South Australian doctors welcome Wednesday’s (19 November) Legislative Council vote to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry into fracking.
Doctors for the Environment Australia say the Environment Resources and Development Committee, which will be conducting the Inquiry if the vote is successful, will help to highlight the potentially devastating health impacts of shale gas extraction, especially for rural communities.
Says DEA’s spokesperson Dr John Willoughby, “There is no justification for unconventional gas anywhere near aquifers, people or agriculture. The evidence from overseas and from other Australian states shows that if this mining practice is allowed, problems cannot be avoided.”
DEA’s main concerns about fracking include :
Hazardous chemicals associated with large volumes of water used and brought back to the surface during mining may concentrate in ponds and pollute the air. The chemicals include fluoride, boron, lead, benzene and toxic hydrocarbons which are implicated in a number of medical conditions.
There is particular concern in a US report of an increased prevalence of heart defects in children whose mothers lived in close proximity to gas fields
Inhabitants of gas fields in several countries and in Tara QLD have reported similar nasal and throat symptoms which require investigation.
Aquifers have been contaminated by fracking operations in one case in NSW and elsewhere in the world. In the NSW case, levels of heavy metals and uranium were found to be elevated adjacent to a pond holding produced water. While there was no direct threat to potable water, livestock or crops in this instance, events such as these highlight the potential impacts on humans and food sources.
Evidence is lacking that some of the chemicals used in fracking are safe for inhabitants who are exposed to them over decades.
The negative psychological impacts on communities from the loss of land access and land degradation which come with gas mining.
In addition, fracking releases methane into the atmosphere as fugitive emissions. Methane is estimated to have a global warming potential 72 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
DEA and The Australian Medical Association share several concerns about CSG. These include the lack of adequate research on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking and waste produced, insufficient data on their health impacts, as well as the lack of effective regulations and monitoring to protect public health.
“Prevention of harm is a vital part of keeping people healthy. All the facts and risks of fracking should be open for discussion so that any potential health problems can be forestalled,” says Dr Willoughby. “While many countries have accepted the risks from Shale or coal seam gas mining others have rejected mining, so clearly the balance of evidence should be available to South Australians.”
So far though, Dr Willoughby says the Government has failed to listen to expert advice about the health effects of fracking. He says that the Minister for Health, Jack Snelling, has declined on a number of occasions to meet representatives of Doctors for the Environment Australia as well as other health groups.
“The South Australia Government seems to be placing profit above public health,” says Dr Willoughby. ” We hope that this Inquiry will go some way to change that.”
Harms unknown: health uncertainties cast doubt on the role of unconventional gas in Australia’s energy future
Marion G Carey, Helen Redmond and Melissa R Haswell
Medical Journal of Australia
Doctors for the Environment Australia CSG/Shale Gas Information Sheet