Not one, but two, recently released reports by physicians discuss and document the health risks, both immediate and long-range, of fracking and fracked gas.
A collaboration of health professionals with the Washington and Oregon chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility have spent many months synthesizing and reviewing research and data, making new findings and conclusions on the threat of fracked gas infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest and how elected officials should respond to the crisis at hand. The report discusses impacts to fishing, safety hazards from facility and pipeline malfunctions, mental health stress on people who may lose their homes and jobs to eminent domain or habitat destruction, and more. Specific case studies include the Jordan Cove LNG project in Oregon and the Tacoma LNG facility and Kalama Methanol refinery in Washington State. Download a PDF of their report, Fracked Gas: A Threat to Healthy Communities. Press coverage is here.
Meanwhile, another review by doctors and scientists of 1,778 articles from peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals, investigative reports by journalists, and reports from government agencies on fracking concludes that the industry poses a threat to air, water, climate, and human health. Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, found that 69 percent of studies on water quality during the same time period found evidence of or potential for fracking-associated water contamination, and 87 percent of studies on air quality found “significant air pollutant emissions” associated with the industry. Their report also examines studies on the natural gas industry’s impact on climate change, and finds that due to methane leaks, natural gas extraction could be contributing to global warming even more than coal. Download their report, Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. Press coverage is here.
Note also the earlier 2017 report from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Too Dirty, Too Dangerous: Why health professionals reject natural gas.
From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update 233 for June 14, 2019:
No further work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline should occur until safety threats can be fully assessed and remedied according to a comprehensive letter sent this week to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In a June 10 letter to PHMSA Administrator Howard Elliott, William Limpert, a Bath County, VA landowner whose property would be adversely impacted by the ACP and who is a member of ABRA’s Steering Committee, warned about the “threat to public safety from the ACP from landslides and earth movement, but other public safety concerns exist as well. These include risks from flooding, karst terrain, difficult construction in extreme terrain, and degradation of the pipe exterior corrosion protection from excessive exposure to sunlight during storage.”
Continuing, Limpert wrote:
“I am aware that FERC approves the siting of interstate natural gas pipelines, and that FERC allows an operator’s hired consultant to perform a geohazard assessment. This puts PHMSA in the unenviable position of insuring public safety on a project that PHMSA neither approves nor assesses for geohazards. That, along with the current proliferation of new natural gas pipelines, and your limited staff makes your job a difficult one. Nevertheless, I believe that you have the authority to adequately protect the public safety if you act aggressively, use all of the tools at your disposal, and do not allow the industry to control your agenda.
“I appreciate the recent PHMSA Advisory Bulletin ADB-2019-02 regarding the threat to pipelines from landslides, earth movement, and other geological hazards. The bulletin lists a large number of recent pipeline failures. These failures indicate that current practices are not sufficient to protect the public safety., especially from a project as fraught with peril as the ACP. I applaud the comprehensive list of suggestions to operators in the bulletin to improve safety. Nevertheless, I believe that most operators will not act on PHMSA suggestions. I believe that PHMSA needs to require operators to make safety upgrades, or they won’t be done.”
Bill Limpert’s column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for February 28, 2019, Pipelines put health and environment at risk – and we don’t need them anyway, discusses the risks from the pipes themselves, pipes that have now been stored outdoors, exposed to weather, for far longer than expected and far longer than manufacturers recommend.
Limpert lists the issues with the pipes:
- Pipes for both ACP and MVP are coated with a fusion bonded epoxy (FBE) to reduce pipe corrosion and explosion risk that degrades when exposed to sunlight and is now chalking off the pipes. “The National Association of Pipe Coating Manufacturers Bulletin 12-78-04 recommends that pipes coated with FBE without additional protection be stored no more than six months in the sun. The ACP admits that all of their pipes will be stored much longer than that, and even longer than the recommendation of pipe manufacturer Dura-Bond. The MVP testified in court that they were concerned about FBE loss.” At this point, ACP pipes have been stored outside for approximately three years, and will continue to be stored outside while the project is on hold.
- The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) confirms that FBE is coming off the pipes, yet maintains the pipes are safe – but they won’t divulge how many of the estimated 80,000 ACP pipes have been inspected, won’t give any detailed inspection information, and say that no inspection results will be available until the ACP is completed. [In other words, we won’t tell you anything about safety of the pipes until the construction that uses them is finished!]
- “The Material Safety Data Sheet for the 3M Scotchkote Fusion Bonded Epoxy 6233 used on these pipes lists carcinogenic, mutagenic, and toxic properties. Health impacts include reproductive, developmental, and respiratory impairment.” The material coming off the pipes is now in the environment, and most likely in “the surface and ground waters, and is being ingested through drinking water, especially by persons in karst areas using wells and springs for their drinking water.”
And while the pipelines are delayed, the pipes continue to sit, exposed to sun and all kinds of adverse weather.
Further information on the hazards of long-term storage of pipe segments is in our previous articles on the topic, see PHMSA and the Safe Storage of Pipe, posted on June 21, 2018, and Pipe Storage: Write to PHMSA, posted on April 23. 2018. See also Pipeline Chemical Coatings Are Serious Concerns, from NRDC in October 2018. Even in April, June, and October, the pipes had been stored outside for longer than their recommended time – and now it has been even longer!
A report issued on December 7, 2018 says that records kept by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) show that on average, a pipeline catches fire every 4 days and results in an explosion every 11 days, an injury every 5 days, and a fatality every 26 days. The report covers natural gas transmission lines that carry natural gas from production areas to processing plants and municipal distribution areas, liquids (including oil), and natural gas distribution lines that carry gas from plants to customers. Natural gas distribution lines account for most injuries (79%), deaths (73%), evacuees (62%), fires (71%), and explosions (78%). Newer pipelines less than 10 years old have more incidents than any other age group.
Read the report here: Pipeline Incidents Continue to Impact Residents
Read the NRDC analysis of the report here.
Officials say “initial site assessment reveals evidence of earth movement near the pipeline,” causing a massive early morning explosion and fire near Pittsburgh on September 10, 2018. Local CBS News put it more succinctly: “In short, a landslide took out the structural integrity of the pipeline, causing the rupture and explosion. The pipeline has only been in operation since Sept. 3.” The 24 inch line carried methane and was buried 3 feet deep. The fire burned like a blow torch, and took an hour and fifteen minutes to burn itself out after the gas was shut off. First responders say rain helped prevent spread of the fire.
People were evacuated from approximately 30 homes in a half-mile radius. No one was injured, but one house and two garages were completely destroyed, siding buckled on other houses, several cars were destroyed, and fire caused a tower for a high tension power line to buckle from the heat, taking five others with it in a chain reaction.
Is this Virginia’s future? The company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline had 50 landslides along a 55 mile pipeline it built several years ago, and numerous area prone to “earth movement” or landslides have been identified on both the MVP and Atlantic Coast Pipeline routes.
See news coverage of the explosion on WPXI, KDKA2 (CBS), on CBS, ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on July 11, 2018, that “Columbia Gas Transmission has told federal pipeline regulators that a landslide was the apparent cause of the rupture and explosion of a new natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, W.Va., last month. The site of the break was at the bottom of a steep hill on Nixon Ridge, just south of Moundsville. …. Lindsey Fought, a spokesperson with TransCanada, said the company is continuing to cooperate with federal authorities in the investigation. She confirmed that the federal pipeline agency and TransCanada’s ‘internal findings point to land subsidence as the cause of the rupture.”
According to the US Geological Survey Web page, “Land subsidence is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earth’s surface owing to subsurface movement of earth materials.”
TransCanada, owner of Columbia Gas Transmission, touted the pipeline, which just started operation in January 2018, as “best-in-class,” exactly what Dominion says the ACP will be.
Writing in Blue Virginia on July 11, 2018, Jon Sokolow reminds us of the stories in late May and early June about Precision Pipeline (builder for the MVP), which had more than 50 post-completion landslides along a 55-mile non-mountainous pipeline route in Wisconsin. That’s approximately one landslide per mile.
The Sokolow article continues, “The landslide risks at issue in the Dominion/Precision Pipeline lawsuit are terrifying because the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines are proposed to be built through some of the steepest terrain in Virginia, with slopes as steep as 78% in places. This mountainous terrain is particularly susceptible to landslides when fill material generated by construction is deposited on slopes after the pipelines are buried.”
How many miles of steep slopes are there on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route? How many on the Mountain Valley Pipeline route? How many potential landslides? How many potential explosions?