Fermanagh meeting hears of ‘fracking health risk’

Fermanagh meeting hears of ‘fracking health risk’ by The Impartial Reporter, February 1, 2013
A health impact assessment is vital when coming to a decision on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). That was the main message from the Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick, Canada, Dr. Eilish Cleary, who spokethis week at a public meeting in the Killyhevlin, organised by the Fermanagh Fracking Awarness Network (FFAN). Following the New Brunswick Government’s decision to allow fracking, Dr. Cleary was tasked with publishing a report on the public health implications of the process. Most of the global focus has been on how drilling for shale gas can cause water and air contamination. Dr. Cleary’s report recognises the economic growth opportunities the development of a shale gas industry can bring, but says it is important that the overall health gains are greater than the losses. It calls for government to take strategic actions to prevent and mitigate negative health impacts before development is allowed.

Its 30 recommendations include: a transparent consultation; money going back into the community; full and timely disclosure of chemicals used; less toxic alternatives for hydraulic fracturing fluids; limiting health impacts from noise, vibration and continuous illumination; traffic management plans; and strengthening government oversight capacity and resources. Dr. Cleary – who was visiting her family in Killesher – said: “I believe that all views have to be respected but that final decisions need to be made by local communities.” Small, rural communities such as Fermanagh need to guard against the ‘boomtown effect’ of a go-ahead for large-scale fracking, she added. This effect can include increased crime, drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence. Other impacts can include housing shortages, increased cost of living and strains on hospitals, infrastructure and social services, her report says. However, despite her insistence that she has “tried not to wade into the politics of [fracking] and tried to focus on the health of the people,” a hostile element of the 150-strong crowd insisted that Dr. Cleary state whether or not she supports fracking. Some stated that they would not allow the process to go ahead in Fermanagh and Leitrim, let alone consider calling for better regulation of companies such as Tamboran Resources. Others simply walked out.

A letter from a GP in Brisbane was read out by her sister. In it, she claimed that in a rural area of Australia, when it recently rained, gas bubbles were collected in jars by local children and set alight. She and other local medical professionals have noticed an increase in headaches, nose bleeds, chest pains, nausea and family pets having to be put down as they are “in great pain.” Chemicals have also been found in rainwater and in patients’ urine. Residents’ illnesses are being “dismissed as anecdotal,” by the Government, she fears. Her question was: “Knowing what you know about the risks, as I do, do you believe that fracking has no place in Ireland?” Dr. Cleary replied: “At the risk of sounding unpopular, I don’t feel I have an opinion.” “You’re a doctor,” someone shouted. “Just answer: yes or no,” said another. Others jeered and shouted. Dr. Cleary continued: “In terms of a decision, it’s important to look at the business case. If things are to go ahead, there are things that can be done. I have learned that there are health impacts.”

A lady from Leitrim explained that Tamboran has proposed 60 frack pads, approximately one mile apart, covering 40,000 acres (with the possibility of extending up to three times this size.) She asked whether it would be possible to carry out a health impact assessment on this scenario. Dr. Cleary replied: “Once you know what the programme is going to be in terms of size [and] rate of development, you can look at the actual risks. It’s important not just to look at what that one project is doing but what other projects close by are doing too.” A long-term perspective is paramount, Dr. Cleary said. “Natural gas claims to be cleaner than conventional gas but it’s not clear whether, when you take into consideration the trucks, the drilling etc, it’s as clean as the industry says.”

Donal Ó Cobhthaigh said he was “disappointed” with the presentation, but recognised that it was not Dr. Cleary’s fault that fracking had been given the go-ahead in New Brunswick. He was angry with FFAN for “conditioning people about fracking by putting advertisements in the newspapers referring to regulation of fracking.” “I remain steadfastly opposed to fracking. The grassroots are calling for a ban on fracking. No regulations will make fracking acceptable,” he said. In response, FFAN Chairman Dr. Carroll O’Dolan said: “There’s a lot of people saying we are doing the Government’s work. FFAN wants to educate people to make their own decisions. My own view is that fracking is dangerous. We are here to inform people and if anyone feels disgruntled, I make no apologies.” He urged church, sports and community groups to gather together in opposition and make their voices heard. “Signing a petition and calling your MLA won’t work.” He has written to Environment Minister Alex Attwood, who has said he will “consider” carrying out a health impact assessment. “If you don’t want [fracking], get up and do something about it,” Dr. Dolan concluded. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

EUB [Now ERCB, soon to be AER]: ‘Men Without Chests,’ ‘No Plan, No Policy, No Heart’ The [Calgary Health Region] repeatedly accuses the board of erring, ignoring or misinterpreting so much evidence that “the board could not properly carry out its mandate to determine the public interest and weigh the social and economic effects of the proposed project.” These accusations have been echoed across the province. [Emphasis added]

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