A common cry from anti-industry activist groups is that the human health impacts of unconventional gas development are not known, a claim that then becomes a proxy for why industry development should not be allowed to proceed.
Mind you, that’s all a bit rich when the best that industry opponents can do is put forward some claims that have been roundly (and repeatedly) debunked, but we digress.
New research out of the United States this month puts into sharp focus the validity of the growing body of ‘research’ touted by industry opponents.
As our colleagues at Energy in Depth explain:
“A comprehensive report released earlier this month by environmental research group Resources for the Future (RFF) — certainly no shill for oil and gas — reveals why anti-fracking activists are focusing on quantity rather than quality. RFF reviewed 32 of the more prominent shale-focused studies on birth outcomes, cancers, asthma, and other health effects, including migraines and hospitalization.
Cumulatively, none of those major categories of studies were deemed “high quality,” while studies on birth defects, hospitalizations and multiple symptoms were cumulatively deemed to be of “low quality,” as the following matrix from the report shows.”
A further examination of the RFF report finds a scathing assessment of some of the research – take this statement for example:
“Overall, we find that the literature does not provide strong evidence regarding specific health impacts and is largely unable to establish mechanisms for any potential health effects.”
“Due to the nature of the data and research methodologies, the studies are unable to assess the mechanisms of any health impacts (i.e. whether a certain impact is caused by air pollution, stress, water pollution, or another burden). Even where good evidence is offered for a link between unconventional oil and gas development and health, the causal factor(s) driving this association are unclear.”
In an effort to redress the claimed lack of health impact research here in Australia, a major project to take an objective assessment of human health impacts of coal seam gas activity is well underway, with a report due at the end of August 2017.
The assessment, which is being co-ordinated by the Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA), commenced in February this year, and is described as:
“The research described here is Phase 1 of a study to address the question: does CSG activity in the NSW region influence human health, and if so, how and to what degree? Phase 1 focuses on a review of the state of knowledge about health impacts of CSG activity and identification of gaps in the knowledge base and the design of a study to address these gaps. The study design produced in Phase 1 will be used to develop proposals for the implementation of the study that would be carried out in Phase 2. The study that would be carried out in Phase 2 will be a follow up project to the work detailed here. Phase 2 will generate information required to investigate the health impacts of CSG activities.”
This is a critical assessment, and we look forward to seeing the output when the initial report is released in August.
No doubt activist groups will again call into question the independence of GISERA (you can read more about those hackneyed claims here), but we’ll take the advice of highly credentialed researchers and scientists over the scare campaigns of activists any day of the week.