State Director, Environment Massachusetts
State Director, Environment Massachusetts
Boston – As the Legislature debates establishing a ten-year moratorium on fracking in Massachusetts, Environment Massachusetts delivered letters signed by more than 100 Massachusetts doctors, nurses, and other health professionals and over 1,000 nationwide, calling on state officials and President Obama to protect the public from fracking.
These letters come amid rising public concern over the health and environmental impacts of fracking, including a recent peer-reviewed study finding an increased rate of birth defects in babies born to mothers who live near fracking wells. In Massachusetts, a shale deposit under the Pioneer Valley could become a target for fracking.
“Families from Pennsylvania to Colorado to North Dakota are already suffering from dangerous air pollution and water contamination caused by dirty drilling,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts. “Today, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are coming together to urge our officials to say no to fracking—before the drilling ever starts here.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of drilling that involves injecting millions of gallons of water, often laced with toxic chemicals, deep underground to fracture rock formations and release oil and gas. There is a growing number of documented cases of individuals suffering acute and chronic health effects while living near fracking operations—including nausea, rashes, dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds. Physicians reviewing medical records in Pennsylvania have called these illnesses “the tip of the iceberg” of fracking impacts on health.
Fracking operations have contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. Leaks and spills of fracking fluid, which often contain known carcinogens like benzene and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, have polluted rivers and streams. Fracking wastewater—often laced with heavy metals (including lead and arsenic) and radioactive materials (including radon and uranium)—has leached from hundreds of waste pits into groundwater.
Air contaminants released from fracking operations include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which may cause cancer or damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Public Health found that people living within a half-mile of gas fracking wells had a higher excess lifetime risk of developing cancer than people living farther away.
“There is no question that fracking has a harmful impact on public health,” said Erica Streit-Kaplan, MPH, MSW. “My years working in children’s health and my obligation as a mother deeply motivate me to protect children’s bodies from the chemicals involved in fracking. Our legislators have an responsibility to protect Massachusetts’ citizens, and they should respond to the ample evidence of fracking’s health risks by passing the moratorium on fracking.”
The Hartford Shale, a rock formation under the Connecticut River Valley, may contain deposits of gas suitable for fracking. Moreover, as New York State considers allowing fracking, drilling operators may view Western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for their toxic wastewater.
Last year, Environment Massachusetts worked with Reps. Denise Provost and Peter Kocot to introduce a bill to prohibit fracking and the processing of fracking wastewater in Massachusetts. Environment Massachusetts delivered over 11,700 petition signatures against fracking, and released a report quantifying the impacts of fracking to air, water, and landscapes across the country.
In November, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture approved the bill (H.3796), which would create a ten-year moratorium on fracking and the processing of fracking wastewater in Massachusetts. Currently, the bill is before the House Committee on Ways and Means, the final step before it comes up for a vote of the full House of Representatives.
“It’s shocking to me that fracking proceeds virtually unregulated, in the face of evidence that it has causes damage to the environment and to public health in communities across the country,” said State Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville). “It’s up to us to make sure that Massachusetts is protected from fracking. That’s why I introduced a bill to keep fracking, as well as its toxic waste, out of Massachusetts, and why I urge my colleagues to act soon to approve H.3796.”
Despite its harmful impacts, fracking is exempt from key provisions of the nation’s leading public health and environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the law that regulates hazardous waste.
Environment Massachusetts delivered two separate letters today. The first, signed by 76 Massachusetts health professionals and hundreds more across the country, calls on President Obama to close loopholes that exempt fracking from national environmental and public health laws and declare sensitive areas—including places that provide drinking water for millions of Americans—off-limits to fracking. The second letter, signed by 46 health professionals, calls for state officials to ban fracking and the disposal of fracking wastewater in Massachusetts, in addition to federal action.
“The evidence is clear: across the country, fracking is making families sick, and it has no place in Massachusetts,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts. “We have the opportunity to protect our communities before the drilling ever starts here. Our legislators should act now to shut the door on fracking in Massachusetts by approving H.3796.”
Environment Massachusetts is a state-based, citizen-funded, environmental advocacy organization working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.environmentmassachusetts.org
Copies of the letters are available here: