A former high-ranking Mobile Oil executive has joined more than 100 scientific and medical professionals in urging the Obama administration not to approve several proposed liquefied natural gas exporting facilitates that would expand the domestic demand for natural gas produced by the controversial, high-volume gas drilling technique known as "fracking."
The development of the massive natural gas export facilities would require a "rapid increase" in fracking operations, which have been linked to water, air and soil pollution as well as health problems in communities near the drilling rigs, according to a petition filed with the White House last week by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE).
The scientists and medical professionals warn against creating international demand for gas produced by the already rapidly expanding fracking industry, without first conducting widespread environmental and health impact studies to ensure the American public is safe.
"The question here is very simple. Why would the United States dramatically increase the use of an energy extraction method without first ensuring that the trade-off is not the health of Americans in exchange for the energy demands of foreign nations?" said Seth B. Shonkoff, PSE director and environmental researcher at the University of California at Berkeley.
The rapid expansion of unconventional fracking has produced a natural gas glut in the US, and last spring gas prices fell to the lowest level in a decade. Natural gas prices remain much higher in other countries, and fossil fuel firms are eager to sell American gas in foreign markets.....
"I think it has moved really fast and before people really got a good handle on the technology," Allstadt said when asked by Truthout why a former oil executive would counter the industry's repeated claim that unconventional fracking is safe.
"I'm not the only who has been associated with the industry who has concerns," Allstadt said.
Environmentalists - and even industry insiders like Allstadt - say the full scope of potential environmental and health impacts of unconventional fracking remains unknown, but anecdotal evidence from across the country continues to suggest that fracking can contaminate groundwater and cause health problems in nearby communities.
"Researchers are finding measurable levels of pollutants from this industry in air and water that are associated with the risk of illness," said Adam Law, a PSE member and physician at the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York. "The first studies to describe this are entering the scientific literature, and public health researchers are embarking on multiple approaches to study the associated adverse health effects."
Law said policymakers should wait for such research to be completed before approving export facilities that would cause a rapidly expanding industry to grow even faster. Fracking is common in medically underserved areas, he said, and rural communities do not stand to benefit directly or indirectly from expanding international export markets.
"In fact, for them, natural gas prices will only go up, and they will be left living with not only the stresses of the industrialization on their rural communities, but also with the legitimate concern that they will have to pay the price with their own physical health," Law said.....
Earlier this month, the Obama administration released a study showing that the economic benefits of exporting large quantities of natural gas far outweigh concerns that American consumers and industry would be left to pay more for natural gas as the domestic surplus from fracking goes overseas. The study claims that new export terminals would spur more drilling, create thousands of construction jobs and generate $47 billion in economic activity in 2020 alone.
The report quickly caught criticism from both environmentalists and domestic industries that rely on cheap natural gas.
Dow Chemical, which relies on natural gas for a list of industrial processes, expressed concerned about natural gas prices for domestic industry. Low natural gas prices have allowed the company to plan $4 billion in expansions in Texas and Louisiana.
"We're disappointed," said George Blitz, Dow's vice president of energy and climate change. "The report fails to take into account the $80 billion in new spending along with 3 to 5 million new jobs that the industrial sector has already announced predicated on available and low natural gas prices."...
"The law requires the DOE to determine if more natural gas exports are in the public interest – so it is baffling that this report omits the serious threats increased fracking and gas production pose to our water, our air and the health of our families," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "Increased gas exports are expected to result in higher gas prices and lower wages for American families, meaning we pay the price here while the companies shipping gas overseas rake in the profits."