cause contamination more than 500m away. {p116}

Oil & Gas operators generally opt for out of court settlements that include ‘non-disclosure’ agreements [gagging clauses]. This strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the media and health researchers and makes it difficult to challenge the claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water. {p112}

Stanford, Duke & Ohio State joint assessment of fracking data shows that vertical fractures can propagate to over 600m upward, thus risking contaminating any water sources. The planned area in Fermanagh will be shallow fracking. {p93}

EPA concedes that insufficient baseline drinking water data & lack of long term systematic studies limited the power of its findings; meaning the contamination the EPA found near fracking sites could be easily denied by the Industry. {p95}

Stanford University researchers document that fracking in shallow layers of bedrock, including those that serve as drinking water aquifers, is not uncommon. This is because the HVHF industry is exempt from the Safe drinking Water Act. {p106}

West Virginia EPA confirmed that three private drinking water wells were contaminated by a fracking company when it mistakenly drilled into its own well, resulting in benzene being detected in the drinking water at four times the legal maximum limit. {p102}

Pennsylvania EPA fine drilling company $4,500,000, in 2014, for contaminating groundwater due to leaking frack waste-water pits. {p103}

Public Health

MVC [motor vehicle collisions], including fatal MVCs up by 50% since fracking boom began, especially on rural roads in fracking areas. More than 27% of fracking trucks operating with potentially life-threatening problems such as defective brakes. {p170}

An Ohio ‘Quality of life survey’ of residents living near UGEE development, 100% of respondents had experienced stress issues due to fracking, these included; fear of environmental harm, dangerous encounters with fracking lorries and divisions in within the community. {p174} Stress in all its forms is widely recognised as a risk factor for many adverse effects including heart attacks and strokes.

Pennsylvania study showed more than 50% of people living near fracking sites were stressed; witnessing corruption, complaints being ignored and being denied information or given false information. {p179}

Researchers in Pennsylvania found more than 50% of people living near fracking sites could not sleep properly due to noise of operations; excess noise is known to increase the risk of hypertension and heart disease. {p173}

John Hopkins School of Public Health study found that indoor radon levels in Pennsylvania homes rising since 2004 when fracking arrived in State; radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide, after smoking. A Geochemist warned “Once you have a release of fracking fluid into the environment you have a radioactive legacy. {p130, p132} Fermanagh already has one of the highest levels of background radon levels in the British Isles and it is thus a significant health risk; any further increase in radon would be very detrimental to public health, specifically increasing the cases of people developing lung cancer.

Duke University researchers found water contamination from ‘spills’ was remarkably persistent in the environment. The bigger the spill, the higher the radioactivity level. {p129}

University of Pittsburgh study linked low birthweight infants with fracking in three Pennsylvania counties. Low birth weight is a leading cause of infant mortality. {p167}

Increase in hospital admissions seen for cardiology and cancer for people in Pennsylvania living near fracking wells. No such increase in health problems were observed in a control county with no fracking industry. {p166}

North Dakota HIV/AIDS cases double between 2012-2014, Director of disease control attributes this to the ‘man camps’ and human trafficking for prostitution associated with the fracking industry. {p169}

Yale University found that county’s with high shale gas drilling levels had a 20% increase in syphilis and gonorrhoea rate. These rates of infection continue to climb even after the workers leave. {p159}

Hospital Emergency Department use up by over 300% and ambulance calls up more than 200% since arrival of fracking industry in North Dakota. {p170}

Climate Change

The IPPC [The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] state that methane is 86 times more potent at trapping heat [greenhouse gas] than carbon dioxide over a twenty year period {p260}. Methane leakage seriously worsens climate change. The Medical community now has very strong evidence that climate change has a serious negative impact on public health, and this impact will only worsen in the future if we don’t act. Methane leakage rate is averaging at least 8% from HVHF wells, up from 6% five years ago {p261/262}. Even if a very low leakage rate for methane of 2 or 3% was even achievable, methane would still be much more damaging for climate change over the medium [20 year] or long-term [100 year] time span than the carbon dioxide produced by coal fired power stations. Thus both need to be phased out as soon as possible.


Dr. Carroll O’Dolan
MRCGP
General Practitioner.

Health Spokesperson for FFAN [Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network] www.frackaware.com

Tom White from ‘Belcoo Frack Free’ summarises the issues

Below is a video from Tom White, from ‘Belcoo FrackFree’ who has kindly allowed FFAN to share it as it summarises the issues involved and the plan of action.

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL MLAs AND ASK THEM DIRECTLY WILL THEY SUPPORT THE STORMONT MOTION TO BAN HYDROCARBON EXPLORATION/EXTRACTION IN NORTHERN IRELAND. REQUEST THEIR ANSWER IN WRITING [EMAIL]. IF THE MLA SAYS THEY WILL NOT SUPPORT THE MOTION, ASK FOR THEIR REASONS,ALSO IN WRITING.

Objection to Planning Application PLA2/16 Template

Here’s a template for you to send your objection to Department for the Economy in regards to Planning Application PLA2/16:


As residents of Fermanagh, we wish to object in the strongest possible terms to the granting of a petroleum licence to Tamboran to explore for or carry out fracking in Fermanagh or anywhere else in Northern Ireland, for the following reasons:

  • The Threat – Fracking is a dirty, toxic, industrialised process which has been proved dangerous and unsuitable even for sparsely populated areas in the United States and Australia. No solution to the problems of leaky wells and waste water disposal has yet been found anywhere.
  • The Applicant – The companies involved in the fracking process take no responsibility for a subsequent clean-up. They find ingenious pseudo-legal ways, including insolvency, to walk away, leaving the wreckage to the community. Their claim to community involvement actually amounts to a combination of bribery of the weak and intimidation of objectors, dividing communities to the profit of the frackers.
  • Health – The existential health risks of fracking have been scientifically documented by the Concerned Physicians of New York State.
  • Agriculture – The reputational damage of fracking to food-producing agriculture, the principal economic activity in Fermanagh, would be permanent.
  • Landscape – One of the most beautiful landscapes in Ireland, which includes the UNESCO Geopark and many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, would be permanently degraded by fracking.
  • Tourism – Fermanagh’s second most important economic activity would never recover from the known effects of fracking: visual degradation; pollution of its pristine waterways; and the endless lorry traffic on its country roads.
  • Jobs – Technical supervisors would be imported. The few jobs for local people would be limited to driving lorries and manual labour.
  • Climate Change – The UK Government has recently published its highly necessary policy and timetable to achieve zero carbon emissions. In the light of this, to grant a licence to produce a highly suspect fossil fuel would be nothing short of reckless.
  • Political responsibility – For all the above reasons, this matter must be treated with the utmost political seriousness. It would be totally improper, if not illegal, for it to be shuffled through by a civil servant in the temporary absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

[Your name]
[Your address]


Send via Email to: [email protected]

Send via Post to: Department for the Economy, Minerals and Petroleum Branch, Room 9, Dundonald House, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast BT4 3SB

Deadline: 5th July 2019

FRACKING in Pennsylvania, Butler County (Just North of Pittsburgh)

Below is a typical monthly roundup of events relating to Fracking published by the excellent local anti-fracking group Marcellus Outreach Butler (www.marcellusoutreachbutler.org) – it reflects daily life in an active fracking area. By understanding what life is like in these damaged communities, we will be better informed when it comes to dealing ‘again’ with the pressures of shale gas extraction in Co. Fermanagh.

Butler County Well Count

  • Total Number of Wells: 625
  • Total Well Pads: 205

Around the County

CONNOQUENESSING TWP(Township)—Connoquenessing Elementary School was evacuated on April 17 due to an odor of natural gas in the building. The students were evacuated at 10 AM and sent to the Intermediate High School in Butler Township. Peoples TWP was called to find the source of the leak, but inspectors were unable to find any leaking gas lines in or around the building. Peoples blamed the odor on nearby fracking operations and declared that it was safe (?) for students to return to the school, which they did at 1:15 PM. The distinct rotten-egg smell of natural gas is not naturally present in the gas, but rather is a chemical called mercaptan that is added before being sent into residential lines. However, Duquesne University biologist Dr. John Stolz says that some of the compounds present in “wet gas,” which is what lies under Butler County, give off a similar odor, so it is more than plausible that fracking is responsible. Rex Energy’s Shipley well pad is located a mere 1,750 feet from the school in Connoquenessing borough.

BUTLER TWP—Residents have recently reported hearing loud noises, seemingly coming from nowhere. Following an on-the-ground report on April 14, it was determined that the noise is emanating from the AK Steel A pad on Schaffner Road, located between the AK Steel plant and the Highfield neighborhood. The XTO pad, located on a property zoned single-family residential and surrounded by houses, is currently in the fracking stage. Residents over a mile away can hear it, likening the sound to a freight train going past. The noise is still occurring as of this writing.

PROSPECT BORO—XTO applied for permits for the first well pad within borough boundaries on April 18. The Coretsky well pad would be located on Crown Hill Road, just west of Route 528, south of the intersection of 528 and 488. If approved, the well pad would house two wells. It will be less than one mile from Moraine Elementary School and downtown Prospect.

WINFIELD TWP—Two new well pads were permitted in the township at the end of March, both on Marwood Road. The first, permitted on March 21, is the PER W34 pad, located just east of Spiker Road on Marwood. It will house one well. The other, permitted on March 23, is the PER W32 pad located on Bear Creek Road just south of Marwood and will house two wells. Both pads belong to Penn Energy.

SLIPPERY ROCK TWP—MOB hosted an electric car show on April 21 as part of the Macoskey Center’s Earth Fest at the center on SRU’s campus. Throughout the day, a Chevrolet Volt, a Chevrolet Bolt, a Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, a Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid minivan, a Tesla Model 3, two Tesla Model S’s, and even a 2003 Toyota RAV-4 EV were on hand for visitors to sit in and learn more about.


Across Penn’s Woods

COUDERSPORT—JKLM Energy has withdrawn from a controversial frack-waste treatment plant at the headwaters of the Allegheny River in Potter County. The Pittsburgh-based company had proposed a plant next to the Coudersport municipal sewage plant that would have “treated” wastewater produced by fracking, and then release it into the Allegheny River, which at that point is no wider than our own Connoquenessing Creek. The Allegheny turns north and heads into New York for about 15 miles before turning back into Pennsylvania. The Seneca Nation reservation occupies almost the entire length of the New York part of the river, and they objected fiercely to the plan, which would have threatened their drinking water. JKLM’s voluntary withdrawal came after Coudersport borough council rejected the plan. Read more here.

PENN-TRAFFORD—A citizen’s group in Westmoreland County has filed suit to reverse a zoning ordinance passed in 2016 by Penn Township, Westmoreland County that designated special “mineral extraction overlays.” Protect PT has challenged the ordinance in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which guarantees environmental rights to the citizens of the commonwealth. Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, an environmental engineer from Cornell University, was among the witnesses called by Protect PT, as were Dr. Ned Ketyer, a Pittsburgh pediatrician, and Tom Daniels, a land use expert from the University of Pennsylvania. Read more here.

LANCASTER—A new Franklin & Marshall College/StateImpact Pennsylvania poll shows that more people are opposed to fracking in Pennsylvania than in 2014. The new poll shows that 50 percent of respondents, no longer a majority, support fracking in Pennsylvania, while 42 percent do not. However, 55 percent said that the environmental risks of fracking outweighed its potential economic benefits, while only 30 percent said the economic benefit outweighed the risk. Read more here.

MARIETTA—704 pounds of dynamite was stolen from a construction site for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lebanon County. Williams Partners, which is building the highly-contested pipeline in eastern Pennsylvania, reported that 16 cases of dynamite and 400 blasting caps were stolen during the weekend of April 14-15. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is investigating and has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Read more here.


See the Marcellus Outreach Butler website for much more detailed information on the effects of unconventional shale gas extraction and fracking in Pennsylvania.

Of mice, cows, men and sperm counts

A report published October 2015 entitled ‘Endocrine-Disrupting Activity of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Adverse Health Outcomes After Prenatal Exposure in Male Mice’, has stated that there is a possible reduction in reproductive health in both humans and livestock as a result of significant exposure to chemicals related to high volume hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE).

One must ask:

‘Can you really take the results of a scientific study involving lab mice, and confidently state that the same results that happened to the mice, are guaranteed to apply cows and humans?’

Well, the answer is no. You can’t, becasue mice, livestock and humans are different species of animal. We have different biological systems from one another. Just because something can negatively affect a mouse, it will not hold as guarantee that it can negatively affect a cow or a human. In other words, just becasue I like eating cheese, it does not hold that I will get caught in a mouse trap. And yet, be it mouse, cow or human, were you to cut off our heads, as organisms, we would all die. So, you do need to be able to investigate what will and won’t affect us in the same manner. In fact, there are parallels to this situation with lab mice and fracking chemicals, and the miners of yester year who brought canaries down the mines with them. The canaries acted as an indicator that there may be risk of harm to human health.

The results form teh paper were taken from experiements run on C57BL/6 Mice (image source: gdmlac.com)
The results from the paper were taken from experiments run on C57BL/6 Mice. For more information on their characteristics, please click the image source link. (image source: gdmlac.com)

Hence, ethically, in relation to fracking chemicals, it is easier to test an experiment out on a mouse, and if there are adverse effects, you can knock on the scientific door that asks if these same harms could affect humans and our agricultural livestock. The study states:

“Oil and natural gas operations have been shown to contaminate surface and ground water with endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In the current study, we fill several gaps in our understanding of the potential environmental impacts related to this process.”

In particular, the study:

  • measured the endocrine-disrupting activities of 24 chemicals used and/or produced by oil and gas operations.
  • quantified the concentration of 16 of these chemicals in oil and gas wastewater samples.
  • assessed reproductive and developmental outcomes in male C57BL/6J mice after the prenatal exposure to a mixture of these chemicals.

The study found that 23 of 24 of the oil and gas related chemicals inhibit the estrogen, androgen, glucocorticoid, progesterone, and/or thyroid receptors within the lab mice. For the lab mice, this led to decreased sperm counts and increased testes, body, heart, and thymus weights and increased serum testosterone in male mice. Hence:

23 out of 24 oil and gas related chemicals, when working in concert within their bodies, led to multiple organ system impacts within the lab mice.

Will these results hold true for humans exposed to the same chemicals? Well, the only sure way that we can find out is by running the same experiment on human test subjects. If you thought that laboratory experiments on mice is unethical, then surely you will hold that running laboratory experiments on human test subjects is highly unethical.

What is important to note is that no community should risk exposing local members of their community to the multiple organ system impacts that were found to affect reproductive and biological systems in these lab mice.

It really is for industrial corporations and governments to prove that humans and livestock will not be negatively affected by exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

In other words, the precautionary principle must be applied.

If your community is exposed to these chemicals, and the reproductive abilities of local livestock and humans are negatively affected, then you must ask:

  • What do we do to reverse this within the affected individuals?
  • If we can’t reverse the harm done, then what can we actually do?

Humans are not laboratory mice, and we don’t like getting caught in mouse traps. We should investigate the harmful affects of fracking chemicals further, before committing our communities for future generations to a process that may prove harmful to our human health. For, if these negative effects once experienced, cannot be reversed, then we will find ourselves caught in a trap from which we cannot escape.

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Remember: More research must be done to rove that fracking chemicals are safe to human and agricultural health. Communities must demand that the precautionary principle be applied by fracking companies and governments.

Please leave you comments below. Thank you, FFAN.