Sometimes you don’t want to be proved right. For years as the fracking boom exploded across the U.S., the shale industry and its stooges argued that it was safe. That there was no evidence of harm.
But I and many others warned that the science would take time to catch up with the technology and what science there was published was already sounding the alarm.
Four years ago, for example, I blogged: “As I have repeatedly said, science takes time to catch up with events on the ground. It takes months, if not years, to undertake sampling, analyse the data, write up the results and get the material published in a peer-reviewed journal.”
As fracking started overseas, its proponents also took up the argument that it was safe too. Last year, for instance, ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, told U.S. oil executives of his frustration that the UK has failed to follow in the footsteps of the Americans and frack large swathes of the countryside.
He told the fossil fuel executives that Britain would eventually accept fracking when wells running and proven to be safe.
He is not alone. Earlier this year, Natascha Engel, the UK Government’s “fracking tsar” quit her job, claiming that shale gas policy was being driven by “environmental lobbying rather than science.”
Engel told the Times newspaper that if “properly regulated” fracking “was as safe as any other drilling industry.”
But this statement completely ignores the vast array of peer reviewed science into fracking, much of it published in the last few years.
Last week, the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSE) and Concerned Health Professionals of New York published the sixth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, which examined the latest scientific studies and government reports on fracking.
The compendium reconfirmed what I have been saying for years, that science takes time: “More than half of the peer-reviewed scientific papers on the risks and harms of fracking have been published since January 2016”, it notes. Indeed, 20 percent per cent of the studies were published last year, alone.
As of April this year, there were 1,778 published peer-reviewed studies that pertain to shale and tight gas development that the scientists found in reputable databases.
Specifically, the report’s statistical analysis of the scientific literature available from 2009 to 2015, demonstrates that:
- 69 percent of original research studies on water quality found potential for, or actual evidence of, fracking-associated water contamination;
- 87 percent of original research studies on air quality found significant air pollutant emissions;
- 84 percent of original research studies on human health risks found signs of harm or indication of potential harm.
In total they concluded that that “90.3 percent of all original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking found a positive association with harm or potential harm.”
The report’s conclusion is damning: “The rapidly expanding body of scientific evidence compiled and referenced in the present volume is massive, troubling, and cries out for decisive action.”
The Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York argue that ”Across a wide range of parameters, from air and water pollution to radioactivity to social disruption to greenhouse gas emissions, the data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks.”
“There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends. The only method of mitigating its grave harm to public health and the climate is a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking,” they continue.
One of the scientists who wrote the report reiterates that conclusion. Sandra Steingraber of Concerned Health Professionals of New York told CommonDreams in an interview that contrary to the British fracking tsar’s assertion that fracking could be safe if the right regulations were in place, this was not the case.
“There is no regulatory framework for fracking that will keep the toxins out of air and water, or will protect the climate from carbon and methane releases. It can’t be done. It can’t be made safe. Like lead paint, we finally have to ban it,” she said.