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New Report Confirms that Fracking poses serious health and environmental risks

October 16, 2012

This article is re-posted from EcoWatch.

A new report1 on shale resources and hydraulic fracturing from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress—concludes that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment. The report, which reviewed studies from state agencies overseeing fracking as well as scientific reports, found that the extent of the risks has not yet been fully quantified and that there are many unanswered questions and a lack of scientific data.

Major reports and studies were also released in Europe the past two months, all of which came to the conclusion that fracking poses serious risks to water, public health, and the environment, and that additional scientific study is necessary. Meanwhile, in NY hundreds2 of doctors, scientists, and medical organizations have renewed calls for an independent, comprehensive health impact assessment and additional scientific research.

“The big-money gas industry is at it again,” said John Armstrong of Frack Action on behalf of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a broad coalition of New Yorkers opposed to fracking. “Rather than allow a comprehensive independent health assessment that can study the dangers fracking poses to our water and health, they just want to frack as quickly as possible and take their profits back to Texas.”

Given the conclusions from the broad NY, U.S., and world-wide scientific and medical community that fracking poses serious public health and environmental risks and needs further scientific study, the gas industry and the Joint Landowners Coalition’s rush to frack is dangerously reckless and irresponsible.

The Government Accountability Office report, which includes review of the New York Department of Conservation’s study of fracking, finds that there is insufficient data and scientific study to determine the extent of risks fracking poses to groundwater and avenues for groundwater contamination, but it does note that such contamination can take place. For example, the report states that, “Underground migration can occur as a result of improper casing and cementing of the well bore as well as the intersection of induced fractures with natural fractures, faults, or improperly plugged dry or abandoned wells. Moreover, there are concerns that induced fractures can grow over time and intersect with drinking water aquifers” (page 46).

The GAO’s concerns about improperly plugged and abandoned wells strike an unnerving note in New York especially, given that the Associated Press recently found3 that Department of Environmental Conservation records, “reveal thousands of unplugged and abandoned wells and other industrial problems that could pose a threat to groundwater, wetlands, air quality and public safety.”

The GAO report also raises many other concerns long held by NY health professionals and scientists, such as the negative impacts that fracking will mean for air quality. The GAO report concludes that, “Construction of the well pad, access road, and other drilling facilities requires substantial truck traffic, which degrades air quality. Air quality may also be degraded as fleets of trucks travelingnewly graded or unpaved roads increase the amount of dust released into the air—which can contribute to the formation of regional haze” (page 33).

GAO goes on to raise concerns that silica sand—commonly used as a proppant in the hyrdaulic fracturing process—may pose a risk to human health. GAO notes that according to a federal researcher from the Department of Health and Human Services, particles from the sand “can lodge in the lungs and potentially cause silicosis” (page 33).

That the gas industry and the Joint Landowners Coalition would push to frack, rather than listen to the science and medical experts and wait for the necessary studies such as an independent, comprehensive health impact assessment4 to be undertaken, is indicative that they are comfortable putting profits before health and are unwilling to participate in a debate based on the science and facts.

On behalf of New Yorkers Against Fracking, Armstrong said, “Fracking proponents continue their reckless and irresponsible push to frack even in the face of an overwhelming body of science showing that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment and consensus among experts and government agencies that we need more scientific study on fracking. Our water, air and health are priceless.”

The new reports from Europe include a comprehensive report5 from the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General, a joint report6 from Germany’s Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and a year-long German Hydrofracking Risk Assessment7 study from a panel of independent experts.

Among the conclusions8 from the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General’s comprehensive report5 are that there is “a high risk of surface and groundwater contamination at various stages of the well-pad construction, hydraulic fracturing and gas production processes, and well abandonment, and cumulative developments could further increase this risk.” The report also points to air emissions impacts that pose “potentially significant effect on air quality including ozone levels.”

The conclusions8 from the joint report6 by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety include that fracking can lead to groundwater contamination,that experts advise against large-scale fracking and that there should be a ban in areas that provide drinking water, and that more scientific study is necessary to evaluate environmental risks.

Germany’s year-long Hydrofracking Risk Assessment7 by a panel of independent experts similarly found8 that fracking entails serious risks, that it can do substantial harm to water resources, and pointed to greater concerns about fracking in areas that supply drinking water.

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