Good health is dependent on having clean air, clean water, a safe sustainable food supply and a stable climate. There are serious threats to these determinants of health from unconventional gas development.
They relate to water, land and air pollution by chemicals used and mobilised in the process, water security, degradation of productive agricultural land, community health and loss of livelihood and landscape. Methane release and leakage also inexorably adds to the greenhouse gas burden of our planet. Cumulative long-term effects risk damaging the natural systems upon which we rely for our well-being.
DEA's Dr David Shearman and Prof. Melissa Haswell write that while state governments are embracing our urgent need for renewable energy transitions, regulations for large housing developments are lagging behind, facing mandated connections to gas infrastructure within their contracts. Mandatory gas connections are anti-choice, anti-competitive and contrary to combatting climate change.
Although the Western Australian inquiry into fracking has been concluded, the State Government is yet to release its recommendations on the future of this industry. Former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley, and WA DEA Chair Dr Richard Yin write that a public health approach would favour caution until the evidence for the industry's safety is clear.
If Western Australia were to be opened up to unconventional gas mining, emissions from this source alone would have the potential to exceed by three times Australia's total emissions budget for energy, writes DEA's WA Chair Dr Richard Yin. With the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlighting that we are in a climate emergency, it's time the Mark McGowan Government shows leadership on this critical issue.
Natural gas (primarily methane) has a reputation for being clean and “good” for the climate because burning gas for cooking, heating and power emits fewer pollutants compared with burning coal-- but it is the process of obtaining the gas that creates major health and environmental concerns, writes Professor Melissa Haswell.
All resource development carries potential harms to human health, which is a human right. Yet, “Improving resource approval efficiency consultation” does not include mention of the word “health”. In this submission, DEA makes number of recommendations to improve all aspects of community health for Queenslanders.
DEA member and public health researcher, Professor Melissa Haswell, will discuss the evidence linking shale gas mining or fracking to environmental damage, worsening climate change and potential impacts on human health at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians annual scientific meeting in the NT in October. Also Professor Haswell will urge the NT Government to develop alternatives to fracking that won’t compromise the health of NT communities.
The public health risks of unconventional gas mining of natural gas from underground shale deposits (often referred to as ‘fracking’), will be examined by Professor Melissa Haswell, a public health researcher and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia, at the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) Annual Scientific Meeting in the Northern Territory in October.
On 15-16th August 2018 DEA members from NSW (Dr John Van Der Kallen and Dr Helen Redmond) and Qld (Dr Geralyn McCarron and Professor Melissa Haswell) travelled to the north-west inland town of Narrabri to attend and speak at a Coal Seam Gas and Public Health Conference organised and chaired by North West Protection Advocacy. Narrabri Shire is the site of the Narrabri Gas Project of Santos, an 850 well coal seam gas field in the final stages of approval. Helen, Geralyn and Melissa all spoke at the conference, together with Shay Dougall and Dr Methuen Morgan. The audience included local townsfolk, farmers from surrounding regions and members of the Kamilaroi people.
The scale of the developments in WA is enormous: a recent report states that the total global emissions from all of WA’s gas reserves (conventional and unconventional) is equivalent to 36.4bn tonnes of C02, that is eight times more than the planned Adani coal mine would produce in its lifetime.
The proposed mining of coal in Queensland is a matter of national and international concern, demanding condemnation from Australian leaders at least of the magnitude of that they expended on sandpaper and a cricket ball. On a week that the UK banned development of a coal mine because of greenhouse emissions, Queensland quietly revived the proposal for a vast dormant mine approval at Wilton, North Queensland.
Greenhouse gas emissions from developing WA’s unconventional gas resources will be about three times as much as Australia has agreed to emit under the Paris Agreement, hampering global efforts to contain climate change.
A recent statement by the McGowan Labor Government who plan to make WA into a "global LNG hub" is deeply concerning for the control of green house emissions. Furthermore it begs the question whether the recent WA enquiry into the risks from fracking might be used to promote the production of additional (unconventional) gas in the state.
Download the DEA Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation in Western Australia 2017 Submission and media release.
Dr Geralyn McCarron, a Brisbane GP, has spent more than five years living in the gas fields of Australia.
This experience has led Dr McCarron to provide testimony both nationally and internationally regarding the health impacts of the gas industry and most recently authoring and publishing a peer reviewed paper.
We know from the work of William Nordhaus that coal has no economic value to communities if all social, health and environment, and climate related impacts are taken into account. Coal remains viable only in the minds of climate deniers, some governments, and fossil fuel barons who continue to profit despite its harms.
Doctors for the Environment Australia welcomes the opportunity to provide further feedback following the release of the draft Final Report into Hydraulic Fracturing.
It is our recommendation that the moratorium on fracking in NT should be extended indefinitely. Whilst the Inquiry has identified regulatory options that may minimise some of the risks of fracking, DEA believes that for NT, such a response is premature, overly optimistic, and overlooks climate change which is the greatest threat to human and economic health that we face.
Download the Submission to the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory in Response to the Draft Final Report.
A study in the International Journal of Environmental Studies by DEA’s Dr Geralyn McCarron, showing a possible link between pollutants from the CSG industry and a spike in hospitalisations in the Darling Downs raises questions about safety, but also about how the industry responds to public health concerns.
In response to the paper, the peak national gas industry body the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) attacked the author and made sweeping and incorrect statements about the study, rather than expressing concern about the findings.
In this Croakey blog, Dr McCarron responds to the attacks and calls on health authorities to take responsibility for further investigation of the health impacts of the CSG industry on local residents.
DEA has already made a comprehensive submission and provided additional information in a further submission to the Inquiry, and these are now in the Submission library (numbers 96 and 477).
There are numerous examples of where communities have been put at risk from the rapid expansion of the coal and unconventional gas industry in NSW. Bulga, Singleton, Camden are some of the sites that come to mind.
The rapid expansion of the coal and unconventional gas industries has not only created widespread community concern over health and environmental issues but it has exposed the inadequate processes whereby the New South Wales (NSW) government is acting as proponent in their perceived interest of economic development whereas they should be acting as arbiter.
Australia’s energy debate needs to consider mounting evidence that unconventional gas extraction poses a serious risk to human health, argues David Shearman.
News that the Finkel report on how to make the energy market secure is facing bitter opposition among the ranks of the Coalition doesn’t bode well.
DEA notes a number of deficiencies, unsupported assumptions, known and unknown risks in relation to the Santos Narrabri Gasfield project. We recommend rejection of this proposal on the basis that it cannot sufficiently guarantee the safety of human health and ecosystems supporting health.
There is growing concern in the NT that the Gunner Government may remove the moratorium on fracking. However, rejecting the moratorium would be a grave mistake, and Territorians know this. That’s why we voted for the moratorium in the landslide ALP victory in August 2016.
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.
Australia has seen rapid growth in interest and development of exploration and drilling for unconventional gas reserves from coal seams, shale deposits and tight sands. These reserves require special techniques such as fracking, in-seam and horizontal drilling. Doctors for the Environment Australia is concerned that the rush to exploit this resource has outpaced regulation to protect public health and the environment, and to adequately assess the health impacts, including exposures to industrial chemicals.
In a state with a history of enlightened decisions, The final report of the South Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into unconventional gas (fracking) in the South East of South Australia the Committee has produced another one.
One of the outcomes of the Labor Party’s landslide election win in the Northern Territory earlier this year was a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore unconventional gas reservoirs (fracking), pending the outcome of an independent inquiry into the practice.
A call for submissions to the inquiry’s terms of reference closed recently, having garnered 364 submissions. One of them was from Doctors for the Environment Australia.
In the post below, Dr Rosalie Schultz and Dr David Shearman, both members of Doctors for the Environment Australia ask the important question of who benefits if fracking is allowed to go ahead in the NT, and give their recommendations for making sure health considerations are front and centre as the inquiry proceeds.
Doctors fear the SA State Government’s doubling of the air pollution cap signifies a possible “sell-out” to the gas industry, further undermining Australia’s already poor reputation at the first meeting of world leaders under the Paris agreement in Morocco starting this week.
The Terms of Reference of this Inquiry do not address the issues raised by DEA in our submission around the link between the pipeline project and the onshore gas development required to make the project viable.
Gas is a seemingly difficult issue for governments. Looking at the health disasters of asbestos, tobacco and air pollution from coal, government ministers might wonder if they would have acted earlier had they been in power and reassured themselves they would. That is the problem, they are making decisions now based on political expediency which will leave their successors to face the potential health consequences.
The decisions reached at the recent Coag energy council meeting are reminiscent of a long series of failures to understand the impacts of powerful business on the health of the community.
Doctors have applauded the Andrews government for prioritising the health of Victorians by placing a permanent ban on the development of onshore unconventional gas in Victoria.
Australia must shelve plans to make gas a “transitional fuel” because it will worsen the climate change emergency, warn health experts in response to last Fridays COAG meeting of energy ministers.
As the Victorian government prepares to release its much anticipated gas policy, expected before parliament resumes on August 16, pro fossil fuel heavy weights have already jumped the starting line with misleading spin.
Territorians love the natural environment. We enjoy the environment both for the exhilaration it gives us, and for its tourism value. We should also remember that our health depends on having clean air and water and safe food.
Natural Gas, composed mainly of methane with some other hydrocarbons, is categorised as conventional or unconventional depending on its source.
Unconventional gas development (UGD) is the extraction of natural gas which is difficult to access conventionally, from coal seams, shale or other rock formations, using techniques such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Hydraulic fracturing involves the pressurised injection of fluids, sand and chemical additives into rock to open up fractures, allowing gas to flow out.
Doctors from the health organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia, presenting before the Senate Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining in Darwin on Tuesday 12 April, said after a previous Senate Inquiry and numerous state inquiries, Australian governments have still not done enough to protect public health.
Unconventional Gas Mining – Adequacy of Australia’s legislative, regulatory and policy framework.
DEA is of the view that a national approach is essential to reduce the extensive risks associated with unconventional gas mining.
Medical professionals and organisations, together with community members, raised serious concerns about the health impacts of unconventional gas extraction in submissions to a recent Victorian Parliamentary inquiry.
A ban on coal seam and other forms of onshore gas in Victoria should continue until it can be shown that developing this resource will not compromise public health, doctors urge ahead of an inquiry that is due to report on 8 December.
On the surface, the unconventional gas industry promises many things, including cheap energy and jobs. However in this comment piece in the Geelong Advertiser, Dr Liz Bashford says that the risks from unconventional gas are potentially serious for both human health and the environment.
In recent years, Australia has seen exponential growth in interest and development of exploration and drilling for unconventional gas reserves from coal seams, shale deposits and tight sands. These reserves require special techniques such as fracking, in-seam and horizontal drilling. DEA is concerned that the rush to exploit this resource has outpaced regulation to protect public health and to adequately assess the health impacts, including exposures to industrial chemicals.
Australia needs mandatory federal guidelines on fracking and coal mining that are based on scientific and medical opinion, says Doctors for the Environment Australia’s Honorary Secretary Dr David Shearman in an oped in the Sydney Morning Herald today.
Members of DEA are deeply concerned by the serious threats posed to health by fracture stimulation (fracking) for unconventional (whether coal seam, shale, or tight) gas in the South East of South Australia.
Doctors for the Environment Australia reminds governments and proponents that health impact assessment is an integral part of the EIA process. In Australia, the states operate the EIA process under Health Impact Assessment (HIA) Guidelines September 2001…….
Health experts around the world are warning against the exploration and mining of unconventional gas reserves- for example, the UK’s chief scientific adviser Mark Walport, advised in his recent annual report that fracking could carry unforeseen risks in the same way that thalidomide, asbestos and tobacco did.
Unconventional gas (UG) refers to gas which is found in coal seams, shale or other rock formations and cannot be extracted using conventional methods.
South Australian doctors welcome Wednesday’s (19 November) Legislative Council vote to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry into fracking.
I recently spoke on behalf of Doctors for the Environment Australia to the Commissioner on the Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in NT, Mr Allan Hawke. This Inquiry was established in April 2014 to provide information to the NT government on a range of issues related to hydraulic fracturing “fracking”. It will report by the end of 2014.
DEA notes the limited terms of reference for this inquiry into hydraulic fracturing. This inquiry could be used as a basis for a more general inquiry into NT energy policy, including the range of options for our own energy supply, and for export to other countries. Hydraulic fracturing enables extraction of hydrocarbon deposits which are one source of energy and economic development. NT has vast reserves of renewable energy sources, in particular solar and wind, which can be used for energy and economic development. The limitation of this inquiry to details about hydraulic fracturing obstructs our capacity to consider all options both now and into the future.
Recently the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published an article on the uncertainties surrounding the health impacts of the unconventional gas industry https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2014/200/4/harms-unknown-health-uncertainties-cast-doubt-role-unconventional-gas-australias. This was an important step on the road to highlighting the science of both the known and unknown adverse health impacts of unconventional gas extraction.
It is important to firstly emphasise that hydraulic fracturing is just one process of a group of recent innovations and new technologies that have enabled the development of previously inaccessible petrochemical reserves. The other integral innovations and technologies include “slickwater”, high volumes of fluid, horizontally or directional drilling and multi-well pads and cluster drilling.
DEA applauds the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities for producing guidelines to clarify the implementation of the ‘water trigger’ in association with those industries that have an enormous potential impact on Australia’s water supply and quality.
This article by DEA Committee Member Marion Carey was published in The Conversation 2nd April and appears under a Creative Commons licence.
The following article first appeared at The Conversation and appears here under a Creative Commons licence.
DEA is concerned about the slow progress NICNAS has made in assessing existing and unassessed chemicals on the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances (AICS). One of the main functions of the regulatory system is to protect human health and well-being…..
Having had a Senate Inquiry into CSG which attracted many expert submissions and produced a bipartisan report the states produce their own take on the science; it is a wasteful, confused system with little consideration of human health. It is now the turn of Victoria
This is an important topic because simple action on these short term pollutants reduces global temperature immediately. Their health impacts are therefore important. A year ago we provided an ABC on this topic and pointed out Australia’s role in this pollution. Black carbon is produced with the burning of forest floor waste, prescribed burns, the burning of agricultural waste and the use of diesel combustion engines. Methane pollution is a major mainly unaddressed problem in Australia from the fugitive emissions from coal seam gas wells and from the emissions by livestock. Methane emissions are increasing internationally.
by David Shearman and Marion Carey, of Doctors for the Environment Australia
from Crikey March 8, 2012 http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/03/08/behind-the-seams-whos-asking-questions-about-coal-seam-gas-and-health/
We thank the Editor of crikey for permission.
Talk by Dr Helen Redmond
Enough evidence has emerged at the Senate Inquiry into coal seam gas to merit significant reform orchestrated by the Federal Government.
Dr Helen Redmond – Doctors for the Environment – who talks about the impacts of coal-seam gas water contaminants and the impacts on human health.
Dr Helen Redmond – Doctors for the Environment from LockTheGate on Vimeo.