Doctors for the Environment Australia - 2.12.2010 article by David Shearman
The emerging problems of water contamination from fracking are being reported from many sources. They raise the entire question of government responsibilities to the community in the sphere of public health.
These adverse findings are at variance with the statements by industry that the process is safe and there are no cases of human health being affected. Such statements often hide the fact that contamination and health have not been monitored.
The coal industry is regarded as a public health hazard. Coal pollutants, particularly the air borne particulates affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the U.S., heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease. Coal pollution interferes with lung development and increases the risk of heart attacks. Coal seam gasification whilst avoiding the major air pollution impacts of coal mining and power generation nevertheless is responsible for some local air pollution. Its contamination of productive land and the pollution of water tables and aquifers are unacceptable in a world where these resources are increasingly limited.
It has to be asked what considerations were made by the NSW Planning Department in approving drilling near to water sources for human consumption. There is little point is testing in such environments, for gasification processes can be prohibited from present knowledge. The States are too enthusiastic in approval processes that will bring revenue, jobs and electoral hope.
The science and distribution of aquifers and other groundwater systems is rudimentary. Yet the coal seam gas sector and indeed the mining industry are currently exempt from the National Water Initiative which is responsible for water reform and water security. The water management rules which apply to every other industry, do not apply to the one sector that needs more regulation than any other. (There is potential for long term contamination and damage to aquifers). The National Water Initiative was signed in 2004, and although it was agreed that the mineral and petroleum sectors needed specific management arrangements there has been little progress to define these. Urgent reform needs to be instituted by the federal government which can accrue a body of expertise with recommendations that have to be followed by states.
The prime consideration should be human health and the sustainability of land, particularly prime farming areas, and water resources. The precautionary principle should be paramount when there is potential for long term contamination and damage to aquifers with impacts on human health.
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