Fracking is a hostage exchange program. Only the carcinogens go free.
"Shale development has been a nightmare for those exposed to the resulting pollution."—Food and Water Europe, Fracking: The New Global Water Crisis Fact Sheet
Why should cancer patients in the U.S. and Canada—and those who love or diagnose them—care about a report about looming water shortages in distant countries such as South Africa and Argentina?
The report is Fracking: The New Global Water Crisis. Written by Food and Water Watch, it documents the many ways in which the technology called hydraulic fracturing threatens the world's vital water resources. That's because fracking—when combined with horizontal drilling—uses prodigious amounts of water as a high-pressure hose to blow apart bedrock. The goal is to liberate the wisps of oil or bubbles of gas trapped inside.
The gas or oil flows up and out of the bore hole. But in the process, the water used to free it becomes caught within the fractured rock. Entombed a mile or more below the water table, this water is removed from the Earth's hydrologic cycle and now resides in the geological underworld. Permanently.
It will never again fall as rain. Or irrigate a field. Or cap a mountain with snow. Or flow through an aqueduct to a city full of people with sinks and bathtubs and teakettles and toothbrushes.
In essence, fracking is a hostage exchange program—to release fossil fuel from the subterranean grip of limestone or shale, water takes its place.
To be sure, some portion of the water used for fracking does return to the surface once the pressure is released. But the flowback water is now contaminated in ways that make it undrinkable. And the technology to make it pristine again does not exist. So it's ruined.
Moreover, it's poisonous enough to necessitate permanent containment somewhere. This problem has no good solution. ("Potential disposal options... are currently unclear," concludes one official analysis.)
Just to review—Fresh water is not the 99 percent. Most of the planet's water is salty. A mere thimbleful—one percent—of the world's aquatic resources is available to us as liquid, drinkable water. Global climate change is quickly siphoning away that slim amount, putting us on track for widespread water shortages.
Meanwhile, millions of gallons of water are required for each horizontally fracked well. And fracking is under way or under consideration in nations all around the world, including Argentina, China, Poland and South Africa.
According to the new report from Food and Water Watch, fracking will only exacerbate the global water crisis and, were this technology to continue its advance across the world, could actually drive it.
The whole situation sounds urgently concerning. But maybe not urgently concerning in a personal way, especially if you are leading an overscheduled, complicated life full of other things to worry about. For example, if you are waiting for results from the last biopsy, or fasting for a colonoscopy, or fighting with your insurance company (and I myself have done all three in the last month), Fracking: The New Global Water Crisis might not rise to the top of your reading list.
But it should. Because woven throughout its carefully footnoted pages as a thoughtful subplot is a description of the human cancer risks posed by extreme fossil fuel extraction. It's one of the best summaries I've seen.
Some of the cancer risk from fracking comes from the thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals that are added to the millions of gallons of fracking water to make it slick or to kill off bacteria. Indeed, potential carcinogens make up 25 percent of the chemical additives used in fracking operations. Sometimes, through leaks, blow-outs, or surface spills, these chemicals migrate into water not intended for fracking.
As detailed in the report, fracking has been implicated in the contamination of surface and groundwater supplies across the U.S. In Pennsylvania, more than 8,000 gallons of fracking fluid containing a suspected carcinogen spilled into a waterway. In Parker County, Texas, fracked gas wells poisoned a drinking water aquifer with benzene and methane. Likewise, in Pavillion, Wyo., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene in groundwater and wells. Benzene exposure is strongly associated with childhood leukemia.
Think about that the next time you're asked to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Some of the cancer risk from fracking comes from the release of naturally occurring chemicals found deep in the earth. One of them is radium-226, which is as radioactive as its name implies. Of more than 240 fracked gas wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, almost three-fourths produced wastewater with elevated levels of radiation.
Mull that over the next time you're glancing at the pamphlets on breast cancer in your gynecologist's office and encounter a phrase like exposure to ionizing radiation increases your risk for breast cancer.
Bromides are another naturally occurring substance unearthed by fracking. The cancer risk here is created when fracking wastewater is run through sewage treatment plants, enters rivers and streams, and then is subsequently chlorinated for drinking water downstream. The bromides combine with organic matter to create brominated trihalomethanes, which are well-described carcinogens linked to both bladder and colon cancer.
Ponder that the next time you prep for a colonoscopy or climb up on the urologist's table for a cystoscopic exam.
Carcinogens can also evaporate from frack wastewater and become air pollutants. When volatile organic chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde, combine with diesel exhaust from the heavy machinery and fleets of tanker trucks that haul the water to the well sites, the result is smog—ground-level ozone—which can travel hundreds of miles on prevailing winds. Ozone is not a carcinogen per se, but animal studies show that, because it creates inflammation, it can raise the risk for metastases. Moreover, diesel exhaust is, all by itself, a probable lung carcinogen.
Meditate on that while lying in the MRI machine.
As the new fracking report makes clear, it's extremely difficult to establish links between individual diagnoses and particular chemicals used, released or created by fracking operations. Nevertheless, when carcinogens are released into the common environment, an ongoing public health and environmental experiment is set in motion, and people are placed in harm's way, often without their consent. Moreover, as the report goes on to say, "many of these problems are inherent to the process and cannot be avoided through regulation."
On this basis, Bulgaria and France have both enacted nationwide bans on fracking. Vigorous public protest contributed to both of these decisions and led the French environment minister to concede, "We have seen the results in the U.S. There are risks for the water tables and these are risks we don't want to take."
As a bladder cancer survivor, I don't want to take these risks either. So here's where cancer patients come in. Even with one hand tied to the chemotherapy drip, we can write letters and make phone calls. All together, we are a mighty coalition with a towering pile of medical bills. We can send a powerful message. Here's an example:
Fracking, a leading contributor to The New Global Water Crisis, threatens to exacerbate The Old Global Cancer Crisis, which is a really expensive problem (see attached invoice from my radiologist). We cancer survivors, who know something about the preciousness and fragility of life, hereby declare that the exchange of life-giving water for death-dealing fossil fuel is unacceptable. It's holding us all hostage.
We do not consent to the delivery of our drinking water into the radioactive bowels of the earth. We will not negotiate with those who think that additional cases of leukemia, bladder, colon and lung cancer are just part of the price you pay for gas. Tear up the ransom note. Find another energy plan. Set a sustainable course.
For extra emphasis, place the call from your oncologist's office. Hit the send button while the IV drip is being changed. Add a plastic hospital wrist bracelet to the envelope. Or a collage constructed of ultrasound images. Or a lock of hair—the one that fell out in the shower shortly after the treatments began. Speaking out takes many forms.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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Hurricane forecasters predict the 2020 hurricane season will be the second-most active in nearly four decades.
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