End fracking exemptions, a threat to maternal and public health by Chelsea Clinton, Terry McGovern, and Micaela Martinez April 26, 2021, STAT, Reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine
… To protect communities across the country today — from the Santa Maria Basin in California to the Appalachian Mountains in northern New York — as well as future generations, the country must rapidly phase out harmful fracking.
… Environmental pollutants caused by fracking are known risk factors for congenital heart defects, hormonal disruption, maternal stress, and preterm birth. Fracking rigs have become so abundant in the U.S. that their flares can now be seen from NASA satellites. An estimated 17 million Americans live within 1 mile of a fracking site.
… More immediately, the industry’s ability to avoid federal environmental regulation — and harm the health of the communities where fracking is being conducted — is alarming. In 2005 under the Bush-Cheney administration, the Energy Policy Act freed fracking from regulations required by the Environmental Protection Agency’s underground injection control program, which is designed to protect underground drinking water sources.
This set of exemptions became known as the Halliburton loophole, named after the first fracking company, Halliburton, for which then-Vice President Dick Cheney was the former CEO.
The frightening reality of the Halliburton loophole is that it allows companies to inject massive amounts of potentially harmful chemicals into the earth and pollute the air without disclosing what they are doing. The fracking industry has sidestepped an astonishing list of federal regulations, including the Clean Water Act; the Clean Air Act; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory Program; the CERCLA Superfund bill, which makes polluting parties liable for cleaning up injected fluids used in fracking; the Toxic Substances Control Act; and most state water-use regulations.
“This means that for fracking, the suite of regulatory protections normally in place to reduce hazardous environmental exposures and protect public health do not apply,” explains Joan Casey, a colleague of ours who is an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University. Because companies conducting fracking operations don’t have to report to the Toxic Release Inventory Program, it is left to scientists to evaluate the impact of fracking on the air, waterways, and human health.
Their findings to date show that the consequences of fracking are reverberating through ecosystems and potentially affecting human health across generations.
Pregnant people are especially vulnerable to the health impacts of fracking. Studies conducted in states from California to Pennsylvania have shown that pregnant people living near fracking sites are at higher risk for adverse birth outcomes. In Colorado, infants whose mothers lived near fracking sites during the first few months of pregnancy were up to 1.7 times more likely to be born with congenital heart defects. In Pennsylvania, mothers living near fracking activities were at increased risk of maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy; those covered by Medicaid were at the highest risk.
Fracking can degrade water quality and may elevate maternal stress due to its noise and light pollution. Research suggests that pollutants from fracking may impair normal cardiac development, leading to congenital heart defects. More than 1,000 chemicals are used for fracking, many of which known to disrupt hormones responsible for reproduction and physiology. Yet the toxicity has not been measured for the majority of these chemicals, leaving women and their doctors in the dark on their potential risks to human health.
The unique impact of fracking on the development of the heart and cardiovascular system and on the reproductive system indicates that fracking may not only harm individuals directly exposed to it but may also have health consequences that carry over into future generations.
Individuals living in low-income communities, where environmental pollutants tend to be concentrated, are another group disproportionately affected by fracking.
Eliminating the Halliburton loophole and making fracking operations conform to regulations established for other industries will improve health and the environment. Alternative technologies exist that offer safe, reliable energy for the long term and, from a climate perspective, we should invest immediately and vigorously in them.
A powerful argument against fracking comes from those directly affected by it. Kandi White, a colleague of ours who works with the Indigenous Environmental Network, grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, beautiful land that is sacred for three Indian nations. The reservation had the misfortune of sitting atop the Bakken Shale, a hot spot for fracking in the early 2000s that is now in decline, leaving residents and taxpayers to clean up the environmental damage left behind.
People directly affected by fracking see themselves as more than statistics. As White told a group of scientists researching fracking, “I’m more than just a statistic, more than just a study. We’ve been impacted on the ground every single day since this fracking atrocity began in our home.”
For the millions of Americans directly affected by fracking, it’s time to put their health, and the health of future generations health, first and stop these injustices. …
Chelsea Clinton is an adjunct assistant professor of health policy and management at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. Terry McGovern is chair of the Department of Population and Family Health and director of the global health justice and governance program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Micaela Martinez is assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Refer also to:
New Investigation: Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking: Families in western Pennsylvania exposed to harmful chemicals; regulations failing to protect mental, physical, social health. In Alberta, doctors will not investigate if we are poisoned by oil/gas/frac’ing; will not take a blood test without politician permission
A decade of science on frac harms – Compendium 7 released: “The data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks” while regulators in Canada continue to DEregulate to enable the endless **known** harms. Canadian frac-harmed Vicky Simlik: “Because there is no such thing as a kind & gentle frac’ it needs to be banned period.”
Frac’er WPX made it rain toxic water upon New Mexico, sickens family, kills livestock, birds fell dead from the poisoned sky. As everywhere, the “regulator” did nothing but protect the company, issued no penalty. WPX does not have to disclose details on the toxic chemicals that rained on the family for proprietary reasons. Penny Aucoin: “This has ruined our lives in so many different ways. Our health, family relations, financial problems, literally all aspects of our lives. It has become a living nightmare.”
America’s Radioactive Secret: Oil & gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year in America. It could be making workers sick and contaminating communities (in Canada too). “Us bringing this stuff to the surface is like letting out the devil … It is just madness.”
New Study Says Fracking Negatively Impacts Infant Health. New Low for Marcellus Shale Coalition: “….it’s dangerously misleading and inflammatory to suggest that natural gas development has done anything but improve public health.”
New peer-reviewed, published study by Lisa McKenzie et al, U Colorado School of Public Health: Childhood cancer linked to nearby oil and gas activity; People ages 5-24 diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia more likely to live in areas with a high concentration of oil and gas activity
The Most Horrific Frac Deregulation Yet? US EPA preparing for “widespread” radioactive frac waste contamination of drinking water or because it’s already happened? EPA’s proposed “protective regulation” to allow dramatically higher levels of radioactivity in drinking water
Oil & gas & frac companies poisoning Alberta families, injecting toxic chemicals into community air, on roads & food land & in drinking water aquifers Go Free while Edmonton dry cleaner first person in Canada to get jail sentence for using dangerous chemicals
Sounds like Alberta (Again)! Utah energy boomtown turns on midwife who raised concerns over apparent spike in infant deaths: “Could the deaths be tied to the oil industry, the region’s economic powerhouse?”
Only a frac ban will protect health, livability in Denton Texas; Frac regulations poison us, “There is no escaping the harmful chemicals. … We feel like prisoners in our own home.” **Yup, I know what that feels (and breaths, bathes) like.**
Des malformations congénitales liées à l’extraction du gaz naturel; New study links fracking to birth defects in heavily drilled Colorado, Risks of some birth defects increased as much as 30 percent in mothers who lived near oil and gas wells
Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in ground and surface water at fracking sites, Peer reviewed study of fracking sites in Garfield County Colorado finds chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer
“The [ERCB] board, he charged, to laughter from the Knights, is composed primarily of engineers “whose horizons are no wider than six inches of pipe.”