Fracking Is Injustice: The High Human and Climate Toll of Fracking and LNG Expansion Exposed



By Dan Bacher | 

Recent global, national and state efforts to expand oil and gas production and increase liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports have “dire impacts” on public health and the climate, a major new report authored by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York reveals.

The report, written by doctors and scientists at a time when the federal government is increasing the approval of oil and gas drilling permits across the nation, provides a “critical accounting of the implications of fracking and related activities,” synthesizing findings from over 2,000 scientific studies and government reports, according to a press statement from the two groups.

As fossil fuel corporations intensify their pressure on the Biden administration to further accelerate the production and export of U.S. gas, the report finds:

  • the expansion of fracking is accelerating the climate crisis, and exporting natural gas as LNG compounds its climate impact,
  • carbon capture makes local air pollution worse – not better,
  • fracking, transporting, and using oil and gas causes serious health harms, and
  • low-income and communities of color are most exposed to the detrimental impacts of fracking. 

Concerned Health Professionals of New York (a project of the Science and Environmental Health Network) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize) released the eighth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking on April 28, the day before Exxon and Chevron reported obscene profits in the first quarter of 2022. 

Exxon reported over $5 billion in profits despite an impairment of over $3 billion following its belated exit from the Sakhalin-1 project in Russia, according to Oil Change International. Meanwhile, Chevron, based in Dublin, California, reported over $6.3 billion in profits, marking its highest quarterly earnings in over nine years,

Amidst the report’s analysis are “three big-picture findings” that the groups say are essential for the public and policymakers to understand. These policymakers include governors, state and local officials, and President Biden and his administration:

  1. “Globally, the expansion of fracking and LNG is accelerating the climate crisis and is directly at odds with climate goals, including the Paris Agreement. North American fracking operations for both oil and gas are driving the current surge in global levels of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period and which has contributed 40 percent of all global warming to date.
    “– LNG is even worse for the climate. Liquefying natural gas via superchilling to allow its overseas transport requires immense energy and evaporative cooling technology, both of which add further to the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas obtained via fracking.
    “– Carbon capture and storage (CCS) fails to mitigate the dangers of fracking. CCS does not in fact capture methane emissions but instead makes local air pollution from fracking infrastructure worse. It is mostly used as a technique to extract more oil from depleted wells.
  2. “Strong evidence from hundreds of studies demonstrates that drilling, fracking, storing, transporting, and disposing of oil and gas cause serious harm to human health, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and impairments to infant and maternal health. Toxic air pollution and water contamination accompany fracking and associated activities everywhere, imperiling public health.
  3. “Fracking is an injustice. Toxic air pollution, water contamination, and other impacts disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities. Across the United States, the environmental justice effects of fracking are apparent and, in many cases, getting worse.”

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and an author of the Compendium, said, “The scientific evidence reveals conclusively that fracking causes widespread and severe harm to people and the climate. For over ten years, individual studies have demonstrated impacts in multiple areas, including toxic air pollution, water contamination, radioactive releases, earthquakes, methane emissions, and much more. The Compendium takes stock of all the science together, which shows that continuing and expanding fracking brings with it a grave cost.”

Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of NY, noted, “States and countries that have banned fracking are leading the way to a stable and healthy climate future, preventing poisonous fracking chemicals from causing birth defects, cancer, heart disease, asthma and pneumonia, diseases of other organs and tissues, and early death. Banning fracking also prevents induced earthquakes and greatly reduces emissions of methane, carbon dioxide, toxic gases, and particulate matter into our atmosphere. We know what must be done: now we must do it – and do it quickly.”

Barbara Gottlieb, Environment & Health Program Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, pointed out, “People, nurses, and doctors across the United States have been pointing to harms from drilling and fracking for well over a decade. Now there is clear and overwhelming scientific evidence showing that fracking makes people sick, degrades the environment, and imperils the climate. From a public health perspective and a climate perspective, stopping fracking is imperative.” 

Finally, Sharon Montes, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Colorado, from Loveland CO, revealed, “We all too often see people living near fracking operations getting sick. In the past, we didn’t know why. Today there is strong, peer-reviewed evidence linking proximity to fracking to a host of serious health effects. In many cases, the harms of fracking are borne disproportionately by minority and low-income communities, underscoring that fracking is a health equity issue and an injustice.”

The Compendium includes a two-page “Summary of Findings,” a detailed analysis of the current political, cultural, and economic context of fracking, 16 emerging trends from the science, case studies of drilling and fracking in California and Florida, and detailed compilation of studies and findings by topic.

“In sum, the vast body of scientific studies now published on hydraulic fracturing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature confirms that the climate and public health risks from fracking are real and the range of environmental harms wide,” the Summary of Findings concludes. “Our examination uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which human health depends.”

Download the report here.

As study released, federal government expands oil and gas drilling

The report was released at a time when the federal government forecasts an increase in domestic oil and natural gas production. On January 11, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted that U.S. oil production will average 12.4 million barrels per day during 2023, surpassing the record high for domestic crude oil production set in 2019.

“In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will increase for nine consecutive quarters, from the fourth quarter of 2021 through 2023,” according to a press statement from the EIA.  “EIA also expects OPEC to increase its crude oil production to 28.9 million barrels per day in 2023, up from an average of 26.3 million barrels per day in 2021.”

By September 2023, EIA expects U.S. natural gas production to reach an average of 98 billion cubic feet per day for the first time and then to average 98.2 billion cubic feet per day the second half of 2023,

As if the forecasted rise in oil and gas production to a new record level wasn’t bad enough, federal data shows the Biden administration approved 3,557 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first year, far outpacing the Trump administration’s first-year total of 2,658.

Nearly 2,000 of the drilling permits were approved on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s New Mexico office, followed by 843 in Wyoming, 285 in Montana and North Dakota, and 191 in Utah, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

In California, the Biden administration approved 187 permits — more than twice the 71 drilling permits Trump approved in the state in his first year.

More recently, on April 15 the Bureau of Land Management announced  that it will resume oil and gas leasing on public lands, violating President Biden’s campaign promise to end new oil and gas leasing and locking in new extraction that thwarts his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Center reported.

The Department of Interior said it resumed oil and gas leasing on public lands in compliance with an injunction from the Western District of Louisiana, claiming that is “reflects the balanced approach to energy development and management of our nation’s public lands called for in the agency’s November 2021 report on the Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Program.” 

“How we manage our public lands and waters says everything about what we value as a nation,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands, Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations.”    

California has approved nearly 11,000 oil and gas well permits since 2019

In a similar vein, the Newsom administration in California has approved a total of 10,983 oil and gas well permits since 2019. Approvals of all types of oil drilling permits rose 3.2% in the first quarter of 2022 over 2021, according to the latest analysis by FracTracker Alliance of permits approved through December 31, 2021, and posted by Consumer Watchdog at www.newsomwellwatch.org,

“But approvals for drilling new Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) wells using higher risk extractive techniques dependent on steam injection jumped up 59%,” reported Kyle Ferrar of the Fractracker Alliance. “Those permits included 16 new steam injection wells, though the majority were for gas storage and disposal wells. 

New drilling permits for both oil and gas production and EOR wells rose 36% in the first quarter, while permits to rework existing wells fell 2.9%.  The total number of wells approved by Governor Newsom since January 2019 is nearly 11,000 now, Ferrar pointed out.

The good news is that fracking permit approvals issued by the State of California ceased altogether, while permits to plug wells rose 62%, according to Ferrar.


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