Health Effects of Fracking are of Major Concern to Residents & Medical Professionals

Essay by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned fracking in New York State in 2014, citing health risks. Many other states have been “spread eagle” for fracking. As time goes by it appears that Cuomo was right. This essay is based on research about what has been verified by peer-reviewed research.

Shortly after fracking came into existence people living near this new type of well raised a host of complaints such as 24 hour light, noise, with heavy, congested traffic on rural roads; strange odors in the air, tastes and sediment in well water, and significant health complaints.

You’d think, since it is a democracy, that would cause some caution and serious investigation. But complaints of individual citizens came up against the prospect of millions of dollars profit, and the political organization that kind of money can buy. Most of the complaints were overruled “for the common good,” in spite of global warming and the very marginal economic nature of the enterprise (fracked oil is marginally profitable and the natural gas is carried by the attendant liquids, which are a starting material for plastics, etc.). Health complaints, and the extensive use of toxic chemicals are a more significant complaint.

However the industry united behind the claim of ”anecdotal evidence only,” and the judges who tried early claims against the companies, doubtless were impressed by the financial claims of the industry and indifferent to the unsophisticated rural types who made the claims.

Scientific studies of the health related to fracking, on both workers and the normal rural residents, requires big money. Obviously, the companies would not finance anything that might inhibit their way of doing business, or add more cost. Government was not inclined to put up money for the needed research. And, state or federal law does not require research on the public health or impacts on neighborhoods around chemical and petrochemical plants, factory farms and other facilities.

Private foundations have heard the need, and slowly the research is getting done. One of the early published papers was done in 2010 by Theo Colborn and co-workers. They surveyed the chemicals used in fracking, some 632 compounds, of which 353 had Chemical Abstracts Service numbers, a unique identifier. They found, ”More than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40–50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations. These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed.” Furthermore, “an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) lists of hazardous substances.”

The paper discusses the difficulty of developing an effective water quality monitoring program, since separate analysis would be necessary for many different compounds. They also recommend full disclosure of all chemicals and mixtures used in fracking. The abstract and paper can be accessed here.

The old saying, “Ignorance is bliss” still is the guide for regulation today, apparently, since no disclosure, even to regulatory agencies is required today.

In 2011 and article entitled “Blind Rush? Shale Gas Boom Proceeds Amid Human Health Questions” was published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives here.

It points out by 2011 most Americans hadn’t heard or read of fracking and consequently don’t know whether they support or are against it. Those who have heard about it were evenly divided then. Factors predicting point-of-view were as follows. Women, those holding egalitarian worldviews, those who read newspapers more than once a week, those more familiar with hydraulic fracturing, and those who associate the process with environmental impacts are more likely to oppose fracking.

In contrast, people more likely to support fracking tend to be older, hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, politically conservative, watch TV news more than once a week, and associate the process with positive economic or energy supply outcomes. The authors of the paper find a need for how communication is done, and energy policy.

The American Chemical Society, the world’s largest professional organization, published a special edition of it’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology in 2014 on “Understanding the Risks of Unconventional Shale Gas Development,” a special issue. One of the articles was “Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development.” That article points out effects that can be at the well site, due to silica dust, hazardous chemicals, industrial accidents and ear-deafening sound. In the surrounding local area the problem is traffic, water quality, social disruption, air quality and water quality. Finally, the methane leakage and carbon dioxide from combustion affect the entire globe with climate disruptions.

The research article notes that no comprehensive study of the problems exists as of late 2014, but extensive research needs to be done. This can be read here.

Coming to the present. We present three recent findings. “The Independent” reports on a second paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology which tested and studied sediments and groundwater downstream of a treatment plant in Pennsylvania that was designed to make the water used as part of the fracking process fit for release into the environment. They found “ “high loads of chloride, barium, strontium, radium and organic compounds” in the Conemaugh River Watershed“ down stream from a treatment plant. One spot had radium, a radioactive element, 200 times more concentrated than above it, just 14 percent below a level that would have to be treated as radioactive waster in some U. S. states.

They conclude, “Despite several other sources of contaminants such as coal bed methane, coal mine drainage, and flue gas desulfurization releases that can impact surface water quality, we document multiple lines of evidence that indicate the legacy of unconventional oil-and-gas wastewater disposal has impacted stream sediments and porewater [groundwater] on a watershed-scale.”

Another article from 2017 has the title “There’s a World Going on Underground — Infant Mortality and Fracking in Pennsylvania” which can be downloaded here.

It is an epidemiological study by Christopher Busby and Joseph Mangano that examines early infant deaths 0-28 days before and after the drilling of fracking wells, using official data from the US Center for Disease Control to compare the immediate post-fracking four year period 2007-2010 with the pre-fracking four-year period 2003-2006. The objective is given as “To investigate association between early (0-28 days) infant mortality by county in Pennsylvania and fracking.”

The results were, “Whilst early infant deaths decreased by 2.4% in the State over the period, in the 82,558 births in the 10 fracked counties there was a significant increase in mortality (238 vs 193; RR = 1.29; 95% CI 1.05, 1.55; p = 0.011). For the five north east fracked counties Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Wyoming and Tioga the combined early infant mortality increased from 34 deaths to 60 (RR 1.66; 1.05, 2.51; p = 0.014), whereas in the south western 5 counties Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette, Butler and Greene the increase was modest, 157 to 178 (RR 1.18; 0.95, 1.46; p = 0.13). Increased risk was associated with exposure to groundwater, expressed as the county ratio of water wells divided by the number of births.

And the conclusion: “Fracking appears to be associated with early infant mortality in populations living in counties where the process is carried out. There is some evidence that the effect is associated with private water well density and/or environmental law violations.” Pretty damning stuff! They also conclude, “The results therefore seem to support the suggestion that the vector for the effect is exposure to drinking water from private wells. This is a mechanistically plausible explanation. However the findings do not prove such a suggestion. We may examine other possible explanations for possible health effects which have been advanced.”

Another good article in the general press that reports on research on toxicity of fracking, and oil wells in general, is here. The title is “More than 17 million Americans are exposed to toxic fumes that could give you cancer, heart disease, dementia, or cause birth defects.”

The follow-on reads:
· >> Five percent of the US population lives a mile or less away from an oil or gas well
· >> These wells contaminate the air, water and soil around the exposed area
· >> Close to half of West Virginia’s population lives near an active fracking site
· >> There’s a need for protective regulations and policies to protect people living by these sites

The contamination from fracking will double and last an indefinite longtime, with varying length in different places. Will fracking companies be held at fault? Wait and see. Since individual wells are frequently drilled by Limited Liability Companies, they can go broke individually, and save the parent companies. Will the government respond? Only when big money is taken out of politics. So the answer becomes “When will big money no longer be allowed to subvert government?

Research is now coming through, but the psychopathic personalities may not respond to the facts. We must work, hope and pray for non-traditional energy to come as fast as possible. Its lower price will drive out the toxic traditional energy that is burning hydrocarbons.

>>> Tom Bond holds a PhD in physical chemistry and taught chemistry at the high school and college level. He has participated in activities of the Guardians of the West Fork and the Upper Monongahela Area Watershed Compact.


Ethane Hype has Reached a New Level in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on September 22, 2017

Where did the 100,000 jobs and the $36 billion investment figures come from? Despite what Wheeling’s papers tell you, it wasn’t a WVU study

From the Blog entitled The Wheeling Alternative, Internet Blog, September 2, 2017

On Wednesday, the top-of-the-front-page headline in both Wheeling papers highlighted what looked to be an important story for the Ohio Valley:

>>>”Ethane Storage Could Bring 100,000 Jobs

The sub-headline further explained:

>>> “WVU study looks at possible $36B investment

And here is the story’s lead paragraph about a just-released WVU study:

>>> “West Virginia University researchers believe a Marcellus and Utica shale ethane storage hub could help create $36 billion in investment and more than 100,000 permanent jobs – some of which could occur at industrial sites left behind by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, Weirton Steel and Ormet Corp.

100,000 jobs? That’s a lot of job creation. Investment of $36 billion? If the reporting is correct, the study certainly looks good for the tri-state region. Unfortunately for the Ohio Valley, the WVU study doesn’t mention any of the above. The reporter, Casey Junkins, who last year misrepresented a study on the retraining of coal miners to draw an opposite conclusion, once again makes claims for findings that are not in the study.

Here is a link to WVU’s Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium which then links to the WVU study as a PDF. The study is very technical and science-oriented. Fortunately, a PDF program that can open the study will usually have a search feature which will look for specific words or phrases. So if you open the study, try “jobs” or “investment.” You should get the same results that I did — both will be highlighted only once in the 181 page document and both are in the same sentence:

>>> “In the United States, petrochemical projects are expanding. Industry investment and jobs have increased; the value of NGLs has increased; and fractionation capacity has increased as new processing plants come on line.”

That’s it — there are no other references to job creation or investment in the study.

But if it’s not in the study, where did the headline’s $36 billion in investment and 100,000 jobs come from? With a little research I found both figures side-by-side in a different study published by the American Chemistry Council earlier this year. (See page 5 in “The Potential Economic Benefits of an Appalachian Petrochemical Industry.” The numbers are detailed in a chart.)

Who is the American Chemistry Council and are they as credible as WVU’s academic research team? The American Chemical Council is the chief lobbying group for the chemical industry. The Center for Public Integrity, which has won two Pulitzer Prizes for investigative journalism in the last four years, has done numerous investigations of this lobby group including “Brokers of Junk Science,” “Making a cancer cluster disappear,” and “Meet the ‘rented white coats’ who defend toxic chemicals.” If you’ve been following the flood story about the chemical plant in Houston that may explode, you are likely familiar with some of the results of the Council’s work. The International Business Times recently reported how the Council is connected to what happened in Houston:

>>> “The French company that says its Houston-area chemical plant is spewing “noxious” smoke — and may explode — successfully pressed federal regulators to delay new regulations designed to improve safety procedures at chemical plants, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times. The rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a furious lobbying campaign by plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council, which represents a chemical industry that has poured tens of millions of dollars into federal elections.

Yes, the American Chemistry Council is a very questionable source and given their reason for existence and history, it’s not that much of a stretch to doubt the Council’s conclusion that a storage hub would create 100,000 permanent jobs and $36 billion in investment. The Council’s goal is to sell us on a storage hub and I don’t think they’re all that concerned about whether their means are ethical. What is unfortunate in this case is that those numbers will now be connected with West Virginia’s research. Junkins’ sloppy reporting has given credibility to what are certainly some very questionable claims.

It should be noted that some newspapers did get the story right. The Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter’s coverage of the event also included those figures but it’s reporter made it clear that the numbers were part of the discussion afterwards and not from the WVU study. Readers of Ogden papers were not so fortunate.

Last year, Casey Junkins’ bogus conclusions on the cost of retraining miners predictably resurfaced a few days later in a local editorial. Similarly, Mike Myer (editor) in his column in this morning’s Intelligencer uses Junkins’ incorrect conclusion:

>>> “There was good news for Northern Panhandle and East Ohio residents last week, when West Virginia University researchers released a study regarding sites for an ethane storage hub.”

>>> “There’s been a lot of hype regarding ethane storage hubs during the past several weeks. Having one in your area is a gold mine for the economy, we’re told. As many as 100,000 new, permanent jobs could be created around a hub, WVU’s experts say.

I think this is just the first of what will be many references to a WVU study that didn’t even examine job creation.

>>> The Wheeling Alternative is an Internet Blog authored by a retired educator with interests in media, politics, and popular culture.


NOTE: Ethane is a secondary product of the natural gas production from Marcellus shale. When ethane is cracked into ethylene, it can be polymerized into polyethylene, one of the plastics that are polluting the planet and interfering with marine animals.

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