Critique and illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
Today, four Coloradoan towns will vote whether or not to have a moratorium on fracking. The debate and the referendum are hugely symbolic and speaking for everyone that is me, I’m anxiously awaiting the results.
Last week, a study from the Public Health England, an agency of the Department of Health, concluded that the risks to public health from fracking for shale gas are low. However, this has not been the experience of fracking in the U.S.
The research focused on the risks of emissions of chemicals used in fracking and radioactive material released with the gas in the process. The conclusion is “potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with the shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated.”
One can only hope that experience will trump a study in the minds of those going to vote. Because, in the U.S. the experience has been the opposite, with flammable tap water and huge impacts.
A study in the U.S. from the Barnett Shale in Texas, a study done in 2010, found 70 volatile compounds including ethane, propane, butane, and pentanes present due to the fracking. It was concluded that these were “localized” and diminished downwind.
One peer review study of the impact of air emissions published in 2012 by the Colorado School of Public Health, found that people living within a half mile of gas wells had risks of health problems including neurological and respiratory problems.
The Public Health England report acknowledged that extracting the gas could produce residues containing radioactive materials, but argued that the risks would be similar to those in other types of oil and gas industry.
The dangers to the groundwater, which have been so prevalent in the U.S., the study believes are the due to drilling operations and caused by faulty sealing of wells. The report quotes a 2011 paper by MIT researchers who found this to be true in nearly half of 43 pollution incidents. But what about the other half?
Chemicals used in the fracking process are a huge concern. An American study found that 75% of the chemicals can affect the skin, eyes, and breathing, and 25% are carcinogens.
Beyond the environmental problems, there should be other concerns on the minds of those voting today.
Fracking is a boom-bust industry. Profits are extremely short-lived and rarely stay within the community. While the landowners who sell the land to the mining company may profit, the entire community must pay for the damages that the area incurs long after the mining company has gotten their fill. The community pays to clean up a degraded and scarred environment.
The new technique for hydro-fracking for natural gas had really only been in practice since 2005 since it was exempted by Congress from the Clean Water Act. The true environmental costs are not yet known.
I can only hope that when Coloradoans go to the ballot box today, they do the right thing and vote “yes” on the moratorium. All other areas in the U.S. will be waiting with bated breath to see the outcome, as it will likely be the first of a domino effect either way. Tell the fuckers who frack that they can’t do so in your community!