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.
Australia is particularly vulnerable to some of the worst impacts of climate change with extreme heat, drought, drying rivers, coastal erosion and changing patterns of disease-- threatening health, livelihoods and the social fabric, write Drs Graeme McLeay and Ingo Weber. While paying lip service to the urgency underpinning the Paris Agreement to keep average global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times, Australia is embarking zealously on a course to promote and profit from the export and use of fossil fuels, most recently with calls for a gas-led "recovery". The argument though that gas is a transition fuel and clean is disingenuous.
Health experts, including GPs and medical specialists, are today launching a video message warning that a gas-led pandemic economic recovery would be hazardous to health and cost lives. The call by doctors is attached to a petition calling for a renewable recovery instead.
Outlined in the attached frequently asked questions, are the many problems methane poses for the environment and human health and why doctors are calling for an alternative solution to the "gas-led" recovery from the Covid19 pandemic.
Doctors for the Environment Australia members urge the Morrison Government to seek an alternative to a gas led recovery from the Covid19 pandemic. With Australia's abundance of solar and wind energy capabilities, a renewable energy led recovery will protect both the environment and human health. Head to https://turnoffthegas.good.do/turnoffthegas/
Relying on fossil fuel projects to help with a COVID-19 recovery is like planning to recover from a heart attack by adopting a deep-fried diet, or treating diabetes with mountains of sugar, writes Dr John Van Der Kallen. Yet as we try and restart the economy, we are seeing the expansion of environment and economy-wrecking fossil fuel projects. For healthy communities, a renewables-led recovery is what this doctor - and everyday Australians, economists, energy experts, scientists and the like -ordered.
Putting aside the inadequacies of government in addressing climate change, many Australians are coming to recognise that the fate of the planet resides mainly in numerous corporate board rooms, writes Dr David Shearman. The recent Santos AGM is one battleground for our future.
Public health expert Prof Melissa Haswell asked an important question at Santos' 2020 annual general meeting which was held online due to Covid-19: How will the oil and gas giant protect our communities, especially our unborn children, infants and children, from their current and proposed gas projects?
The argument that LNG is good for Australia and good for the world cannot be substantiated by scientific or medical facts, states Dr David Shearman. Many studies confirm that the emissions profile of gas is little different to that of coal.
A moratorium was placed on onshore conventional exploration and drilling in Victoria in 2014. This is due to expire on June 30, 2020. In the next few months, the Victorian government will decide whether to extend the moratorium or let it lapse. At this time of climate crisis, we need to show our politicians that we do not want ANY new gas developments in our state.
Gas is often regarded as a ‘clean’ fuel, but air pollutants released from the combustion of methane indoors can cause or exacerbate illness involving the heart, lungs brain or nervous system. Open flued gas space heaters (OFSGHs) can sometimes provide a direct pathway for these pollutants into a room. DEA recommends a phase out of OFGSHs, which includes a ban on all new installations (Option 3).
Doctors for the Environment Australia calls on the national offshore oil and gas regulator to reject Equinor's plan to use a banned toxic chemical dispersant for an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight, as it would place response workers and local communities at risk of serious illness.
Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia will attend Origin Energy’s AGM on Wednesday to raise the alarm about the risks of NT fracking on public health. Spokesperson for DEA, Dr Helen Redmond, says the evidence against fracking is clear and there should be no further development of onshore gas in Australia.
Doctors are alarmed that the Northern Territory Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Eva Lawler has given approval to gas giant Origin Energy to commence fracking in the NT to mine shale gas. The decision flies in the face of clear evidence that gas mining brings unacceptable health risks.
DEA and environmental groups have called for greater transparency about the potential health impacts on local communities from Australia's largest onshore liquified natural gas (LNG) plant, Chevron's Wheatstone project. Dr George Crisp said he is concerned about the proximity of the plant to the tiny town of Onslow in the Pilbara. Emissions could contain a toxic mixture of hydrocarbons, gases, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and carbon monoxide, which are all harmful to human health, even at very low concentrations.
The NT gas development which will result in GHG emissions many times greater than those of the Adani mine will commence in the next few months. DEA has made this submission to the Environmental Management Plan on the Kyalla drilling proposal. The "achievements" of these developments which are strongly supported by the NT governments and by the Federal Coalition and Labor will be to make international emissions difficult to contain and a 2°C rise will be likely; Australia with NT and WA development will be the world’s largest gas exporter.
Food Security in a Changing Climate: This video is a reminder of the threat posed to our climate, our water, our oceans and our agriculture by oil and gas exploration and production. In the video Anne Daw, agricultural advocate and member of the Round Table on Oil and Gas SA, Anne Poelina, Nyikina Traditional Custodian and Master of Tropical Medicine Notre Dame University, DEA's Graeme McLeay, and Peter Owen, Wilderness Society SA Director point to the impacts of fossil fuels on food security in our region.
As a result of the failure of its carbon capture and storage project, the Gorgon plant has been venting toxic chemicals including BTEX chemicals and mercury directly into the atmosphere. Dr George Crisp of Doctors for the Environment expressed serious concerns by the lack of environmental monitoring and regulation at Chevron’s Gorgon LNG facility saying, “It is not acceptable to leave it to Chevron to decide whether people were at risk. It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the health of West Australians, not Chevron." DEA's oil and gas policy can be found here.
Writing in an op-ed for Renew Economy, David Shearman and Melissa Haswell warn that gas is anything but a 'clean and safe' bridging fuel, and that there is wide evidence of the gas industry's damaging effects on health. Read their latest comprehensive review of the literature,
and the full article with hyperlinks in Renew Economy, here.
In an op-ed published in The Conversation, David Shearman and Melissa Haswell write that Australia aspires to become the world’s largest exporter of gas. But the methane that escapes is a much more potent short-term greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And there are significant local and regional risks to health and well-being associated with unconventional gas mining. Their comprehensive review examines the current state of the evidence.
Australia plans to become one of the World’s largest producers of natural gas The paper reviews all referenced literature on the mining of gas, potential local harms on the environment and community health from gas mining and its many complex process. It identifies evidence of some health harms which are already occurring in residents close to mines and in particular in the newborn. Of even greater concern is the greenhouse emission profile of gas production which on recent evidence is probably only marginally less than coal, thus negating its use as a transition to renewable energy.
A new comprehensive review has shown that gas as a safe transition fuel is a dangerous myth, and that in reality this fossil fuel – methane gas - is imperilling the health of Australians. Doctors for the Environment Australia is calling on governments to stop new gas expansions and to increase monitoring, regulation and management of existing wells.
Doctors have today dismissed claims by the WA Government and peak industry that gas is a transition fuel, following the welcome announcements by the WA EPA for tighter regulations on pollution from the State’s large greenhouse gas emitters.
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.
Continued expansion of natural gas development in Australia carries serious risks for human health and wellbeing both locally and globally. These concerns are detailed in a our Policy Paper on this issue.
DEA’s overarching concern is clear evidence of the substantial and rising greenhouse gas footprint of Australia’s expanding gas and oil industry that threatens efforts to urgently reduce emissions and mitigate global warming. Currently Australia is the second largest LNP exporter in the world and expected to be the largest exporter by 2019.
Containment of gas development is vital if national and international greenhouse emissions are to be reduced quickly to address accelerating climate change. It is inappropriate to use subsidies for a pipeline which would enable gas production to be increased. Derogation is effectively a subsidy for the pipeline paid for by consumers. Onshore gas development has an increasing number of concerning medical impacts which will need costly health and environmental monitoring and will further detract from the economic viability of the project at a time when renewable energy development is cheaper and non harmful.
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.
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.