MORE THAN 100 LEADING MEDICAL, SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS URGE WHITE HOUSE TO HALT RUSH TO EXPANDED SHALE GAS FRACKING FOR EXPORT PURPOSES
First, Do No Harm: Get the Health Facts Now Is the Message From Petitioners to Obama Press Release by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, December 13, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. Moving ahead rapidly with plans to approve several new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals would require “a rapid increase in fracking in the United States without credible science” and “could potentially cause undue harm to many Americans,” according to 107 experts who signed on to a petition sent today to the White House. Facilitated by Physicians, Scientists, & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE), the petition is a response to the Obama Administration’s consideration of fast tracking of the permitting process for LNG export terminals that would trigger a substantial spike in the fracking of U.S. shale gas in order to meet foreign energy demands.
Signed by top U.S. medical professionals, researchers, and other scientists, the petition reads in part: “There is a growing body of evidence that unconventional natural gas extraction from shale (also known as ‘fracking’) may be associated with adverse health risks through exposure to polluted air, water, and soil. Public health researchers and medical professionals question the continuation of current levels of fracking without a full scientific understanding of the health implications. The opening of LNG export facilities would serve to accelerate fracking in the United States in absence of sound scientific assessment, placing policy before health.”
Seth B. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH, executive director, Physicians, Scientists, & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE), and environmental researcher, University of California, Berkeley, said: “The question here is very simple: Why would the United States dramatically increase the use of an energy extraction method without first ensuring that the trade-off is not the health of Americans in exchange for the energy demands of foreign nations? Health professionals are coming together today to urge the White House to make sure that we have the facts prior to making this decision. The only prudent thing to do here is to conduct the needed research first.”
Adam Law, MD, physician, Cayuga Medical Center, Ithaca, NY, and Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy, said: “Researchers are finding measurable levels of pollutants from this industry in air and water that are associated with the risk of illness. The first studies to describe this are entering the scientific literature and public health researchers are embarking on multiple approaches to study the associated adverse health effects.”
Madelon L. Finkel, PhD, professor of clinical public health, and director of the Office of Global Health Education, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City, said: “Natural gas has been in these shale formations for millions of years; it isn’t going anywhere and will be around for future generations. Society especially owes it to those living in areas with both active and planned drilling to study the potential for harm (to the environment and to human and animal health) and to act to reduce those factors that are shown to increase the risk of disease and even death.”
Louis W. Allstadt, former executive vice president, Mobil Oil Corporation, Cooperstown, NY, said: “The current unconventional oil and gas drilling process using High Volume Horizontal Hydro-Fracturing is a much more intensive industrial activity than conventional drilling, which was the norm until about 10 years ago. It requires far greater volumes of water and chemicals, as well as disposal of much larger volumes of toxic flow-back fluids. We need to fully study and understand the health effects of the significantly greater volumes of toxic materials that must be handled and disposed of with this process.”
The full text of the PSE petition reads as follows:
“We the undersigned medical and scientific professionals urge the Obama Administration to put a hold on moving forward on the construction of new liquefied natural gas terminals for the large-scale exportation of shale gas to foreign nations. Our concern is that the Administration has not fully examined the potential for harm to health and the environment that could result.
There is a growing body of evidence that unconventional natural gas extraction from shale (also known as ‘fracking’) may be associated with adverse health risks through exposure to polluted air, water, and soil.
Public health researchers and medical professionals question the continuation of current levels of fracking without a full scientific understanding of the health implications. The opening of LNG export facilities would serve to accelerate fracking in the United States in absence of sound scientific assessment, placing policy before health.
As the White House and the Department of Energy contemplate exporting LNG to accommodate international demand for energy, the need for a deliberative process based on sound science is all the more important. We assert that a guiding ethical principle for public policy on fracking should parallel that used by physicians: ‘First, do not harm.’
There is a need for much more scientific and epidemiologic information about the potential for harm from fracking. To facilitate a rapid increase in fracking in the United States without credible science is irresponsible and could potentially cause undue harm to many Americans.
Without well-designed scientific studies, we will not know the extent of potential harm from fracking. We strongly urge the Administration to err on the side of caution as it contemplates national policy regarding the exportation of shale gas.
The health professionals below sign as individuals and do not necessarily represent the views of their employer.”
Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy is dedicated to supplying objective, evidence-based, scientific information and resources on unconventional gas development (high-volume hydrofracking) and other novel energy production methods. PSE’s mission is to bring transparency to the important scientific and public policy issues surrounding energy, helping to level the playing field for citizens, scientists, advocacy groups, media, and policy-makers. For more information, go to http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/ as of 6 p.m. EST on Dec 13, 2012.
Doctors Urge U.S. to Block Gas Export Terminals by Jon Hurdle, December 13, 2012, New York Times
More than 100 physicians urged the Obama administration on Thursday not to approve the construction of liquefied natural gas export terminals until more is known about the health effects of hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process that has opened the way for a big increase in domestic gas production. A group called Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, which conducts research into unconventional natural gas production, organized a petition arguing that exports of natural gas would increase such domestic drilling, known as fracking, exposing more people to chemicals that might damage their health.
The petition, signed by 107 doctors, public health experts, environmental scientists, and academics, cited a growing number of anecdotal reports associating fracking with adverse health risks through human exposure to water, air and soil. Despite reports that some people living near gas-drilling operations are suffering from respiratory, skin and gastrointestinal ailments, there is no established body of scientific evidence establishing whether fracking contaminates the local environment, the physicians noted.
Until policymakers and public health officials determine whether fracking is dangerous to human health, they argue, the government should not allow the development of the 15 new export terminals that have been proposed by the gas industry. The government has so far approved one export terminal, proposed by Cheniere Energy, in Louisiana. “There is a paucity of objective, evidence-based epidemiologicalresearch,” Dr. Madelon Finkel, a professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, said during a conference call with reporters. The petition follows the publication on Dec. 4 of a government study concluding that the economic benefits of LNG exports would outweigh the impacts of the higher domestic prices that may result. The report has encouraged speculation that more projects will be approved.
The demand for exports has arisen from a recent boom in domestic production resulting from the use of fracking in combination with horizontal drilling, which has allowed the industry to exploit vast shale gas reserves at an affordable cost. Energy companies are also lured by sharply higher natural gas prices overseas.
The natural gas industry denies there is any link between fracking and environmental contamination, arguing that the chemicals used to help release gas from shale beds are injected into the ground through multiple layers of steel and concrete and released into the shale beneath thousands of feet of impervious rock. Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, dismissed the physicians’ concerns. “There is no basis in fact or science for the assertions made by this group,” Mr. Whitten said in a statement. “Natural gas is produced safely and responsibly every day, and that production is governed by extensive federal, state and local regulations.”
But Dr. Adam Law, a physician at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., said that researchers are finding “measurable” levels of pollutants from the gas industry in the air and water that are associated with the risk of illness, and that the first studies describing such exposure are entering the medical literature.
Seth Shonkoff, executive director of the physicians’ group, said that a current investigation into fracking by the Environmental Protection Agency would not fully establish whether fracking is safe because it is concerned only with its effects on water. [Emphasis added]