For the first time ever, the US has the ability to become a major exporter of natural gas, courtesy of the fracking boom. Scientists, doctors, environmentalists and former industry insiders, however, are demanding time for researchers to first consider the potential impacts to local communities.
A former high-ranking Mobile Oil executive has joined more than 100 scientific and medical professionals in urging the Obama administration not to approve several proposed liquefied natural gas exporting facilitates that would expand the domestic demand for natural gas produced by the controversial, high-volume gas drilling technique known as "fracking."
The development of the massive natural gas export facilities would require a "rapid increase" in fracking operations, which have been linked to water, air and soil pollution as well as health problems in communities near the drilling rigs, according to a petition filed with the White House last week by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE).
The scientists and medical professionals warn against creating international demand for gas produced by the already rapidly expanding fracking industry, without first conducting widespread environmental and health impact studies to ensure the American public is safe.
"The question here is very simple. Why would the United States dramatically increase the use of an energy extraction method without first ensuring that the trade-off is not the health of Americans in exchange for the energy demands of foreign nations?" said Seth B. Shonkoff, PSE director and environmental researcher at the University of California at Berkeley.
The article goes on to say:
Environmentalists - and even industry insiders like Allstadt - say the full scope of potential environmental and health impacts of unconventional fracking remains unknown, but anecdotal evidence from across the country continues to suggest that fracking can contaminate groundwater and cause health problems in nearby communities.
"Researchers are finding measurable levels of pollutants from this industry in air and water that are associated with the risk of illness," said Adam Law, a PSE member and physician at the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York. "The first studies to describe this are entering the scientific literature, and public health researchers are embarking on multiple approaches to study the associated adverse health effects."
Law said policymakers should wait for such research to be completed before approving export facilities that would cause a rapidly expanding industry to grow even faster. Fracking is common in medically underserved areas, he said, and rural communities do not stand to benefit directly or indirectly from expanding international export markets.
"In fact, for them, natural gas prices will only go up, and they will be left living with not only the stresses of the industrialization on their rural communities, but also with the legitimate concern that they will have to pay the price with their own physical health," Law said.
Another issue that must be addressed, according to PSE members, is the disposal of the massive volumes of wastewater created by fracking, which can contain fracking chemicals and underground brines laced with heavy and even radioactive metals.
Underground fracking wastewater disposal wells in Ohio and Arkansas have been linked to outbreaks of minor earthquakes, and groundwater contamination continues to be a concern among environmentalists.