Study suggests fracking could release radon from ground

A new study in the USA has linked a rise in levels of radon gas with fracking.

Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas. It’s formed by the radioactive decay of small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils.

The main danger from high radon exposure is the increased risk of lung cancer. For most people, radon is the single largest source of radiation exposure whether they are at home or at work.

Radon can be released by mine workings and is soluble in water.

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Originally published in USA Today, by Liz Szabo and Doyle Rice.

Levels of cancer-causing radon gas in Pennsylvania homes have increased as the fracking industry has expanded, a new study shows.

The study is a preliminary “first look” into a possible connection between fracking and radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, says co-author Joan Casey. While the study doesn’t conclusively prove that fracking releases radon from the ground, the findings are concerning, says Casey, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley and University of California-San Francisco.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has spurred a boom in oil and natural-gas production. The fracking process blasts millions of gallons of water — mixed with sand and chemicals — deep underground to break apart shale deposits and release natural gas.

While supporters of fracking says it’s a safe source of energy, opponents are concerned that the process could contaminate local water supplies and even contribute to earth quakes.

Authors of the new study, published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, say they focused on Pennsylvania because it has one of highest residential radon levels in the country, and because the state has a huge, detailed database of home radon measures.

Pennsylvania’s high radon levels stem from the type of bedrock that runs through much of the state, which contains radioactive materials such as uranium and radium, which degrade into radon, an invisible gas, Casey says.

Radon can seep into basements through cracks in a home’s foundation and become trapped in homes that aren’t well ventilated.

Doctors are concerned about radon because it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind only tobacco, says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy at the American Lung Association. Radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Authors analyzed more than 860,000 indoor radon measurements from Pennsylvania’s database, taken from Jan. 1, 1989 to Dec. 31, 2013.

Researchers found that radon levels fluctuated from 1989 to 2004. But radon levels in the state began to rise around 2004, when fracking really took off, the study says.

Authors also noticed that radon concentrations were 21% higher in buildings with well water than in those using municipal water. Radon can dissolve in water. So it’s possible that radon enters homes through showers and faucets, then spreads into the air, says study coauthor Brian Schwartz, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Schwartz notes that it’s possible that something other than fracking caused home radon levels to rise. For example, homes may have become more energy efficient since 2004. Although well-insulated homes save energy, they can also trap radon inside, he says.

A top industry group was unimpressed with the study. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pennsylvania’s leading natural gas organization, provided USA TODAY with this statement:

“It’s unfortunate, yet not unexpected, that some anti-shale activists continue to peddle profoundly flawed and unsubstantiated claims, such as this, based purely on hypothetic and perhaps pre-determined narrative-driven ’cause and effect’ conclusions with the goal of generating fear,” the statement read. “Thankfully, however, these suggestive scare tactics veiled as ‘research’ are easily refuted with readily available unbiased, fact-based data and independent scientific findings.”

Authors of today’s study acknowledge that their findings conflict with those of a January study from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, which reported that “there is little potential for additional radon exposure to the public due to the use of natural gas extracted from geologic formations located in Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania officials, however, say it’s difficult to compare the two studies, because they measured radon in very different ways.

While Casey and Schwartz’s paper included radon measurements from homes, the Pennsylvania state report measured radon at fracking wells, gas processing facilities, disposal sites and waste water processing facilities and other places, says the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Ken Reisinger. The state report measured radon levels in the natural gas coming out of the ground, as well as in air near the fracking facilities. Radon levels weren’t higher than expected, Reisinger says.

Reisinger questioned Casey and Schwartz’ conclusion that fracking may be causing radon levels to rise. That’s because their report also found rising radon levels in parts of the state with no fracking.

Casey and Schwartz say researchers should conduct more detailed studies to see if their findings can be confirmed.

Some health experts say the link between radon and fracking is worrisome.

“There are a tremendous number of poorly understood and potentially serious health risks associated with fracking, one of which is exposure to radioactivity,” says Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard H.T. Chan School of Public Health. “We simply do not have anything close to adequate safeguards for people’s health.”

Fracking has been linked to a wide spectrum of health problems for Americans across the country, according to a December report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

That report said Americans who live near oil and gas drilling wells are exposed to fracking-related air pollution in the form of chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde.

Help Angela Smith to rebrand fracking

Angela Smith
Angela Smith thinks that referring to fracking as, er ‘fracking’ is unhelpful. Ever eager to help, we would like to offer a few suggestions for a new name.  

How can we rebrand fracking so that you will be convinced not to be against it anymore?

Please vote for your favourite option below, or add your own suggestion in the comments and we will send the winning name to Angela Smith.

South Yorkshire Events – No Fracking Way

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A series of events to raise awareness about fracking will be held across South Yorkshire on Saturday 30 January, in Barnsley, Wath-upon-Dearne, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Frack Free Dearne Valley
Saturday 30 January, 10am-12Noon
Wath-upon-Dearne (near the Market)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Saturday 30 January, 11am
May Day Green, Barnsley (near Thorntons)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Sunday 31 January
Tweetathon
Join us on Twitter using the hashtag #NoFrackingWay in support of fracking awareness events taking place around the country.

No Fracking in Barnsley – Please sign our petition

Petition Meme

Sign the petition here.

Fracking is a destructive, polluting, dangerous industry. It has caused real pain for communities in the USA and Australia and it is coming to Barnsley!

Exploratory fracking licences now cover most of the borough. Licences were granted in Dearne Valley last year and just before Christmas, a new round of licences extended coverage over Barnsley itself.

There are numerous concerns about the bad effects that fracking can be responsible for.

• Contaminate our water supply
• Pollute the air with hazardous chemicals
• Cause earthquakes
• Reduce the value of our homes
• Increase our household insurance premiums
• Make our roads less safe by increasing heavy traffic
• Leak methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide
• Cause illness in local populations
• Increase noise and light pollution from drilling operations and traffic movement.

Barnsley has an added fear, in that we can’t be sure what effect fracking will have on the old mine workings that criss-cross our area. A Keele University professor has suggested that fracking should be banned from former mining areas as being, “too dangerous”.

Now is the time to stand up against this dangerous industry, stand up for our communities and against those that would impose fracking upon us.

Please sign our petition to Barnsley Council, asking them to reject fracking in Barnsley.

Sign the petition here.

No Fracking Way: South Yorkshire

No Fracking Way

Campaigners will be making a noise about fracking across the country on the weekend of the 30/31st January, in a nationwide anti-fracking action.

No Fracking in Barnsley will be taking part in the national programme of anti-fracking events, called by ‘No Fracking Way’. This is an unmissable opportunity for us to raise awareness locally and to make a noise about fracking at a national level.

Barnsley: Saturday 30th January 2016
May Day Green (Barnsley Town Centre) at 11.00am

We will be leafleting at May Day Green (near Thorntons) and collecting signatures for our petition to Barnsley Council, calling for the rejection of fracking in Barnsley.

Please come along and help us to spread the word to the people of Barnsley, even if you can only spare half an hour. Everybody’s help is valuable and with a good turn out, we can engage with as many people as possible.

There are other events planned to take place across the region on the same day in Dearne Valley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. Visit our event page on Facebook for more details as they are available, or check back here.

Tweetathon: Sunday 31st January 2016

In support of other events happening around the country, we will be sharing their tweets from our Twitter account under the hashtag #NoFrackingWay. Please join us, share as many posts as you can and help us to get the argument against fracking trending nationally.

Please share this message with anyone who you think may be interested in helping.

Householders affected by floods face insurance double-whammy if they live nearby planned fracking sites

This story by Andy Rowell originally appeared in The Independent.

Householders could face an insurance double-whammy if they live within a five-mile radius of shale gas exploration sites

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As householders across the UK continue the great flood clean-up, many are battling with insurance companies. Some are discovering that they now face an insurance “double whammy” – especially if they live in one of the areas covered by the new fracking licences announced by the Government before Christmas.

Many of the UK’s best known insurance companies will not insure against fracking-related damage, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday and the campaign group Spinwatch has found.

This could include contamination caused by polluted water from a fracking site being spread during exceptional flood events and could also include groundwater contamination from underground fracking operations. Companies representing two thirds of the UK insurance market will not insure against damage caused as a result of fracking, or else have exemptions covering potential pollution of water from the controversial technique. This means tens of thousands of people will find it difficult to insure themselves against fracking-related damage to their property or land.

One in five of the 150 new fracking sites announced have been designated as having a significant risk of flooding and some flooded over the past month.

Top domestic insurers were approached by a test consumer saying they lived within five miles of a proposed fracking well in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, where Third Energy has applied to frack. The application could be decided by North Yorkshire County Councillors next month, as the council is under pressure from the Government to fast-track shale gas exploitation.

Insurers were asked whether they would provide cover against fracking-related damage, as well as contamination of water supplies. They were also asked if premiums would increase. Most declined to comment about increased premiums but some acknowledged that where there had been a high rate of claims then premiums will generally rise.

The UK’s biggest domestic insurer, Direct Line, said although “subsidence and earthquake caused by fracking are covered as they are insured risks”, there is “no cover for contamination caused by fracking as contamination is a general exclusion of our policy”.

Lloyds Banking Group, the UK’s second largest insurer, confirmed that policyholders “would be protected against major perils – ground movement, earthquake and explosion”. It was therefore “likely we might offer assistance if affected by similar damage”. However, asked what the insurers meant by “likely”, Lloyds declined to reply. It also pointed out that “for a claim to be successful, you would have to be able to prove that fracking is the actual cause of the damage”.

Experts warn this will be a high hurdle to overcome for most households, as potential water contamination problems could occur thousands of feet below ground or on the surface during flooding

More Th>n said it would not cover contamination or earthquakes caused by fracking; and Axa replied that water contamination “would not be covered by home insurance; you would need to contact your water supplier”. Both Allianz and Nationwide said they would not cover contamination either.

Other companies outlined exemption clauses; Aviva said: “In the event of pollution or contamination … our policies contain a general exclusion of loss, damage or liability by pollution or contamination unless due to sudden and unexpected accident.”

LV= said that although it would cover fracking, “If the damage was caused by poor workmanship of [fracking] contractors, this would not be covered.”

Among those who would insure against the controversial technique, Legal & General said: “There is no exclusion in our policy wording for any loss or damage caused by fracking.”

The shale gas industry and the Government admit that insurance is a problem. Last year Ken Cronin, head of UK Onshore Oil and gas, the industry trade body, conceded that it was an “area of concern”.

A Defra report published last year admitted that fracking could cause nearby house prices to fall by up to 7 per cent and create a risk of environmental damage.

It also warned that leakage of waste fluids could affect human health through polluted water, and that properties located within a five-mile radius of a fracking operation “may also incur an additional cost of insurance, to cover losses in case of explosion on the site”.

Fracking is bad news for Barnsley

GBFO

Local anti-fracking campaigners have branded fracking as bad news for Barnsley. In the wake of the announcement of new exploratory licences that cover Barnsley and surrounding areas, campaigners say that fracking will not bring the jobs that Barnsley badly needs.

The newly established campaign ‘No Fracking in Barnsley’ was launched on Tuesday 5th January at a lively meeting at the YMCA. Where those in attendance voiced their concerns and vowed to fight off the threat of fracking in the area.

A spokesperson explained, “This is bad news for Barnsley. Wherever fracking has been practised it has left behind a trail of environmental damage.

“When fracking moves into an area there may be a promise of quick benefits for local communities, but the reality is often that the few local jobs that are created dry up once the fracking is finished and communities are left to live with the consequences.

“Fracking will not even improve our energy security or bring down bills, as any gas produced will be sold on the open market and may not even be offered to British consumers. Yet the Government has given fracking companies the green light to frack under our homes.

“We will be holding lots of events and campaigns over the coming months, to give the public information on fracking. We want to get as many people in Barnsley involved as possible and encourage them to write to their councillors.”

David Burley of Frack Free South Yorkshire joined the condemnation, commenting, “Only one week after signing the international agreement to curb climate change, our UK government seems hell-bent on doing the exact opposite, regardless of local wishes. Shale gas is yet another fossil fuel that scientists around the world say we should leave in the ground. This ‘dash for gas’ is bonkers.

“Fortunately, opposition continues to grow: South Yorkshire MPs Michael Dugher, Dan Jarvis, Ed Miliband and shadow front-bencher Louise Haigh have already called for a moratorium on fracking.

“Frack Free South Yorkshire will be actively supporting the ‘No Fracking in Barnsley’ campaign to give the people of Barnsley the facts about fracking.“

93 licences to explore 159 blocks of land across the UK were granted just before Christmas. One of those blocks (SE30b) covers an area that includes Barnsley town centre, Cudworth, Barugh Green, Dodworth, Hood Green, Worsbrough, Birdwell, Ardsley and Elsecar. This is in addition to the licences that already cover the Dearne Valley.