Howard and Nielle Hawkwood, Alberta ranchers, voice health concerns about fracking

Alberta ranchers voice health concerns about fracking by Cam Tucker, May 7, 2014, Metro

Nielle Hawkwood began noticing about four years ago that her hair was falling out. She also began experiencing skin irritation – as did her husband, Howard — as well as nosebleeds.

Two years ago, she was diagnosed with alopecia, which causes significant hair loss.

“The dermatologist said something has affected your immune system,” said Nielle, during a visit in April to the couple’s 456-hectare cattle ranch nestled amongst the rolling brown hills north of Calgary. They have been there for 34 years and it’s been in Howard’s family since 1972.

Both Nielle and Howard believe their recent health problems are the result of an increase in fracking wells being drilled in the area — 110 in the past four years and another 39 projected for this year. The closest is four kilometers from their ranch.

They assert that the hair loss, skin irritation and nosebleeds did not exist before the rise of fracking in the area.

For its part, Lochend Industry Producers Group, which consists of four different oil and gas companies active in the area, says there has been no water contamination and that the risk of water or air contamination to people living within 10 kilometres from a fracking well is “exceedingly” small. The companies set surface casings — a concrete and steel barrier that lines the well to prevent fracking fluid from entering the ground water — to 600 metres, double the required regulatory depths in the Lochend area. As well, the group says, the productive fracking zone is approximately 2,200 metres below the ground, far below a typical water well that sits at around 45 metres deep. [These protections do nothing to protect water, livestock or citizens when fracs go wrong]

A recent study by the Council of Canadian Academies found human health and well-being may be affected by the various environmental effects resulting from shale gas development. … Metro requested an interview with Alberta’s Ministry of Health about any health complaints near the Hawkwoods’ ranch and related to fracking, but a spokesperson was not made available.

The Hawkwoods, however, aren’t only worried about their own health. Last spring and summer, the Hawkwoods say 18 of their cows died, while seven others appeared thin and unhealthy, and did not calve.

A necropsy of one female bovine conducted last April — the document of the testing was viewed by two Metro reporters — noted the cause of death was undetermined, but the Hawkwoods believe water contamination was the cause and fracking the culprit.

The sudden deaths of some of the Hawkwood’s cows not only has a financial impact — each cow is worth about $1,800 — but one to the reputation of his ranch, as well. ….with their growing concern over health and environmental effects, the Hawkwoods have contemplated moving away from their ranch, which has been in their family for five decades.

“I’m a little bit upset about it. So where do I go? I love living in the area.” [Emphasis added]

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