Presentation by Peter Benson on Environment

By April 29, 2015 News No Comments

Some parts of big business, the media and even parts of government often portray Environmental groups as being ‘against progress’. However, they often have their own, very blinkered view of what progress means. Progress towards the edge of a cliff is not a good idea – changing direction is.

The view of solving energy problems via fracking is being promoted by the industry as the only way of making progress whereas we only need to look across to Germany to see that renewables are totally viable, have none of the associated risks to air, water & health and lead to real progress towards genuine energy security.

The cases put by environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are entirely ‘Evidence Based’. For instance, in the seventies scientists discovered the dangers of holes in our ozone layer at the earth’s poles. Campaigning groups helped these scientists provide evidence to governments and lobbied to change the laws despite heavy industry opposition. Governments listened, banned CFCs and that major part of the problem is now resolved. So, the credentials of evidence from environmental groups should not be in doubt.

Evidence is equally clear today on the dangers of fracking and again, realistic alternatives are available. Our local community groups have researched and provided this working group with documents covering our concerns about the unconventional gas industry. There is a lot to read but I trust the members will do so and take into account the credibility of the sources of the information.

We have included evidence from –

  • US government’s own
    • NIH – National Institutes of Health
    • EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
  • British Medical Journal
  • Breast Cancer UK

Even when we reference media reports and articles from interest groups, those items themselves generally reference independent scientific studies and official reports. Groups such as Health Professionals of New York have credence in their own right as they are the Doctors, Consultants and Specialists in the relevant medical fields.

If you discover any evidence provided has been overstated or there is any evidence we have been misinformed about please do let us know. We have no need or desire to embellish anything. For instance I have heard that flaring can produce dioxins – one of the most carcinogenic compounds around – but as I have yet to find a fully credible source I have not included that here. There are enough known carcinogens on record that we do not need to risk undermining our credibility by making claims we can’t verify.

On the other hand, the pro-frackers do use spin and unsubstantiated claims to try to defend their objectives. Last year the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against a pamphlet produced by Cuadrilla on 6 out of 18 points challenged & partially upheld 1 on the grounds of them being ‘Misleading advertising’; being ‘Subjective claims’; lacking ‘Substantiation’ and being guilty of ‘Exaggeration’.

Most notably: –

  • Cuadrilla could not substantiate their claim that they use “proven, safe technologies to explore for and recover natural gas”
  • It was misleading to claim that “We also know that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to contamination of the underground aquifer” and “There is no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing”.
  • They should have qualified their claim “Cuadrilla’s fracturing fluid does not contain hazardous or toxic components”

Other points were not upheld as the ASA presumed the use of language such as “potential to”, “could” and “should also” would be read as CRL’s opinion.

Our paper on Environmental Health Impacts highlights several key areas as evidenced throughout the parts of the USA and Australia where fracking has been permitted:-

Near well sites there have been numerous cases of nosebleeds, sore eyes, nausea and vomiting, skin irritation and rashes, joint and muscle pains, breathing problems and headaches. Most worrying are cases of paraesthesia (symptoms which could relate to neurotoxicity). Particularly affected are the young, old and unwell.

Coal seams and shale rock naturally contain many toxic chemicals, which pose no threat to us when left so far underground but they are brought to the surface in the produced water and drilling muds, and can be emitted by venting, flaring and fugitive emissions (leaks) from the wells.

These include: –

  • Toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and arsenic
  • Toxic Volatile Organics (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. Benzene is highly carcinogenic, toluene is a known neurotoxin.
  • Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) such as uranium, radium and radon gas. Fracking releases far higher levels of NORMS than conventional drilling as the surface area of the fracked rocks if far higher than that of oil or gas found in conventional deposits.

Colorado State has found that areas with the highest number of gas wells have a 30% increase in the number of babies born with congenital heart defects and babies in the areas with the highest numbers of gas wells were two times more likely to have a neural tube defect (eg spina bifida).

Colorado also found moderate to high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in fracking areas. Exposure to EDCs can increase the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological, and other diseases, especially in children and young organisms.

Yale University found almost 40% of people living less than one kilometre from a natural gas well reported upper respiratory symptoms, compared to 18% of people living over 2 kilometres away.

Unexplained cancer clusters are occurring in areas close to gas production. Breast cancer rates are rising in parts of Texas compared to a fall in general across the States.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have stated that air toxics associated with oil and gas extraction activities can cause cancer and other serious health defects.

The US Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) found that Children and foetuses are especially vulnerable to these environmental hazards.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health state that “Regulation of the industry in the UK is currently inadequate”.

The British Medical Journal says that “the conclusion that shale gas operations present a low risk to public health is not substantiated by the literature.”

If anyone can find any scientific papers that have not been funded directly or indirectly by the industry but still conclude that these processes are safe or would be safe under current regulatory framework or could be made safe by stricter regulations please let us know. I suspect we could find either accidental flaws in them or the hidden fingerprints of the industry behind them.

There may be national guidelines in favour of fracking but these are just guidelines. There are also legal requirements for local government to protect the air and water of their people and when the two conflict the precautionary principle in favour of protecting the environment must take precedence.

The industry spends millions on promoting its objectives. The vast majority of objectors do so unpaid in their own time simply because they can see the unacceptable risks and don’t believe we should be playing Russian Roulette with the future of our countryside, our natural resources and the health and wellbeing of livestock, wildlife and our people.

This Working Group has the opportunity to decide whose evidence is the most credible and recommend the right actions for the genuine long-term benefit of the people of Cheshire West and Cheshire. Please listen, deliberate and come to the only logical conclusion – that there is no place for fracking in Cheshire. Recommend putting council resources into renewables. Then we can see what true progress is.