The news this week, not surprisingly, is dominated by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. If their Ohio confab is anything like past GOP conventions, America is likely to hear a full-throated endorsement of any and all things having to do with the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Indeed, it was at past Republican conventions that viewers first heard the initial chants, led by the likes of Sarah Palin, of “drill, baby, drill.” I guess “burn, baby, burn” — the consequence of all the offshore drilling, fracking, and other forms of extreme energy extraction favored by most American conservatives — sounded too much like a throwback to the radical left of the 1960s.
It is only within the Democratic Party, which meets next week in Philadelphia, that there’s been any kind of debate over whether fracking is actually healthy for the human beings who live near the drilling pads. In recent week, the party officials drafting the Democratic platform have debated whether unconventional extraction of oil and natural gas needs to be a) more tightly regulated, with more local input or b) banned altogether. Meanwhile in the scientific community, evidence is mounting that the environmental health impacts of fracking are severe. Here’s the latest:
CHICAGO (AP) – Fracking may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near sites where the oil and gas drilling method is used, according to an 8-year study in Pennsylvania.
The study found that asthma treatments were as much as four times more common in patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than those living far away.
But the study did not establish that fracking directly caused or worsened asthma. There’s also no way to tell from the study whether asthma patients exposed to fracking fare worse than those exposed to more traditional gas drilling methods or to other industrial activities.
Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to crack rock. Environmental effects include exhaust, dust and noise from heavy truck traffic transporting water and other materials, and from drilling rigs and compressors. Fracking and improved drilling methods led to a boom in production of oil and gas in several U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.
Sara Rasmussen, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, said pollution and stress from the noise caused by fracking might explain the results. But the authors emphasized that the study doesn’t prove what caused patients’ symptoms.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that fracking is linked to asthma. We’ve already seen high rates of the disease in poorer, urban areas with industry and heavy auto traffic; most fracking pads are located in rural areas that used to be less prone to air pollution before Big Oil and Gas came to town. These new findings come on top of other studies — in Pennsylvania and elsewhere — showing a correlation between fracking and other health problems such as headaches and nausea, with drilling identified as a source of both air pollution and water pollution.
America deserves a much more robust debate on this ongoing scourge, especially as other developed nations move away from fossil fuels toward alternative use of energy. After a decade of pollution nightmares caused by fracking, it’s time for the chants of “drill, baby, drill” to fade into silence.
Read more about the study linking fracking to asthma cases in Pennsylvania: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20160718_ap_86804f261e5748cbab3004358ce2665f.html
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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