From Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer! (CRAAB!):

By Margaret Roberts, CRAAB! Board member

Why are we concerned about fracking in New York State? One serious problem is that fracking releases methane gas, a fossil fuel and potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate catastrophe. But there are even more immediate threats to our health. Though water pollution resulting from fracking is a major problem and will be discussed in the next CRAAB! newsletter, air contamination is perhaps the most dangerous hazard. Fracking pollutes air via three sources: constant truck traffic; well emissions and burnoff; and wastewater storage and disposal. 

Why Not Frack Farmland?

The 24/7 cycle of truck traffic alone – over 1,000 trips to and from the average well pad – emits high levels of diesel exhaust. Several studies have linked exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in diesel exhaust to higher rates of breast cancer; and exposure to PAHs during infancy and in utero raises risk for cancer later in life.

In 2009, Wyoming did not meet federal safety standards for air quality, mainly due to fumes containing benzene and toluene being emitted from approximately 27,000 wells, most of which were drilled in the past five years. Benzene is a potent carcinogen linked to many cancers, while toluene affects the central nervous system. According to a 2011 US Congressional Report at least 13 chemicals that cause cancer are used in fracking, and many more fracking fluid chemicals are linked to other disorders including brain damage and birth defects.

A study conducted in 2009 by the Colorado School of Public Health found that people living within a halfmile of a drilling site faced greater health risks, including acute and chronic disorders, than those who lived farther away. In 2010, a Texas hospital system operating in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling in the state reported that it was seeing a 25% asthma rate for young children in their catchment area, more than three times the average state rate. This suggests that the proposed New York State DEC regulations, allowing as they do fracking drill pads within 500 feet of homes, farms and schools, will not protect residents’ health. 

Residents in Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Louisiana who live near drilling sites have reported experiencing constant exposure to toxic odors, with both children and adults suffering from serious gastrointestinal problems, severe headaches, nose bleeds, sinus problems, sore throats, rashes, breathing difficulties and high blood pressure.

Fracking poses a risk to animals as well as humans. A 2011 peer-reviewed study published by researchers at the Dept. of Molecular Medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, NY, investigated the health of animals on 24 farms near drilling sites in six states, and found that many animals suffered from neurological and reproductive disorders, and acute gastro-intestinal problems. Scores of animals have died.

Unfortunately, the extent of environmental pollution, toxicity and health effects may never be fully disclosed because the gas industry lobbied for and got in some states “gag orders” imposed on medical professionals, both doctors and nurses, that prevent them from sharing any information about fracking fluid chemicals with anyone, even their own patients who suffer from toxic exposures. The gas industry also got exemptions from key provisions of most federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Superfund Law, Hazardous Waste Regulations, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Toxic Release Inventory under Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know.

Why would the gas companies want gag orders from doctors and exemptions from all of these protective laws if they didn’t already know that fracking was harmful? As reported by the “Food and Environment Reporting Network” and The Nation in 2011, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids, with many more releases likely undisclosed.

Between 2008 and 2011, Pennsylvania drilling companies reported 2,392 legal violations that posed a direct threat to the environment and safety of communities. For example, in April 2011, a Pennsylvania gas well erupted, sending thousands of gallons of toxic and highly saline water into the environment, spilling over containment berms, flowing toward a tributary of a trout-fishing stream and forcing seven families nearby to temporarily evacuate their homes.

Accidents persist. In February, 2013 in Fort Collins, Colorado, fracking fluid spewed from a faulty well for over 30 hours, one of 32 spills in Colorado in the past year from just one gas company. In March of this year, in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania one well spewed one quarter million gallons of toxic wastewater for several hours into the environment. In April in Denton, Texas, fracking fluid and gas were released into the air for nearly 5 hours from a drill site only 300 yards away from farms.

Add to all this the environmental devastation of clearcutting 5-15 acres for drill pads, building processing stations, laying extensive transportation pipes, and turning billions of gallons of a region’s fresh water into toxic industrial waste, an outcome that is irreversible. Compare this permanent devastation with the facts that gas production from one well rapidly declines after the first year, and most wells produce gas that flows actively enough to be profitable or costeffective for just 5-10 years. Does this seem like a good bargain to you?

How many lives of people and animals will our state and national leaders be willing to sacrifice to gain temporary jobs and temporary fuel production, especially when a good portion of that fuel most likely will be shipped to other countries? The US currently has a glut of natural gas on the market and industry reports reveal that future production is destined to be sold to China and Europe. Why not invest in solar, wind and other alternatives rather than a destructive fossil fuel? Why allow an unsafe industrial process that can damage our health as well as destroy the health of the earth that our children, our grandchildren and great grandchildren will live on?

Excerpt from the CRAAB Newsletter FallWinter2013_4COLOR.pdf