Water contamination and risk reporting
Of all the controversial issues related to coal seam gas, there are two which dominate: the use of chemicals in hydraulic fraccing, and exploration/mining rights on private land. This blog, concerned with scientific controversy, will focus on the use of chemicals.
There is concern that chemicals used in the fraccing process will enter the groundwater system (particularly the Great Artesian Basin), will contaminate the drinking water supply and lead to adverse human health impacts. One of the plainest statements I’ve seen about the human health impacts was in the recent submission to the Senate inquiry into the impact of coal seam gas in the Murray Darling basin, prepared by the Doctors for the Environment Australia. This submission stated that some of the compounds used in the fraccing process can:
“produce short-term health effects and some may contribute to systemic illness and/or cancer many years later”
Most other articles and reports I’ve read refer to ‘adverse human health impacts’ without providing any details such as likelihood of risk or records of actual health impacts. In fact, it’s quite common for articles to list a number of chemicals which might be used in fraccing and then state the potential hazards of that chemical, without drawing any particular conclusions. Instead, the reader is left to connect the dots for themselves. I suspect that this style of reporting often leads to the reader making far more drastic assumptions about the impacts of coal seam gas extraction than the report intended.
Personally, I find the practice of implying hazards, rather than stating them, to be manipulative and unhelpful to those of us who are genuinely concerned with understanding the risks associated with the coal seam gas process. If there is a genuine risk, say so. If there is potential for human health impacts, say so. Weaseling around a topic without specifically drawing a conclusion is weak and does nothing to support an argument.
Next up: what are the chemicals used in fraccing?