A library of more than 1,000 scientific studies since New Brunswick’s 2014 moratorium on fracking has conclusively proven that fracking simply can’t be done safely.
A summary of those studies, made public this year, states bluntly that there is “no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.” Along with the alarming damage to human health from a variety of diseases and conditions, longer-term studies have now proven that fracking also poisons water sources above and below ground, causes widespread air pollution, and contaminates land.
The March 2018 “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Uncoventional Gas and Oil Extraction),” published by scientists and health professionals in the United States, details wide-spread, long-term damage from fracking to people and their environment.
The Compendium notes that “as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization. … Drilling and fracking operations are also correlated with increased rates of asthma … ambulance runs and emergency room visits.” As well, “two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm.”
An example of air pollution from fracking is the “benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations [that] are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies.”
“Animal studies show numerous threats to fertility and reproductive success from exposure to various concentrations of oil and gas chemicals, including at levels representative of those found in drinking water.”
The suspicion that fracking causes earthquakes, once ridiculed by shale gas promoters, has been confirmed. Those earthquakes can occur long after, and far away from actual fracking sites. On top of everything else, radioactive waste material from fracking is now known to cause lung cancer.
It takes the Compendium 266 pages to describe all the damages done by fracking, while no peer-reviewed scientific study has ever claimed fracking can be done safely.
Throwing babies under the bus
One of the most alarming discoveries is that pregnant women, infants and children are particularly vulnerable to fracking.
Even a single shale gas well “reduces health among infants born to mothers living within 3 km (1.9 miles) of a well site during pregnancy.” For mothers living within one kilometer of a well site, there is a “25 percent increase in the probability of low birth weight, as well as declines in other measures of infant health.”
The terrible damage fracking does to newborns was discovered by a 2017 Pennsylvania study that examined the birth certificates of every one of the 1,100,000 babies born in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 20013. The birth data was then analyzed in relation to where and when shale gas wells were drilled.
Analysis of that data revealed that mothers living near fracking operations “consistently find impairments to infant health, including: elevated risks for low birth weight and preterm birth, neural tube defects and congenital heart defects.”
As well, “dozens of known endocrine-disrupting chemicals” used in fracking harm “fertility and reproductive success … [and are linked to] miscarriage, prostate cancer, birth defects, and decreased semen quality and counts.”
The health studies also note higher rates of leukemia “among children and young adults living in areas dense with oil and gas wells,” along with increased frequency of asthma attacks.
Denise Melanson is a retired medical social worker living in Kent County. “Study after study after study now confirm that fracking makes people sick,” she said. “Low birth weight babies also experience all kinds of physical and intellectual difficulties.”
In 2012-13, Melanson analyzed fracking leases in New Brunswick and determined that about 250,000 New Brunswickers lived in potential fracking areas.
“We know from Pennsylvania that hospitalization rates are significantly higher in fracked areas,” Melanson said. “That’s because people in fracked areas are more likely to have cancers, heart problems, and neurological and dermatological issues.”
The bottom line is that there is a significantly increased likelihood that people in fracked areas will suffer life-long health problems that will continue to plague families and to burden the health care system long after the gas companies have left.
Destroying fresh water sources
The mountain of data on fracking that is now available demonstrates that the decision to allow fracking is simultaneously a decision to pollute and destroy fresh water sources.
The Compendium notes that “studies from across the United States present irrefutable evidence that groundwater contamination occurs as a result of fracking activities and is more likely to occur close to well pads. In Pennsylvania alone … more than 300 private drinking water wells have been contaminated or otherwise impacted as the result of drilling and fracking operations.”
More than 100 chemicals used in fracking fluid, and released into the environment, are “known endocrine disruptors, acting as reproductive and developmental toxicants.”
As well, added to this chemical cocktail used to frack wells are “heavy metals, radioactive elements, brine, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which occur naturally in deep geological formations and which can be carried up from the fracking zone with the flow-back fluid.”
These toxic substances in fracking waste water “also pose threats to surface water and groundwater.” A 2017 study documented 6,678 “significant spills” in four states alone.”
The threat to New Brunswick is profound. “Spills and intentional discharges of fracking waste into surface water have profoundly altered the chemistry and ecology of streams throughout entire watersheds.”
These spills and intentional discharges increased “downstream levels of radioactive elements, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, toxic disinfection byproducts, and acidity.”
And more damage is still being discovered. The Compendium notes that “new studies documenting changes in the bacterial flora in groundwater following drilling and fracking operations represent an emerging area of concern.”
Jim Emberger is a spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA). Fracking is “playing Russian roulette” with public health, Emberger says.
Of particular significance is the fact that New Brunswick relies primarily on underground sources of drinking water. Emberger points out that NBASGA’s assertion that fracking pollutes water wells and other sources of drinking water has now been verified.
As the Compendium notes, “cases of drinking water sources contaminated by drilling and fracking activities, or by associated waste disposal, are now proven.”
Emberger is also concerned about the fact that, in addition to contaminating water wells and drinking water sources, fracking also gulps down “15-20 millions gallons of fresh water” each time a well is fracked.
That’s because horizontal wells today often travel two miles or more underground. When the migration of fracking fluid chemicals underground is included, any water well could be poisoned from a drill site miles away.
Emberger notes that fracking companies have not been truthful about the air pollution they cause. ‘When actual methane emissions from wells in other places have been measured, the emissions have been found to be between 15 and 20 times greater than reported by shale gas companies.”
New Brunswick has good reason not to trust shale gas companies. In 2012-13, the Conservative government of the day, backed by shale gas company spokespersons, proclaimed “world class” regulations that allowed drilling within 250 meters of people’s homes.
Today, five years later, it has been proven that shale gas wells pose a direct danger to people’s health from even 3,000 meters away. Those Conservative claims of protecting public health have since proven to false.
“It’s as if Conservatives haven’t learned a thing about shale gas in four years,” Denise Melanson says. “Mr. Higgs is still talking as if it is possible to frack safely, even when it has now been proven that can’t be done.”
To date, Higgs has been given a free ride by the mainstream media, which also seems oblivious to the health and environmental catastrophe that lurks behind opening the door to fracking. Details of this catastrophe, elaborated in more than 1000 studies, can be found in the March 2018 “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction).”
Dallas McQuarrie lives in the unceded Mi’Kmaq territory of Siknuktuk.