As Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidates Increase Gas Production, Report Collects Studies That Show Harms of Hydraulic Fracking

Industry condemns report, while proponents cite growing climate fears

  • Jon Hurdle

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

In this 2012 photo, Skylar McEvoy holds up a sign during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. She and her family moved after saying the fracking had polluted their water.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

In this 2012 photo, Skylar McEvoy holds up a sign during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. She and her family moved after saying the fracking had polluted their water.

Anti-fracking groups have released their latest compilation of research that indicates the industry is harming human health, the environment and the climate, setting a stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial candidates who are urging more of natural gas production just before the primary.

The 577 pages document cites hundreds of studies from universities, non-profit organizations, government departments and journalists on industry’s links to issues such as air and water pollution, impacts on public health, climate change, noise and light impacts from well pads and radioactivity.

He says some aspects of the industry cannot be regulated effectively, and the weight of evidence against the industry is so great, he says, that the only solution is an immediate shutdown.

The eighth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking was released this week by Concerned Health Professionals of New York (a project of the Science and Environmental Health Network) and the nonprofit organization Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report follows calls by Republican state lawmakers for more natural gas production to improve national energy security at a time of soaring global energy costs, and it contrasts with the platforms of presidential candidates. party governors who promise to increase production if elected.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a candidate for the GOP nomination in next Tuesday’s primary, says on his website that it would encourage investment in the natural gas and coal industries; expand exploration and technology in the Marcellus Shale region; and lifting taxes and fees imposed on the industry by Governor Tom Wolf.

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Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) backed Donald Trump’s 2020 voter fraud lie by signing a letter urging members of Congress to delay certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes going to Joe Biden. The voter fraud lie led to the attack on the Capitol.

Former Congressman and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, another candidate in the gubernatorial race, said he will be a “champion” of the coal, oil and natural gas industries, and promises to defend them against “liberals who intend to take these jobs away from our citizens”. Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, conservative activist and columnist Charlie Gerow, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, businessman Dave White and cardiothoracic surgeon Nche Zama all expressed support for the industry Pennsylvania fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing and/or pipelines.

Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Attorney General Josh Shapiro calls for ‘responsible fracking’ that would expand ‘no-drill’ zones 2,500 feet from nearest building; require disclosure of all fracturing chemicals before they are used on site; the regulation of hundreds of kilometers of smaller pipelines; and lead a “comprehensive health response” to the effects of living near fracking sites.

If elected governor, Shapiro said he would implement the recommendations of the attorney general’s 2020 grand jury report to minimize the risks of fracking. The grand jury said, “We have heard clear and compelling evidence that leads us to conclude that industry activities in Pennsylvania have made our children sick.”

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The Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pennsylvania’s leading gas industry trade group, dismissed the compendium as citing studies selected by “declared anti-natural gas activists.”

“It’s an undeniable fact that the safe and responsible development of natural gas is an absolute winner for Pennsylvania’s environment and economy,” said group chairman David Callahan. “Our air is cleaner, our economy stronger and our nation more energy secure thanks to the natural gas produced under our feet.”

He cited a 2019 study by Health Effects Institute-Energya non-profit organization funded by industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which concluded that “studies linking shale development to negative public health impacts used imprecise measurements, did not hold into account other possible factors and, in some cases, were ill-conceived”.

The coalition also cited a 2016 report of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which said it did not detect “discernible impacts” of natural gas development on water quality. But a year later, a SRBC Fact Sheet on Natural Gas Development said the potential impacts of fracking were “concerning.” A 2020 report did not draw conclusions on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water use or quality.

Meanwhile, the doctors’ compilation says fracking is now the source of 79% of natural gas production in the United States and is responsible for a range of damage.

“As fracking operations in the United States and abroad have increased in frequency, size, and intensity, a significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are harmful in ways that cannot be mitigated. by regulation,” he said.

Industry is making climate change worse by allowing the escape of methane, the main component of natural gas, which is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20-year period, and which is estimated to it has caused 40% warming so far, according to the doctors’ report.

It also targeted liquefied natural gas, the form that is increasingly being used in US exports to Europe to replace gas supplies from Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine. Cooling gas into liquid form requires large amounts of energy, increasing carbon emissions and worsening climate change, the report said.

He argued that the impacts of fracking disproportionately affect environmental justice communities who are more likely to live near natural gas operations.

Other emerging threats related to fracking include leaks from unused or abandoned wells, and growing evidence that regulation is not able to control fracking-related issues such as air pollution and even the risk of earthquakes, according to the newspaper.

Although the objections to fracking raised by the compendium are familiar, its accumulation of evidence is designed to persuade policymakers and the public that the industry is dangerous and must be stopped, said Michael McCawley, professor of public health at the University of West Virginia, which has studied the health effects of gas-powered drilling rigs.

McCawley said the compendium is a largely credible source of studies on the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Although he agrees with most of their findings, McCawley accused authors of “cherry picking” studies that help make their point.

Among the papers that were excluded from the compendium is his own, finding that the main health impact of gas-powered drilling rigs comes from their motorcade of air-polluting diesel trucks, rather than from fracking itself. . He said his research had been ignored by the compendium since he conducted it in 2011.

“The feeling is that they want to find something that’s associated with the actual drilling operation because it’s an easy villain,” McCawley said. “Independent truckers are not easy villains. If you say they’re causing all the harm, then the people who drill are going to say, “Well, it’s not our fault, we don’t have to do anything. Everyone is afraid that the industry has an easy way out.

Joan Casey, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said the compendium provides ample evidence of a link between fracking and harmful particulate air pollution and volatile organic compounds.

Casey welcomed the evidence of a link between fracking and climate change. “We need to act on the climate now, and continuing to extract more fossil fuels from the ground hinders that effort,” she said.