Fracking Fail in Falkirk
The second Ineos public meeting intended to sell fracking to the central belt ended in defeat for Directors Gary Haywood and Tom Pickering.
Questions from the audience on the potential dangers to public health exposed embarrassing gaps in the knowledge of the men who claim to be able to frack safely in Scotland.
Falkirk residents branded the presentation a “white wash” as the pair failed to improve upon their first lack lustre performance in Denny. One man captured the mood in the hall when he addressed Ineos bosses directly, saying:
“I put it to you that you actually don’t know if this can be done safely or not. All you see in front of your eyes are pound signs.”
When quizzed about existing studies into public health it was revealed that neither man had read the comprehensive report published in 2014 by the New York Health Department, which led to a state wide ban.
Carol Anderson of Concerned Communities of Falkirk said: “Where is the proof and evidence that this is going to be safe for our health….the fact remains that there is no body of evidence that shows it is safe.”
Mr Pickering replied: “You’re right there hasn’t been in the US, the kind of rigorous study that would be expected here…”
However, when the New York State report was highlighted to him, he replied:
“The New York study, I can’t comment on because I haven’t read that one.”
The 186 page report containing over 100 pages of references and abstracts of other recent studies resulted in Governor Cuomo banning the technology based on “the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes”.
The study concluded fracking may adversely impact climate change, drinking water; lead to surface water contamination, and seismic activity. The report also raised concerns about Community impacts associated with boom-town economic effects such as increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress. Several peer reviewed reports were also referenced describing commonly reported symptoms in residents living close to well pads including; “skin rash or irritation, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, coughing, nosebleeds, anxiety, stress, headache, dizziness, eye irritation, and throat irritation”.
Data indicating links between low birth weight and congenital defects – and proximity to well pads during pregnancy was also cited; as was a 2014 study suggesting proximity to higher density well pad development was associated with congenital heart and neural tube defects.
CEO Gary Haywood defended the failure to examine the New York report saying:
“Even if I looked at the New York study…I’m not the right person to judge whether that study is a solid study. The right people to look at that are the people in Public Health England and the Royal Society who are qualified.”
“These studies….say there’s no risk to public health…[they are] bodies we would trust to make that judgement”
However, campaigners pointed to flaws in the reports, neither of which were authored by academics with public health expertise.
Last year, A British Medical Journal editorial condemned the Public Health England report, branding the authors’ support for fracking; “A leap of faith unsubstantiated by scientific evidence.”
Writing in the respected medical journal Professors Adam Law, Jake Hays, Seth Shonkoff, and Madelon Finkel criticised the focus of the PHE report on “hypothetical” engineering and regulatory solutions rather than on health outcome data, stating:
“The [PHE] report incorrectly assumes that many of the reported problems experienced in the US are the result of a poor regulatory environment. This position ignores many of the inherent risks of the industry that no amount of regulation can sufficiently remedy, such as well casing, cement failures, and accidental spillage of waste water. There is no reason to believe that these problems would be different in the UK, and the report provides little evidence to the contrary, despite repeated assertions that regulations will ensure safe development of shale gas extraction.”
Further embarrassment was caused to the Ineos bosses when – despite their repeated assurances that fracking fluid is safe – under questioning both men were forced to admit they had no knowledge of specific chemicals.
A member of the audience asked Mr Pickering to comment on the dangers associated with Glutoardlahyde, a biocide commonly used in fracking to eliminate bacteria in water; only to be told “I can’t comment on a specific chemical, that’s not my area of expertise.”
Glutoaldrahyde has been identified by the Australian National Toxics Network as one of several chemical products in widespread use that pose significant hazards to humans “because they remain dangerous even at concentrations near or below their chemical detection limits.”
According to the NTN group – coordinated by UN climate change expert Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith – the chemical has induced occupational asthma and contact dermatitis in workers exposed to it. It is a known mutagen – i.e., “a substance that may induce or increase the frequency of genetic mutations” – and is readily absorbed through the skin.
Residents also enquired about the use of chemicals containing endocrine disruptors (EDCs) during the fracking process. These chemicals, which have been found to disrupt hormonal function have been detected widely in wastewater and surface waters across the globe. According to the World Health Organisation EDCs are associated with altered reproductive function; increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children.
In 2013 University of Missouri researchers found greater hormone disrupting properties in water located near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites than in areas without drilling. he researchers found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are endocrine disruptors.
However, when asked by CCoF activist Maria Montinaro whether he knew what endocrine disruptors are , Mr Jaywood responded abruptly, stating “Yes, It’s not relevant.”
Ms Montinaro said: “[EDCs are] very relevant to this industry. The impact of minutiae chemicals on people in our environment is crucial. Endocrine disruption and the science behind that needs to be taken into account as well.
Mr Haywood also struggled when faced with questions about the disposal of toxic waste water. One resident told him: “You said you know what chemicals you use, so you should be able to tell me what you’re dealing with and how you treat it, how you extract it, what do you do with the waste water at the end of it, where does the treated water go for disposal. That’s something that should already be known.” to which Mr Haywood replied:”It’s impossible for me to answer the question about how we’re going to treat hypothetical chemicals, because we’d be here for weeks.”
When quizzed about buffer zones between well sites and communities, the men made frequent reference to the stringency of the local planning system in an attempt to allay fears.
In reference to a site at Skinflats with planning permission, just 800m from the local primary school Mr Pickering said:“ that’s a site that has been through the local planning process and been assessed, has been considered and has been granted consent.”
“Every single site regardless of where it sits in any of those areas has to be assessed on the same basis of noise, activity, traffic, as it goes through the planning system.”
It was revealed last week that Ineos will impose a minimum 400m buffer zone, despite the recommendation by the Scottish Government to leave a distance of 2km between residential areas and wells.
Maria Montinaro said: “The Scottish Government introduced in their new Scottish Planning Policy buffer zones, but the problem with those buffer zones is, as we’ve found out now, it is up to the industry whether or not they want to introduce a buffer zone…they determine the buffer zone and have decided a minimum of 400m, not 2km.
“The SPP (Scottish Planning Policy) says that the council can challenge that…The problem is, we know our councils do not have the financial resources to do this.
“There is a £46 million deficit just in Falkirk Council. Concerned Communities of Falkirk had to raise £80’000 to take their case to public Inquiry, that’s just one application. The scale of this industry is thousands of wells. Our councils cannot afford to stand up to this industry, our communities can’t, we do not have the financial wherewithal. But we know, that if the buffer zone was 2km, this industry would have no way of going through the central belt of Scotland, we are too densely populated.”
“It would be prudent of Ineos to actually study the compendium of evidence available and come back to us with what they consider is the importance or relevance of that evidence. To these communities, public health is the one priority, you cannot buy that.”
Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, Senior Advisor to the Australian National Toxics Network said:
“Air pollution increased significantly at Pennsylvania’s natural gas sites with sulfur dioxide emissions jumping 57 percent from 2012 to 2013. Similar increases in air pollution were recorded in Australia’s National Pollutant Inventory for 2012-13.
“While it is worrying that the industry proponents appear to know little of the chemicals used in their own industry, nor of some of the most important scientific reviews of the active industry, it is even more surprising that they were so quick to dismiss the issue of endocrine disruption. A 2013 study of surface and groundwater near gas drilling sites showed that they exhibited moderate to high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) activity, whereas, samples taken from sites with little drilling showed little EDC activity.
“Exposure to EDCs can increase the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological, and other diseases, especially in children and young organisms.
“Importantly, US researchers have already observed a positive association between the density and proximity of shale gas development; pregnant mother’s residences, and the prevalence of congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects in their newborns.
“It is important to remember that Children are not little adults: they have special vulnerabilities to the toxic effects of chemicals. Children’s exposure to chemicals at critical stages in their physical and cognitive development may have severe long-term consequences for health.” The unique vulnerability of children to hazardous chemicals is well recognized by WHO, UNICEF and UNEP.”
The Ineos tour continues today. Tickets for the remaining dates can be reserved here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/ineos-upstream-8022441725