Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Families sick from fracking exposure turn to concerned scientists | The Inquirer

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states have stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit—apparently the first of its kind in the United States—that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection—which oversees the oil and gas industry—has no ongoing or planned health studies, though it is researching air and water quality at certain sites. None of the hundreds of millions of dollars in impact fees the state has collected from the industry since 2011 has gone to state or local health departments.

A governor-appointed commission recommended in 2011 that a health registry be created to track Pennsylvanians living near drilling sites. But no registry has been established. In June, the news organization StateImpact Pennsylvania reported that two former employees of the health department were told to avoid talking about Marcellus shale activity, and to stop returning phone calls from people concerned about drilling impacts.

Read the full report here.

Major Scientific Document Shows Why New York Fracking Moratorium Is Imperative | EcoWatch

Many New Yorkers continue to rally and push for a statewide fracking moratorium. In this vein, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) released a major resource to the public, including public officials, researchers and journalists—the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking.

“This compilation of findings brings together data from many fields of study and reveals the diversity of the problems with fracking—from increased flood risks to increased crime risks, from earthquakes to methane leaks,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD. “What this multitude of threats all has in common is the ability to harm public health. That’s our message to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Zucker.”

As mounting evidence continues to find more costs than benefits to fracking, the compendium explains the motivation for compiling and making public the scientific, medical and media findings:
Despite this emerging body of knowledge, industry secrecy and government inaction continue to thwart scientific inquiry, leaving many potential problems—especially cumulative, long-term risks—unidentified, unmonitored and largely unexplored.

This problem is compounded by non-disclosure agreements, sealed court records and legal settlements that prevent families (and their doctors) from discussing injuries. As a result, no comprehensive inventory of human hazards yet exists.

The compendium covers in detail 15 dangers, risks and associated trends created by the fracking process.

In light of these findings, referenced with more than 300 citations, and remaining fundamental data gaps, CHPNY considers a fracking moratorium “the only appropriate and ethical course of action while scientific and medical knowledge on the impacts of fracking continues to emerge.”

The full report is here.

The compendium of dangers is current through June 30, 2014  and is available to download here.

EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants | DeSmog

One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.

But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water.

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”
It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.

The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.

The EPA's new draft document now lists almost two dozen individual substances — like benzene, radium, and arsenic — that it says have been found at high enough levels in shale wastewater to cause concern. By contrast, the 2011 version focused mostly on the high levels of salts found in the waste.

The new document also explains that the substances it lists are not the only potential pollutants that must be removed before water can be considered fully treated and ready to enter rivers and streams. It explains that each treatment plant can only take wastewater once regulators are satisfied that they know what is actually in it.

Read the full report here.

Download the draft EPA document here.

GAO Report: Drinking Water at Risk from Underground Fracking Waste Injection | EcoWatch 

According to U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), this study was conducted because:

Every day in the U.S. at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into more than 172,000 wells to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. These wells are subject to regulation to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II program and approved state class II programs. Because much of the population relies on underground sources for drinking water, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

“The federal government’s watchdog (GAO) is saying what communities across the country have known for years: fracking is putting Americans at risk,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ”From drinking water contamination to man-made earthquakes, the reckless way oil and gas companies deal with their waste is a big problem. Outdated rules and insufficient enforcement are largely to blame. EPA needs to rein in this industry run amok.”

Read the full report here.

Fracking’s methane problem: Study finds new, unconventional wells leak more than old ones | Salon

Controversial new research identifies defects in Pennsylvania's gas wells

Fracking in Pennsylvania’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale has a major methane problem, a new study finds. Analyzing the data from more than 75,000 state inspections going back to 2000, a team of four researchers concluded that gas wells are leaking the chemical, a potent greenhouse gas with a long-term effect on global warming greater even than CO2′s, at an alarming rate.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, a vocal opponent of fracking. The leaks, according to the study, might be due to problems in the wells’ cement casings. Basically, explained Ingraffea, “Something is coming out of it that shouldn’t, in a place that it shouldn’t.”

The crux of his findings, via the Associated Press:
  • Overall, older wells — those drilled before 2009 — had a leak rate of about 1 percent. Most were traditional wells, drilling straight down. Unconventional wells — those drilled horizontally and commonly referred to as fracking — didn’t come on the scene until 2006 and quickly took over.
  • Newer traditional wells drilled after 2009 had a leak rate of about 2 percent; the rate for unconventional wells was about 6 percent, the study found.
  • The leak rate reached as high as nearly 10 percent horizontally drilled wells for before and after 2009 in the northeastern part of the state, where drilling is hot and heavy.
The full report is here.

The significance, abstract and link to the paper by Ingraffea et al. published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is here.

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