Fracking - Who benefits?
Carol McManus has been on a personal journey to find out the facts about fracking. Photo shows test gas wells at Airth, Falkirk. Carol thanks Dr Geralyn McCarron.
As somebody who has had to try to preserve health against the odds, I am left cold after reading a multitude of reports on this industry. When I asked for more information from a contact in Australia, I was overwhelmed with the response, within just 24 hours, of people, very keen to tell me the dire impact on their lives. I struggle to understand how any government, especially one opposed to nuclear weapons and Trident, who have expressed a commitment to try to eliminate certain cancers, can contemplate this, when there is a risk that toxic and radioactive wastewater and air pollution in vast volumes will be created. Prevention must be the priority. I am left stunned by the statements of many highly qualified doctors who have seen effects of this industry first hand in the US and Australia, and have highlighted just a few below.
With a moratorium in place, why is the Scots taxpayer paying for fracking test drilling being done now? Why is this not at the industry's expense? There is a Public Health Impact Assessment (PHIA) being done here, but why only employing one researcher for just a few months, when in NewYork around 20 researchers worked for several years? Having studied and been an advocate in relation to child cancer issues now for very many years, and been on international committees on the issue, I am only too well aware of the multitude of studies on the later potential health issues for the survivors of this group alone, and the length of time it would need just to adequately cover these. Any PHIA cannot just reflect on one moment in time. When we are including children - and of course Nicola Sturgeon has valiantly vowed to protect the weakest and most vulnerable in society when speaking of the Human Rights Act - then we surely need full consideration of the long term effects of any health impact? Those in the womb can be hundreds or a thousand times more at risk of environmental pollution. Parents very often have to give up employment when a child is seriously ill, with severe implications for all in that family; issues like this cannot be ignored. But it is far from just children affected in cases quoted, and far from just cancer being the issue. Babes may just be where the major impact is seen first, because of high vulnerability in the womb, and difficulty pinpointing commoner cancers etc. in adults to specific causes.
'Fracking' has been used as a collective term in the media recently to include high volume Unconventional Gas extraction (UCG), and Coal Bed Methane (CBM) extraction. These are experimental techniques, not to be confused with the hydraulic fracturing of last century's shale mining. The type of fracking being considered and tested in Scotland now (at taxpayers' expense) requires a borehole to be drilled and then water, sand, plus various additives, to be driven down at great depth,and then along horizontally at very high pressure, to pulverise and fracture rock, in order to reach much harder to obtain gas. Where fracking wells of old might have used 300,000 gallons of water over the life of each well, this UCG method will need around 3 -5 million gallons of water plus fine sand and chemicals, over each well's lifetime. The average Central Belt community might have 2 wells per sq km. Ineos say they estimate around 600 wells could be located in the Central Belt
There are known to have been over 750 chemicals used by the industry, dependent on local conditions, to increase productivity, including many known carcinogens. Whenever there is a cocktail mixture of chemicals, health issues may be exacerbated. The industry argues tiny dilutions of chemicals are used, but when the volumes of water required in the process are considered, then the amount of chemicals involved can be striking. Some chemicals are toxic in a concentration of 1in a billion,even 1 in a trillion. If chemicals are used to increase production, work takes place 2 or 3km underground, and there will be much self regulation by the industry itself. It would seem we would need to hold a great deal of faith in upstanding principles of those involved.
Water returned to the surface is toxic. It can't be recycled completely and must be transported away or just kept as it is. The delivery and removal of water is estimated to need around 4000 heavy lorry trips per well, and in other regions this happens 24 hours a day, with obvious light and noise pollution
Activists in Scotland were canny enough to ask for a 2.5km buffer zone to be imposed, so a well would need to have that distance from any dwelling. This would have made it virtually impossible to drill on any scale in the Central Belt - virtually an effective ban - but this suggestion was turned down by our government. An Ineos spokesperson has recently spoken of a 400m buffer, but in other countries, 50m is seen.
The infrastructure to support these wells would obviously have a considerable impact on the local landscape, but also the possibility of generous community payouts have been mentioned. Whether these enticing community payments are completely dependent, however, on actual declared profits, is a worthy question.
What has been the experience of communities elsewhere? I am indebted to Dr Geralyn McCarron, a very highly qualified Irish doctor, an Obstetrician, Toxicologist and GP, who has studied the health impact on communities in Australia, and has sent me her submission to an Australian Government Inquiry into Unconventional Gas Mining taking place just last week. Her words are so powerful I asked her permission to quote her directly, which she generously allowed.
Dr McCarron writes:
Submission: Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining (Bender Inquiry) February 2016
Dr Geralyn McCarron BM Bch BAO FRCAGP
“Co-existence” was the mantra under which the coal seam gas industry was forced upon the people and the gas field commission was set up to facilitate it. The people in Brisbane were assured in TV advertisements that the environmental foot-print of this industry was very small (half the size of a basket ball court); it was the “clean-burning” alternative and it meant jobs and prosperity. The reality in Queensland turned out to be very different.
The boom in rural towns such as Chinchilla was short-lived and now less than 6 years later, they are firmly in the bust stage of the cycle. During the boom, some people, such as the publicans, made money. But many people suffered. Rents rose rapidly with the influx of fly-in, fly-out workers. Long-term resident renters, low-income families and pensioners found themselves priced out of their homes and left town never to return. Low-income house owners on fixed incomes found that their rates doubled as the rateable value of the houses in the town increased. House prices rose rapidly and investors funded an illconceived building boom, resulting in houses being build on inappropriate sites, causing flooding and expensive remedial drainage funded by the local rates. Now in the bust, hundreds of houses stand empty, unsold and not rented. House prices in Chinchilla have fallen by 30-40% in the past year.
During the boom pre-existing business not associated with the mining industry found themselves in serious difficulties. Business owners in town and on the land found they could not compete with the inflated wages being offered by the gas companies, lost their skilled workers and in some cases folded. Brand name businesses such as McDonalds and BP came to town and the distinctive locally owned shops typical of a country town closed their doors. The tourist industry suffered major damage. Tourists simply couldn’t stop. Hotels and motels were block-booked by the gas industry, as were the caravan parks. The grey nomads in particular had nowhere to go.
Now, with the end of the construction phase of the gas industry, there is a second round of business closures and there is nothing to fill the vacuum. Proponents of the unconventional gas industry promised billions of dollars worth of investment in infrastructure. Any reasonable person would innocently assume they were talking about bridges, roads, hospitals, schools, etc for the benefit of the resident population. There was no benefit here for the people. Infrastructure meant, in this instance, gas wells, and gas pipelines, and gathering lines, and processing plants, and power plants to power the gas infrastructure, and powerlines to supply the gas infrastructure, gigantic waste dams and waste facilities. Much of the infrastructure was imported."
The US Department of Justice has declared that 'communities where there is development of shale oil and gas see significant increases in drug dealing, sexual and violent crime, and traffic fatalities' (1)
One alleged effect on the landscape in the US has led the famous Sierra Club, founded by Dunbar's own John Muir, to file a lawsuit against three fracking companies operating in Oklahoma and Kansas this week.The action states that the practice of injecting oil and gas waste deep underground has led to an increase to more than 5800 earthquakes in Oklahoma in 2015.This compares with the annual average in years 1977-2009 of 167 earthquakes. Exploratory drilling and fracking has been shown by the British Geological Survey to cause earthquakes, as evidenced in Lancashire. Insurance policies may change such as in the case of the National Farmers' Union, where there is an exclusion clause for anything as a result of fracking
As well as risk from chemicals used in the process itself, and from the fine silica sand which can cause severe respiratory problems, or even over time lung cancer, some toxic and hazardous materials, gases and heavy metals, can be released from deep underground in the fracking process and brought up to the surface or escape to contaminate aquifers. This can include heavy metals like arsenic, carcinogens like benzene, methane gas and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Leaks and pollution are a possibility and risk at a myriad of stages of the process, with risk in addition to aquifers to groundwater, soil, the workforce, and the atmosphere and surrounding community. Air pollution from these wells has been described by Dr Wayne Somerville as 'the elephant that can't get in the room'.(2)
The amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released into the air in the Darling Downs area of Australia during the reporting year of 2013-2014 represented an average of 5.5kg of VOCs per person living there. VOCs emitted where gaswells were most concentrated gave local residents a yearly share of over 30kg each.VOC'S can cause birth defects,neurological effects, cancer in animals and humans, headaches, visual disorders, etc. etc. (2)
Health risks are dismissed by government bodies and by the industry. Public Health England reported that the risks to health from fracking were 'low'. This stance however was received with incredulity by many health professionals and environmentalists, and its credibility, being an offshoot of the government, reassessed. A very strong letter appeared in the BMJ highlighting perceived dangers of 'hazardous levels of air and water pollution that can have adverse effects on health', signed by 20 very prominent physicians, pharmacists and scientists, and the MEDACT Report also strongly condemned the dangers. The problem of determining blame for illness is made more difficult because of the confidentiality factor in the US in relation to fracking chemicals. Concerned doctors there have had to sign a confidentiality clause to find out what fracking chemicals are used locally, to try to identify what may be impacting the health of their patient. This means they are forbidden from telling the patient what they are being affected by, and nor can they tell other neighbours or family. There have been settlements made in the US and Australia where those affected have received compensation only on the condition that they never speak of their injuries or the compensation package. $2.95million was awarded to one Texas family in a lawsuit for physical and mental pain and loss of property value caused by a hydraulic fracking operator. They had 22 wells within 2 miles of their home. At times they were forced out of their home and had to travel to and stay in the father's office, due to pollution. According to the lawsuit volatile organic compounds made them ill and their water supply was polluted. They suffered nausea,chronic migraines,rashes, chronic nosebleeds, chronic headaches and dizziness. Even their animals suffered including birth defects.
Again Dr McCarron's words are incredibly powerful in describing health effects she found in gas well communities.
Submission: Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining (Bender Inquiry) G McCarron
REPORTED HEALTH IMPACTS
"Twenty to thirty kilometers away from boom-town Chinchilla, living in the midst of the actual gas field infrastructure, residents were feeling not only the financial, but also the physical impacts of the pollution accompanying the gas industry. In 2013, I conducted a health survey1 of 113 residents from the Tara rural residential estates and surrounding areas. The pattern of reported symptoms was outside the scope of what would be expected for this small community. 58% of people surveyed were certain their health was adversely impacted by CSG. Of particular concern was the impact on the children. 15 of the 48 children were reported to experience abnormal sensations such as numbness and pins and needles, while 31 children reported headaches, many of them severe. Other possible neurological symptoms reported in all groups included severe fatigue, weakness and difficulty concentrating. Eye and skin irritation were constant background complaints, particularly when outside, and were linked to malodourous events. With changes in wind direction residents could identify distinct odours and tastes often coinciding with exacerbations of symptoms. These included smells like rotten eggs, sickly sweet, like pine tarsal, acetone, creosote, and the after burn from cigarette lighter. Some residents were not sensitive to smell but complained of metallic taste and nausea. Increases in cough, rashes, joint pains, muscle pains and spasms, nausea and vomiting were reported.
Approximately one third of residents age 6 and above were reported to have spontaneous nosebleeds. People reported that symptoms improved when they left the area and recurred when they returned home."
If the environment is polluted, outdoor farm animals and wildlife show it first; they may act as our canaries in the mine. They drink from puddles and ponds, streams, and have a shorter reproductive cycle, so would show fertility issues sooner. There are many reports of cows dying in large numbers very suddenly after fracking pollution incidents, having deformed or dead calves, and in western Canada significantly increased rates of stillbirth and calf mortality have been recorded near fracking sites. Devastating impacts on wildlife have been recorded
There is a very rapidly rising number of research papers on fracking's possible human health impacts published in the last 2 years, with the vast majority revealing serious risks. Low birth weights, premature births, and birth defects are suggested by apparent increased figures in fracking localities in many studies. A study from John Hopkins University, looking at 11,000 births, found expectant mothers who live near fracking wells in Pennsylvania face greater risks of premature births and high-risk pregnancies. The study found expectant mothers living in the most active areas of fracking were 40% more likely to give birth before 37 weeks, and were also 30% more likely to have a pregnancy labelled 'high risk'.(3)
The potential of fracking pollution to cause cancer, long suspected, has just been confirmed by a study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. Using human cells, researchers from esteemed universities found fracking wastewater did cause cancer in mammals.(4)
Dr McCarron's words again are extremely powerful:
(Aust Govt) Submission: Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining (Bender Inquiry) G McCarron Feb 2016
"In 2005 the incidence of invasive cancer in the Darling Downs was 1366. In 2012 the incidence was 1693, an increase of 23.9% on the 2005 figures.Leaving aside for a moment speculation on possible causes, this is a significant change and is, in itself, cause for question.
With regards to residents’ concerns regarding cancer I will give three specific examples.
i. In Ducklo, one of the earliest -developed parts of the gasfield, three men who lived within 10km of each other were diagnosed and have subsequently died from pancreatic cancer. This is in a community of less than 50 people. In 2011 the age-standardized incidence for pancreatic cancer in Australian men was 13 per 100,000. In other words it is not a common cancer. One pancreatic cancer in this small community could be considered unlucky. Three raises serious questions as to cause.
Unfortunately these are not the only cases of pancreatic cancer. In 2014 a lady who lives just across the Moonie Highway from Ducklo was diagnosed and died from Glucogonoma, an even rarer form of pancreatic cancer with a risk of 1 in 20 million.
ii. Immediately to the west of Brentleigh Park gas facility there are rural residential blocks. There are multiple blocks mapped, but only three family homes, of which two have had continuous long-term occupancy. In 2006 QGC build a huge unlined pond on one of these families property. This was a massive 3.9 hectare pond holding 3ML. ---For years drilling waste was pumped into this unlined pond---
In 2009 the family’s adult son, age 28, was diagnosed with leukaemia. Leukaemia is not a common cancer in young adults.
In 2011 a second young adult in the same household, a sibling age 29 was also diagnosed with cancer, a very rare cancer called chordoma with an incidence of one case per million per year. In 2013, their immediate neighbour, an 8 year old child who had been ill for more than two years was also diagnosed with leukaemia, with the diagnosis occurring after moving from the property.
iii. Local residents have been very concerned about reports of childhood cancer. In the local media there has been significant coverage of the problems faced by two children, aged 12 and 17 enrolled at Tara State College who have been diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma (a rare type of bone cancer.) The age standardized rate of Ewing Sarcoma in Australians age 0-14 years between 2003 and 2009 was 4.6 per million. The age standardized rate for 15- 29 year olds over the same time frame was 4.5 per million.
Tara State College is a small school with, in 2012, an enrollment of 381 pupils2.
These are discrete examples of some the reported concerns, but they are no by no means the only ones. For example, in one street of 6 houses, 5 people have cancer. During the early years the gas company took water from the lagoon to clean their pipes and then sprayed the contaminated water on to the dirt roads around the estate. There are more cases of very aggressive leukaemias, and there are lymphomas. In one household both parents of toddlers have cancer. I believe that the residents concerns regarding the incidence, types and spatial clustering of cancers are justified and worthy of rigorous and open investigation. These cancers are not explained by chance, (bad luck) or genetics."
Dr McCarron then carries on to another highly important issue, particularly relevant in Scotland where our suicide rates are already tragically nearly double that of the south of England.
"4. MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS
There have been very serious mental health impacts both on the original population as well as the FIFO workers, with an escalating level of suicides in the region. George Bender, for whom this Inquiry is named, by his suicide, brought to the nation’s attention thebullying and the extreme unremitting stress that landholders have been subjected to by government agencies and the resource companies for 10 years. Darling Downs Hospital and Health Services are unable to provide any reliable data on completed suicides.---
However what the DDHHS statistics does show is that admission for attempted suicides in the Darling Downs and South West where the patient’s residence was recorded as Chinchilla and Dalby, jumped from 2 in 2006 and 7 in 2007 to 60 in 2013 and 66 in 2014. (2015 statistics incomplete.)"
The NY state's Environmental Conservation Commisioner stated 'The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast'.
Dr Kathleen Nolan of Concerned Health Professionals of New York stated- 'The scientific evidence is irrefutable-fracking is dangerous and cannot be conducted safely anywhere in the US'.
Dr Walter Tsou, past President of the American Public Health Association, former health commissioner of Philadelphia, said 'Drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania have caused widespread water contamination, dangerous air pollution, and serious public health impacts.'
Barbara Gottlieb, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, stated in October 2015; 'Our new report compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing overwhelming evidence that drilling and fracking
pose serious threats to public health,our environment, and the climate.'
The question remains in Scotland. Who will profit from the imposition of UCG and CBM on Scotland, and who will be left to pay the cost?
Acknowledgements for using reports from
Dr Geralyn McCarron
Australian Government Submission: Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining (Bender Inquiry)
by Dr Geralyn McCarron MB BCh BAO FRACGP
Food and Water Europe JoJo Mehta
ChemTrust.. Dr Sarah Laurie BM BS
Physicians for Social Responsibility Susan Richmond
Friends of The Earth
(1) US Dept of Justice 2014, Bell,Belgos et al
(2) Dr Wayne Somerville 2015 CSG Pollution in the Darling Downs
(3)Csay JA et al 2015 Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Birth Outcomes in Pennsylvania,USA, Epidemiology October 2015
(4) Yixin Yao et al Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 288 (2015) 121-130
Malignant Human Cell Transformation of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Flow Back Water