Canadian doctors call for moratorium on fracking for gas

On January 29, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) released a report which documents the serious health and environmental dangers associated with fracked natural gas, calling for the phase-out of existing fracking operations and a moratorium on any new fracking projects. CAPE also calls for Just Transition plans to help workers and the communities which would be affected.  Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas, and in 2018, 71% of that was “fracked gas”, mostly produced in northeastern British Columbia.  The Narwhal offers a good  (though now dated) explainer about fracking in Canada, and offers several in-depth articles, including “Potential health impacts of fracking in B.C. worry Dawson Creek physicians” (April 2019). The Narwhal has also published recent articles by Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C., who has also written extensively about fracking and LNG in B.C. Most recently, Peace River Frack-up  was released by CCPA-BC in January,  calling for an immediate ban on fracking activity for operations  close to BC Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams and the Site C dam, because of the risk of dam failure from fracking-caused earthquakes.

The CAPE report, Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health  documents the environmental and climate change impacts of fracking, with an over-riding concern about the significant health dangers, especially for communities and workers. The report notes: “Data from the US show that the risk of death among workers in this sector is two-and-a half-times higher than the risk for workers in construction and seven times higher than the risk for industrial workers as a whole.”  “America’s Radioactive Secret” is a troubling article which appeared in Rolling Stone on January 21, summarizing a journalistic investigation of the  unregulated trucking of fracking waste: “Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.”

Fractures in the Bridge provides a Canadian perspective on the overwhelming evidence from established studies which have reported “negative health outcomes including adverse birth outcomes, birth defects including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, dermal effects, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurological effects, psychological impacts and respiratory illnesses.” Fractures in the Bridge  also provides a very complete bibliography as well as an appendix showing how fracking is regulated in each province in Canada.

An important related source of information, updated in 2019, is the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) , published by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

May 2016 News: New Brunswick and Newfoundland extend Fracking bans

New Brunswick’s Minister of  Energy announced an indefinite extension of the province’s fracking ban on May 27, based on the February  report  of its Hydraulic Fracturing Commission,  according to a CBC report  . Similarly, the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel released its final Report  at the end of May, with a  recommendation that the “pause” on fracking in Western Newfoundland continue.  See the Panel website,   which includes Submissions and Documents , as  well as technical reports as appendices,  which include research into the economic and jobs impacts of fracking, as well as impacts on human health and water resources.

New Brunswick has also released a discussion guide , Building a Stronger New Brunswick Response to Climate Change , in order to to stimulate public input for the Select Committee on Climate Change, constituted in April 2016.  There is no target date yet for its report.

Public Health Concerns Lead to Fracking Bans in Quebec, New Brunswick, New York; and what about Workers Health Concerns?

Quebec has had a moratorium on fracking since 2011, and in an interview with Radio-Canada in December, the Premier announced that the province would not allow further development. See Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says No to Shale Gas and also in the Montreal Gazette, “Couillard Rules out Fracking”. The premier’s announcement came one day after a report from BAPE, Quebec’s environmental assessment agency, which cited risks to air and water quality, as well as potential increases in noise and light pollution. The report is available only in French, or see the Montreal Gazette summary in English. In New Brunswick, recently-elected Premier Brian Gallant announced a fracking moratorium at the end of the December legislative session – it will be voted on in February. In New York, a fracking moratorium was announced on the grounds that there were significant public health concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking. “Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State” in the New York Times (Dec. 17). The article has a link to the report, A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas
Development. Also of interest: a January report from Friends of the Earth in the U.K.: Making a Better Job of it: Why Renewables and Energy Efficiency are better for Jobs than Fracking (January 2015) reviews and critiques economic impact studies from the U.S. and U.K. and concludes that fracking job estimates have been overstated, and that the jobs created are likely to be short-term, with as yet unknown health risks for workers. On that note, the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress on January 20 released its TUC shale gas briefing: Fracking and workers’ health and safety issues, which briefly reviews some of the important research to date on the public safety issues, especially exposure to hydrocarbons and silica. It concludes that even with regulation in place, unions are needed to give workers the right to refuse unsafe work without the fear of penalty.

Nova Scotia Bans Onshore Fracking; Explores Energy Options

Following a two-year moratorium and the release of the report of a 10-person expert panel chaired by Cape Breton University president David Wheeler, Nova Scotia announced its decision to prohibit onshore high-volume fracking on September 3rd. The ban does not include less risky onshore extraction methods or offshore high-volume fracking.

Nova Scotia’s offshore oil and gas reserves are significantly larger and have already attracted $2 billion in investments and proposals to build three LNG plants. The South Canoe wind project, currently under construction, and a tidal turbine to be built next year will further buttress the province’s energy resources.

Consultations with the public and Mi’kmaq communities revealed a strong mistrust of fracking. See the website of the Hydraulic Fracturing Review at: http://www.cbu.ca/hfstudy, with links to submissions, studies and press coverage. See also “High-volume fracking to be banned in Nova Scotia” available at the CBC at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/high-volume-fracking-to-be-banned-in-nova-scotia-1.2754439.

On the heels of the announcement, a study released by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that some fracking workers are exposed to unsafe volumes of benzene when inspecting storage tanks. “Evaluation of Some Potential Chemical Exposure Risks During Flowback Operations in Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction: Preliminary Results” is available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/.VBDknKOuRas#.VBySDmOln4U, summarized in the Los Angeles Times at: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-fracking-benzene-worker-health-20140910-story.html#page=1.

On its 20th Anniversary, Criticism of NAFTA for Environmental, Economic Damage

A new report from the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and others, condemns the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for failing to improve economic and environmental conditions for most Canadian, American, and Mexican citizens.

According to the report, exports from Canada to the U.S. increased by 200 percent from 1994 to 2008, yet wages stagnated. Further, NAFTA contract obligations for oil encouraged development of the oil sands, while alternative energy sectors suffered, and NAFTA restricted Canada’s ability to regulate oil sands emissions. Pollution increased in the U.S. due to growth in dirtier manufacturing sectors, although employment in American manufacturing dropped overall.

In Mexico, small farmers were unable to compete with large-scale, export-oriented intensive agriculture. Many failed in attempts to improve profits by converting carbon-sequestering forest to arable land. While the mining industry in Mexico did enjoy a boom, smallholders lost out to associated industrial pollution. Wages in the maquila manufacturing sector near the U.S. border simultaneously stagnated, even as operations and pollution levels grew.

Other environmental impacts noted by the report include a significant jump in North American greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable water use, and the rippling effects of NAFTA clauses that provide corporations with legal avenues to challenge environmental regulations, such as Lone Pine Resources’ ongoing lawsuit against Canada over the Québec fracking moratorium (see our previous report at: https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2013/11/22/fracking-company-suing-for-lost-profits-in-quebec/).

See NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/main-page/new-report-reveals-environmental-costs-north-american-free-trade-agreement-environmental-d, and “NAFTA Report Warns of Trade Deal Environmental Disasters” from the Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/nafta-environment_n_4938556.html.