Medical doctors have called for an extension of the moratorium on fracking in the Northern Territory, fearing that the Government’s focus on developing a regulatory framework for fracking could signal support for this highly controversial procedure.
In a submission to the NT Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing, Doctors for the Environment Australia– a medical group supported by prominent health professionals including a Nobel laureate and recipients of the Australia of the Year award- warns about accumulating evidence of the dangers of fracking.
Health impacts have been associated with people living near fracking operations, such as worsening of asthma and effects on unborn children.
NT spokesperson for DEA, GP and public health physician Dr Rosalie Schultz, says that the evidence from other areas of gas development in Australia and overseas should ring alarm bells for Territorians.
Says Dr Schultz, “Fracking is a process that uses multiple chemicals that are potentially dangerous to human health as well as the environment. Most of the chemicals used in the fracking process have not been properly assessed for safety.
“Fracking also releases chemicals and radioactive elements from underground. It contributes to air pollution and can contaminate land and waterways. Accidents and spills are not uncommon. Countries and states around the world, notably Victoria, have banned it.”
Concerns include the use of huge amounts of precious water for fracking. The median volume to frack just one well is about 5.7 million litres or almost three Olympic-sized swimming pools. In total, fracking can use up to 23 million litres per well, and gasfields often require hundreds of wells. In fragile environments such as some in the NT, water scarcity resulting from fracking could have profound impacts on natural and human environments.
Also gas leakage can occur during the extraction, production, processing, storage, transmission and distribution of natural gas. Gas leakage pollutes the air, which can affect human health and contribute to climate change.
Gas extracted through fracking – methane – has almost the equivalent greenhouse gas potential per unit energy as coal when the full life cycle is considered. Methane is the second largest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change after CO2. Methane’s global warming potential is more than 86 times that of CO2 over a 20-year period, and 34 times that of CO2over a 100-year period.
Says Dr Schultz, “When considering fracking, we need to weigh short-term economic considerations against long-term potentially serious impacts to our health and the ecosystems we depend on.
“What we have to consider in the balance sheet is the costs of ill health to our families and communities. There will be costs of extensive water usage, heritage and the environmental monitoring that will be needed, not to mention the damage to our climate and the costs to the Territory’s delicate ecosystems.
“There is no social licence for fracking. Territorians want a ban on fracking as demonstrated by the role of the issue in the recent landslide election victory.
“And we want to transition towards clean renewable power such as wind and solar. We have the technology, we just need the political will. Let’s not tie ourselves to an outdated and unhealthy industry when there are better alternatives.”
Dr Rosalie Schultz, 0429 358 095 (Note: available from Thursday 4 May)
DEA Honorary Secretary, Dr David Shearman, 0481 154 805