Why would the government roll back a common-sense, health-protective rule that limits the amount of “fugitive” methane that can be leaked, vented or flared from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands? PSR opposes the proposal to roll back this rule, and PSR health professionals from the heavily fracked states of Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania recently told federal staffers so.
In a meeting that was partly face-to-face and partly via teleconference, PSR health professionals informed federal officials from three agencies about the ways the rule protects the climate while reducing emissions of toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
PSR executive director Jeff Carter and Environment & Health director Barbara Gottlieb helmed the meeting in Washington, with remote participation by Val Wangler, MD; Barbara Donachy, MPH; Laura Dagley, RN; Tammy Murphy, LL.M, and Ned Ketyer, MD.
Here is Dr. Ketyer’s testimony:
Statement of Edward Ketyer, MD
To the Office of Management & Budget
Methane Waste Prevention Rule
Phone Meeting — 7/20/18
The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to roll back the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule rule benefits none of the residents who live and work in the Marcellus Shale gas patch in southwestern Pennsylvania where I live and work as a pediatrician. Children—my patients—and their parents and grandparents are not helped by refusing to capture methane and other toxic gases that leak inadvertently and are vented and flared ON PURPOSE into the air we all must breathe. Air quality and pollution are not improved by allowing fugitive methane emissions coming off of the vast and growing shale gas infrastructure to continue. Failure to prevent methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure on public and on private land does not help solve the climate crisis—in fact, it makes the climate problem worse because methane is an extremely potent heat trapper. Support of the expansion of natural gas extraction and burning, as well as failure to capture fugitive methane emissions, are vivid examples of climate change denialism on full display.
Methane contaminating the air we breathe and contributing to global warming that is threatening the lives and limbs of my patients is bad enough; other air toxics also escape from natural gas infrastructure and are well-known to damage health, including:
- Fracking chemicals, some of which have been found to cause disruption of young endocrine systems and cause cancer when they become airborne or spill into our water and soil.
- Radioactive radon gas which causes lung cancer.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are the “fumes” of fossil fuels that exist in abundance in natural gas fields and shale formations. One VOC, benzene, causes childhood leukemia and has been linked to serious birth defects in newborn infants. Toluene, another VOC, is known to cause permanent neurologic damage to some who are exposed. VOC’s are a major component of ozone pollution, which negatively impacts every person’s lung function, children’s especially.
- When fossil fuels including natural gas are extracted and burned, enormous quantities of fine particulate matter much smaller than the width of a hair are released into the atmosphere which the oil and gas industry treats as an open sewer. Decades of occupational and community-based research link exposure to dangerous levels of particulate air pollution with cradle-to-grave health impacts, including:
- Complications of fertility and pregnancy like miscarriages, LBW and prematurity which are common impacts of air pollution with huge consequences in personal, societal, and economic terms)
- Birth defects and infant-child developmental defects.
- Childhood cancer (benzene)
- Childhood asthma—Pittsburgh lies in the heart of the Marcellus Shale gas patch where air quality is so poor that the risk of schoolchildren developing asthma is more than twice the national risk in some neighborhoods. More asthma attacks mean more school missed for these children, more expensive medications taken, more visits to the doctor and local emergency departments, and more time having difficulty taking a normal breath.
- Adults are also impacted by the same air pollution, making life more difficult and dangerous for Americans with chronic lung disease and heart disease. No child or adult should suffer and have a hard time breathing by rolling back important rules limiting methane emissions from fracked gas infrastructure.
Simply put, it is unconscionable to consider rolling back the methane rule. The American people deserve cleaner air, not dirtier air. The American people, including my young patients, deserve better health, not more disease. Every person requires clean air and clean water and a stable climate system, whether they live in my neck of the woods in southwestern PA, or elsewhere in the United States, or anywhere on this shining ball of blue that we call our home. No one’s health benefits by rolling back the methane rule. In fact, everyone’s health is now threatened by this proposal.
REFERENCES, Impacts of fracked gas pollution on health
Tustin, et al Associations between Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Nasal and Sinus, Migraine Headache, and Fatigue Symptoms in Pennsylvania. (Tustin, Schwarz) EHP Feb. 2017
Weinberger, B. et al — Health symptoms in residents living near shale gas activity: A retrospective record review from the Environmental Health Project Preventive Medicine Reports
Web, E., Developmental and reproductive effects of chemicals associated with UOG Operations Reviews on Environmental Health 2014.
Casey, Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Birth Outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA (Epidemiology) 2016
Stacy, S., et al — Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania (PLOS ONE June 2015 — Univ. of Pittsburgh)
DeFranco — Air Pollution and Stillbirth Risk: Exposure to Airborne Particulate Matter during Pregnancy Is Associated with Fetal Death (PLOS ONE March 2015 Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati/University of Cincinnati)
DeFranco — Exposure to airborne particulate matter during pregnancy is associated with preterm birth: a population-based cohort study (Environmental Health — January 2016 Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati/Univ. of Cincinnati)
McKenzie, L., et al — Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado (Environmental Health Perspectives April 2014)
Rasmussen, S., et al — Association Between Unconventional Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale and Asthma Exacerbations (JAMA Internal Medicine)
Casey, J., et al — Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989–2013(Environmental Health Perspectives April 2015)
Jemielita, T., et al — Unconventional Gas and Oil Drilling Is Associated with Increased Hospital Utilization Rates (PLOS ONE July 2015 University of Pennsylvania)
Ferrar – Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region (International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health November 2013 University of Pittsburgh)
Ellen Webb, et al – Neurodevelopmental and neurological effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations and their potential effects on infants and children. Reviews on Environmental Health. Published Online: 2017-10-25
Hydraulic fracturing and infant health: New evidence from Pennsylvania Janet Currie,1,2* Michael Greenstone,2,3 Katherine Meckel (Princeton University) Science Advances 12/13/17
Drilling and Production Activity Related to Unconventional Gas Development and Severity of Preterm Birth Kristina Walker Whitworth, Amanda Kaye Marshall, and Elaine Symanski Environmental Health Perspectives MARCH 2018 | VOLUME 126 | ISSUE 3 (Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/EHP2622)
Prenatal Exposure to Unconventional Oil and Gas Operation Chemical Mixtures Altered Mammary Gland Development in Adult Female Mice Sarah A Sapouckey Christopher D Kassotis Susan C Nagel Laura N Vandenberg Endocrinology, Volume 159, Issue 3, 1 March 2018, Pages 1277–1289, Published: 07 February 2018