Below is a copy of a letter recently sent to the Public Health Director at WSCC by a concerned local resident. It is important that officials are made aware of their responsibilities.
28 November 2013
Director Public Health
West Sussex County Council
PO19 1 RQ
Dear Ms Wright
I am writing on behalf of myself and other residents of Fernhurst to express our deep concerns over the possible advent of unconventional oil and gas exploration in our village and associated hydraulic fracturing which has numerous possible related health issues for the people of West Sussex. This is especially important as the number of wells may increase to between six and nine thousand over the next few years. The Government has tried to claim that there are no risks to health but the lack of supporting evidence makes these claims extravagant to say the least. The monitoring and policing of such activities by the Environment Agency has to date been less then satisfactory and the regulation of this new industrial process is inadequate. As Director of Public Health you have statutory responsibility for: 1. Improving public health; 2. Protecting public health; 3. Responding to emergencies that present a risk to public health. In my view, all of these may be relevant in this case.
I am a former nurse and health visitor and live in Fernhurst near to the proposed site. On behalf of my fellow residents I have researched this issue in terms of health risks. There is not a vast amount of credible research available. This is mostly due to oil companies in the U.S. being largely exempt from environmental and safety regulations (Haliburton Loophole). However, I have found some research undertaken by reputable academics at well-known universities such as Cornell and Duke. Many of these reports are cited in the American Association of Paediatricians update on hydraulic fracturing for the New York State moratorium.
Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling process involving the injection, under extremely high pressure, of vast amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into shale rock. This fractures the rock and releases gas from within its structure. Flaring towers are required to burn off excess to relieve pressure. There are concerns relating to various types of pollution from this process:
1. Ground water contamination - this may occur through flow back of waste water, through loss of well integrity (not uncommon, has recently occurred in Lancashire), or through naturally occurring faults in the rock allowing fluids to seep to the surface.
Jackson et al (Duke University, 2011) found that: "The potential for aquifer contamination from waste waters associated with hydraulic fracturing depends on many factors including the toxicity of fracturing fluid and produced waters, how close the gas well and fractured zone are to shallow ground water and the transport and disposal of waste waters ....Despite precautions by industry contamination may occur through corroded well casings, spilled fracturing fluid at the drill site, leaked waste water or...the direct movement of methane or water upwards from deep underground...During the first month of drilling a single well can produce a million or more gallons of waste water that can contain pollutants in concentrations exceeding those considered safe for drinking water and release into the environment." Jackson et al also state that the pollutants sometimes include formaldehyde , boric acid, methanol, hydrochloric acid and isopropanol.
Other studies also express concern: "Hydraulic fracturing of deep shale beds to develop natural gas has caused concern regarding the potential for various forms of water pollution...there is substantial geologic evidence that natural vertical flow drives contaminants, mostly brine, to near the surface from deep evaporite sources" (Myers,T. Potential contaminant pathways from hydraulically fractured shale to aquifers.) The brine referred to is toxic.
Colborn et al in their paper Natural gas operations from a public health perspective state: "the technology to recover natural gas depends on undisclosed types and amounts of toxic chemicals". They compiled a list of 944 products used by the industry containing 632 chemicals. Literature searches were conducted and findings showed that 75% chemicals used could affect skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40% - 50% could affect the brain and nervous system, immune cardiovascular and renal systems. 37% could affect the endocrine system and 25% could cause cancer and genetic mutations. Long term health effects may result that are not immediately expressed.
Osborn et al found evidence of methane contamination of water due to gas well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2011).
Another potential type of contamination comes from naturally occurring salts, metals and radioactive substances (such as radon) normally held deep below ground and released in the process.
I should at this point like to point out that the Fernhurst site is situated within a surface water protected area.
2. Air Pollution from flaring - Flaring towers, or stacks, are used by the oil and gas industry to burn off excess flammable gas. These flares may emit CO2, methane, sulphur dioxide and sulphur compounds and other volatile organic compounds. Sulphur compounds are known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems. Other emissions may include aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylenes) and benzapyrene which are known to be carcinogenic. Flaring towers are used in conventional exploration and in exploratory phases also. There will also be additional pollution from diesel fuelled lorries. In the exploratory phase there will be around 35 two-way movements per day. There will also be the use of diesel pumps on site whose emissions are not regulated. Emissions from these include NO2 and poly aromatic hydrocarbons.
A further study (Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources, McKenzie et al, May 2012) found that residents living within half a mile of wells are at greater risk for health effects from natural gas development than residents living more than half a mile from wells. Those nearer to wells were over twice as likely to suffer health problems and cancer risks were also significantly increased.
In conclusion, there is sufficient evidence available to require the utmost caution with the health of the residents of West Sussex and the South Downs National Park. At the Fernhurst site there are people living within 300 hundred metres of the proposed activity. It is clear from the last study cited here that wells should not be situated within half a mile of people's homes. Whilst I trust that West Sussex County Council, the South Downs National Park Authority and you, as Director of Public Health, will place the well-being of residents at the top of their list of priorities, the residents of Fernhurst must protect themselves as far as possible and will therefore be employing environmental experts to take baseline samples of water from the area. Should any application be granted we will also monitor the water at regular intervals. We are also minded to have baseline blood tests for relevant toxins on all residents within a half mile radius and it would seem appropriate that should planning be granted that the relevant authority incurs the costs of regular health examinations ,blood tests and environmental sampling.
There is one last and not inconsequential matter to note and this is the supply of water. If vast amounts are granted to the oil companies for their purposes we may well find we have insufficient to supply the 1.2 million people who obtain water from the SDNP.