Fracking: A peril looming over Europe’s environmental health
Extracting shale gas, which can pollute groundwater and be environmentally damaging, represents a major new threat for public health in Europe, according to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), the Brussels-based not-for-profit advocacy group.
A seminar organised by HEAL on Friday 7 October 2011 brought attention to the need for urgent EU action on this new extraction process, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The lack of an assessment of the impact of fracking on environmental health is a particular concern. The meeting will help define the health and environmental implications of this new extraction process and identify the EU policy areas that are likely to be affected. (1)
"We firmly believe that fracking is the next big environmental health challenge," says Genon Jensen, Executive Director of HEAL. "A top concern is the contamination of groundwater as a result of the hazardous chemicals used (2). Others are the air pollution generated by drilling compressors and trucks hauling huge amounts of water needed for hydrofracking, and the toxic wastewater the fracking leaves behind. With shale gas extraction well underway in Poland (3), prospecting taking place in the UK and several other European countries and fracking the subject of legislation in France (4), it is little wonder that this new process is galloping to the top of the EU agenda (5)."
Speakers at the meeting include Mihai Tomescu, Socio-Economic Analyst at DG Environment. The European Commission announced in early September that it intends to draft EU rules on the fracturing of shale gas. (6) Since then, the Commission has announced that no company has registered any of the 10 chemicals typically used to hydraulically fracture rocks for shale gas extraction for that use under REACH. (7)
Francois Veillerette, President of Generations Futures, a HEAL member, will tell the meeting about the findings of his new book, "Le vrai scandale des Gaz de Schiste" (The Real Scandal of Shale Gas in Europe). (4) He says that following ten years of widespread fracking in the USA, concerns can be summed up as "the use of dangerous chemical substances, contamination of groundwater, consumption of a large amount of water, and destruction of the landscape." A study cited in the book shows that this mining process produces the same level of emissions of greenhouse gases as the use of coal.
Generations Futures and HEAL want to see urgent action taken. ""We now need a clear European ban on the exploitation of shale gas, oil and other source rock hydrocarbons," Mr. Veillerette says.
In the US, 60 scientists with expertise in water treatment systems have signed a letter expressing concern should chemicals and other contaminants used in hydraulic fracturing end up in the water supply. They fear that municipal drinking water filtration systems are not designed to adequately remove such toxins. (8) The US-based TEDX Endocrine Disruptor Exchange report says that fracking fluid may contain include 300 chemicals out of which 40% are endocrine disruptors and a third are suspected carcinogens. Over 60% can harm the brain and nervous system. (9)
Since hearing about this problem last year, HEAL has worked to increase collaboration by bringing together activists, scientists and interested policy makers. In late 2010, American colleague, Dr Sandra Steingraber, an international environmental health scientist, whom HEAL brought attention to the problem during her address at a meeting in the European Parliament. She will now dedicate her recent Heinz Foundation prize to fighting fracking.(10)
Ms Jensen says. "Right now, the impacts of shale gas are only partially dealt with in over 35 pieces of legislation. So a top priority is to get shale gas systematically addressed under EU law so that it protects people’s health and our ecosystems."
Notes for journalists
1. Shale Gas in the EU: "Health & Environment implications of Shale Fracturing for Natural Gas" on 7th October 2011 (Continuation of HEAL Annual General Meeting)
NGO Meeting on Shale Gas in the EU: Environment & Health implications of Shale Fracturing for Natural Gas (09:00 - 12:45)
09:00 - Welcome Genon Jenson, HEAL Executive Director
09:15 - Overview of issues and EU policy context
09.15 - Fracking from an NGO perspective: what’s at stake for health and environment? Lisette van Vliet, Toxics Policy Advisor, HEAL
09.25 - EU policies context for shale gas & issues considered Mihai Tomescu, Socio-Economic Analyst, DG Environment, European Commission
09:50 - Questions & Answers
10:00 - The Real Scandal of Shale Gas in Europe - French case study
10:05 - "Le Vrai Scandale des Gaz de Schiste" Francois Veillerette, Generations Futures (HEAL member organisation, France)
10:25 Questions and Discussion
10:40 Coffee break
For any questions concerning the event, please contact Lisette@env-health.org
Registration for the event is now closed.
2. A report by the Tyndall Centre in Manchester University found that "There is a clear risk of contamination of groundwater from shale gas extraction," it concluded. "It is important to recognise that most problems arise due to errors in construction or operation and these cannot be eliminated."
3. Fracking in Poland Youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7-NAGNDsvE&feature=player_profilepage
4. Marine Jobert and Francois Veillerette, "Le vrai scandale des gaz de schiste", full details on website at http://www.gaz-de-schiste.fr
5. Two hearings in the European Parliament are planned during week beginning Monday 3 October 2011. ENVI hearing on the Parliamentary study on the impacts of shale gas on the environment and human health (Tuesday, 4 October, Item 16, ENVI/7/06759 (PE464.425)) and ITRE hearing on the prospects for shale gas in the EU (afternoon, Wednesday 5 October).
6. Agence France Presse, France 24, 9 September 2011, Brussels seeks EU shale gas rules: Oettinger
7. ENDS Europe, 23 September 2011, EC: fracking chemicals not REACH registered, http://www.endseurope.com
8. Letter from US scientists to New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo available at http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Sign_on_letter_Final.pdf
9. TEDX website, http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/home.php
10. Sandra Steingraber, The Heinz Award and What I plan to do with it, http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/newsfrom187/entry/6467. Her new book, Raising Elijah includes a whole chapter on fracking, http://steingraber.com.
Last updated on 21 November 2011