Saturday, 7 April 2012

Letter to the Editor - Citizen requests ban on shale gas by City of Fredericton

Quality of Life is our economic engine here in Fredericton.   People are attracted to our city for its urban forest, its parks and trails, its universities, clean air, and the lack of pollution from heavy industry.

Just last month, in addressing the doctor shortage here in Fredericton, the President of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Steeves, highlighted the following:  “Attracting investment, entrepreneurs, and talented professionals and skilled trades people is based largely on the quality of life and amenities a community has to offer, and excellent healthcare is at the top of the list.”

As a concerned citizen, I want to detail the certainty of air pollution  from shale gas development, and to warn that if is allowed to proceed in large regions surrounding our city, there will be a large negative impact on our quality of life  here in the City of Fredericton.   We need to impose a ban on shale gas at the municipal level and then pass resolutions for the Province to do the same. 

Shale gas development requires the large-scale industrialization of our farmland, forests, fishing lands, and hunting lands.  Distribution pipelines and compressor stations along the way must be build to transport the gas to markets. Shale gas development blankets distant communities downwind with known carcinogens & asthma-causing smog.

Fredericton will become a sink for heavier-than-air toxins that travel long distances from shale gas wells, the diesel emissions from truck traffic, storage tank emissions, and compressor stations.

What do all of these chemicals have in common?  They are all heavier-than-air, they all cause cancer, and they all are found in toxic levels in the air downwind from shale gas operations. Benzene is one of the signature gases from drilling sites and compressor stations and this chemical has been directly linked to various blood cancers including leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

 In addition, Ozone is created when VOCs mix with heat and sunlight. These chemicals react with the exhaust fumes from trucks and huge generators in these operations to form ground-level ozone.  This ozone can travel for over 300 kilometers before settling and accumulating in low-lying areas, such as the river valley which Fredericton is located. Saint John, New Brunswick is one of three areas in Canada that regularly exceed acceptable levels of ozone, levels  established by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.  Ozone can cause serious health problems in susceptible persons, especially young children and the elderly. 

I want to take a few seconds to paint a picture of what heavier-than-air really means.  Carbon dioxide is heavier than air.  That means it will sink to the floor.  Imagine that I have a glass of water on the table and I drop a piece of dry ice in it.   Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide.  This is the same chemical used for creating fog in theatres and nightclubs.  The carbon dioxide gas created will then mix with water vapor and pour out of the glass, then drop down onto to the table, drop down onto the floor, and then spread out over this entire room.  Imagine that these are the volatile organic compounds and ground-level ozone travelling long distances before settling in the valley of Fredericton.
 
Air pollution is a certainty for Fredericton. New air pollution and health studies provide a clear warning. Taken individually, any of these single reports is quite troubling.  But when you look at this new information together, it is truly frightening.  The data confirms that if shale gas operations are allowed to proceed around Fredericton, that it will be a significant threat to our human health.

Here are some examples: 

(1) Air pollution from truck traffic alone is extreme.  Because of the immense amount of water used in fracking, “Each well = 1,800 to 2,600 truck drive-bys.  An 8-well pad site = 14,400 to 20,800 drive-bys”

(2) Some areas of once pristine, rural Wyoming now have smog levels equal to Los Angeles.

(3)  Oil and gas operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth region emit more smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than all cars, trucks, buses and other mobile sources in the area combined.

(4) Texas hospital records  in six counties with some of the heaviest shale gas drilling, including the Barnett Shale region, found that "children in the community ages 6-9 are three times more likely to have asthma than the average for that age group in the State of Texas."

(5) Baylor University’s results published in 2009 showed that childhood asthma rates in the Tarrant County area of the Barnett Shale were more than double the national average.

(6) The same six counties in Texas with rising rates of invasive breast cancer also have the highest count of compressors, separators, tanks and other above-ground points of emissions.  Looking at the map of 254 counties in Texas, “You will notice that the counties in which you have heavier drilling activity perfectly matches the jump in breast cancer rates.”

(7) And a 3-year health study released in March 2012 calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to the wells as compared to those residing further [away].  Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk from both scenarios."

(8) The final and the single-largest health threat is climate change.  Our atmosphere is now moving past 400ppm and our children will see CO2 levels move past 550ppm by 2050.   The latest climate models (March 2012) predict that temperatures could rise by 3*C by 2050, based on mid-range emissions.  

For the future health and security of our children and grandchildren, the data from climate change scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, prove that we must leave coal and unconventionals such as shale gas in the ground.

So we really have to ask how we will attract and retain doctors when they find out Fredericton is surrounded by shale gas licenses.

They will listen to the facts more than they will gas companies who have compromising restrictions on the information they release to the public.

They will listen to the New Brunswickers whose property sales fell through because the buyers found out that the land is on, or near, shale gas lease areas.  This is already happening in New Brunswick.

And they will listen to residents here in Fredericton who are voicing concerns about the health of their children, about the risk of increased asthma and cancer, about the impact on their property values, and about their quality of life.  

I appeal to the City's obligation to protect the health of our children, young people, and the elderly. I appeal to your obligation to protect our air.  I appeal to the City to protect our quality of life here in Fredericton.

Because of the certainty of air pollution from shale gas development, the City of Fredericton has only two choices.  (1) Ban shale gas development at the municipal and Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick  level in order to put pressure on the provincial government  to do the same or (2) Build a dome over the city.   I believe a ban would be cheaper and more acceptable to the citizens in this city.   

Our group asks City Council to vote and pass a ban on shale gas development in the City of Fredericton.  We also ask that City Council vote and pass a resolution asking the Province of New Brunswick and the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick to also ban shale gas development. 
 
And we would be in good company.  Minto, Sackville, Hampton, and Sussex Corner have already passed a ban or moratorium.   And a breathtaking 154 municipalities in New York State have passed a ban or moratorium(or in the process of doing so). 

Thank you.

Mark D'Arcy