Much research has been done on the effects of “natural gas”on climate change. Natural gas causes 80 to 100 times more heating of the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Recently, even more studies are researching the health effects associated with the emissions from fracking, leakage, andcombustion ofnatural gas.
Martha Klein, the former Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut explains that natural gas is 97% methane, and when a person is exposed to a rawmethaneleak, they can develop nosebleeds and headaches as well as more chronic problems like asthma and respiratory problems, cancer and birth defects. This is due to methane’s influence on cell production. Humans who rapidly turn over their cells, such as fetuses and children, are affected most drastically by exposure to methane. In a study done in rural Colorado, mothers who lived within a 10-mile radius of a fracking methanewell had a 30% greater chance of having babies with acongenital heart defect than mothers who lived more than 10 miles away from a well.
One of the chemicals found in natural gas is benzene, a carcinogen harmful to humans. Benzene is common to all fossil fuels and has been known to kill workers in the natural gas industry.
One of the most problematic substances associated with natural gas combustion is particulate matter (PM). One study concluded that exposure of pregnant women to PM, which can come from power plants, was associated with greater odds of a child having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), especially when the woman was exposed during the third trimester. Further, in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), it was concluded thatsignificantly worse cognitive decline was experienced in older women when exposed to PMand PM at levels typically experienced by many individuals in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that PM causes non-fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. The EPA does not mention the source of the PM, but it is well known that natural gas power plants emit PM. Today’s government is in denial about the negative health effects associated with the burning, drilling for, and leakage of natural gas.
Fracking, a currently popular practice for extracting natural gas from the ground, pollutes groundwater and puts people who depend on wells at risk. Many times, it is obvious when water from a tap is polluted because its turbidity will be high, but what if it had low turbidity with traces of fracking slurry in the water? A person could be drinking that water without knowing it was contaminated.
Klein says methane leaks are grossly underestimated by the industry and state regulators. Natural gas power plants produce PM, carbon dioxide, and other air pollutants in addition to methane. The fact that methane produces less particulate matter when it is burned relative to coal and oil does not compensate for the devastating effect it has on the atmosphere and, consequently, on climate change.
The public-health impact ofclimate change and the future health care costs have not been calculated in the long-term environmental and economic effects of fracked gas use.Considering the long-term health consequences, gas is the wrong choice as a “bridge” fuel.Natural gas is bad any way you slice it, and better governmental policies—including increased energy efficiencies and renewable power—are required to shift the tide and protect our communities.