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Public health at risk from Philadelphia marriage between shale oil fracking and shale gas fracking

July 3, 2012

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter has announced a plan to rush oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale to southwestern Philadelphia so it can be processed. “The plan also calls for the use of nat­ural gas to power a hydro­c­racker, which is used to turn crude oil into usable prod­ucts such as gasoline,” NPR’s StateImpact reports.

Protecting Our Waters calls on the mayor to address health concerns immediately, to conduct a Health Impact Assessment, to consider the life-cycle impacts of this project, and to fight for green jobs instead, in keeping with his values.

Philadelphia already has terrible air quality, with resulting asthma and lung disease. We know that air emissions from shale oil and shale gas extraction and processing include carcinogens and neurotoxins, and that the oil and gas industry is exempt from key clauses of the Clean Air Act. According to Gassed, Global Community Monitor’s 2011 report on toxic air pollution from natural gas development,

At least two cancer-causing chemicals, acrylonitrile and methylene chloride, were detected at high levels near natural gas operations. Neither chemical is associated with natural gas or oil deposits, but both seem to be associated with the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) products. Resins acrylonitrile, 1, 3 butadiene and styrene (ABS) are suspected to be present in fracking additives.

Air emissions from natural gas production are largely unregulated and unmonitored, despite being a significant source of air pollution. State and Federal air monitoring devices are located several miles from production sites, and test for criteria air pollutants rather than specific volatile organic compounds associated with natural gas exploration and production. Oil and gas exploration and production operations are exempt from two key provisions of the Clean Air Act’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, designed to protect public health.

Because of these exemptions, the industry avoids complying with standards that are applied to other industries.

Based on what we know already about extreme energy extraction and particularly shale oil and gas processing emissions, rising air pollution would result in serious health impacts in the Philadelphia area if this project goes through. Nutter should be weighing in on the side of a Marcellus moratorium and demanding that Pennsylvania conduct a Health Impact Assessment. “The Harmed, the Sickened, the Dead and the Disappeared” documents over 200 cases of contamination, most with health impacts — and over half of the cases from Pennsylvania — from shale gas extraction and processing so far.

Air impacts alone from gas processing in Pennsylvania, including cracker plant pollution, will cause well-documented harm to air quality and therefore health, according to Ann Whitner Pinca, author of “Pennsylvania’s reindustrialization will take a toll on health,” published in the Patriot News last week.

The life cycle impacts on health go beyond immediate impacts in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania. Shale oil drilling in the Bakken shale is resulting in a boom in serious health problems there, as reported by OnEarth. I can confirm that one of the most horrifying interviews I ever conducted about health impacts from shale fracking was with a Bakken shale victim.

The Arctic sea ice has just melted faster than it ever has in human history; it is hundreds of thousands of miles less than it was in 2007. We cannot and must not “grow” our economy at the expense of climate. We must invest in green jobs on a World War II-scale instead. We need an ETA: an Energy Transition in America. Not escalating extreme fossil fuel extraction.

Lastly, the NPR/StateImpact report on the shale oil – shale gas marriage (called Philadelphia Energy Solutions) was completely uncritical and written “as if” extreme energy extraction and processing are not hugely controversial due to environmental and health impacts, extraordinary exemptions, and the planetary climate crisis.

If NPR is going to report accurately on this topic, perhaps it should stop accepting the big bucks from American Natural Gas Association (ANGA), which literally is paying NPR to announce things that are not true. For example, one ad claimed that the natural gas industry is a “steward of the environment,” while the industry has in fact fought for and won exemptions from every federal environmental law that exists, among other radically anti-environmental achievements.

ANGA’s ad on NPR on June 27th said the gas industry is “supporting nearly 3 million jobs across the country.” Hello? Allowing ads like that to air is irresponsible, especially without any accurate reporting to the contrary to tear those numbers apart using real data (for example, industry reports call every new hire a “job” when in fact the same person might have been hired many different times for short-term jobs; and ANGA makes up multipliers which enable them to literally fabricate numbers for “related industries.” Detailed debunking here.

Everyone needs and deserves meaningful, safe, secure and well-compensated work, but fracking jobs are insecure, poisonous, and non-union. Let’s fight for good jobs, not jobs that come at the expense of public health and our future.

Putting human health first should be a no-brainer, especially when the same million dollars creates at least 9.5 renewable energy, conservation and efficiency jobs for every 3.7 oil and gas jobs.

One Comment
  1. Ann Dixon permalink
    July 7, 2012 8:41 pm

    Another great post from Iris! I appreciate that this article is so timely. I will use talking points from this article to speak out at public events.

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