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Research shows that fracking can be mitigated by a coordinated effort, while simultaneously protecting the environment and humans.

Research shows that fracking can be mitigated by a coordinated effort, while simultaneously protecting the environment and humans.

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The traditional division of efforts to mitigate the potentially dangerous effects of fracking has been along two fronts: those that primarily focus on protecting wildlife and the environment, and those that are focused on protecting domestic animals and humans.

It doesn’t need to be this way. A March 30 commentary in BioscienceA trio of environmental scientists, ecologists, and public health experts urge a holistic approach to evaluating and assessing the impacts of unconventional oil and gas production operations like fracking. They also outline a framework for future cross-disciplinary collaboration and integrated decision making that they believe will result in more just and comprehensive solutions that protect the environment, animals, and people.

“Policymakers and researchers often focus on one domain, while they are actually interconnected,” said Nicole Deziel Ph.D., the paper’s lead author and an associate Professor of Epidemiology (environmental Health Sciences), Environment and Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale University. “This paper offers strategies to encourage a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to oil and gas extraction and their impacts.

Liba Pejchar, Ph.D., a professor at Colorado State University and senior author of the study, is collaborating with Deziel. Bhavna Shamasunder, Ph.D., is an associate professor, chair of Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and cochair of the Department of Public Health at Occidental College.

The paper, entitled “Synergies of unconventional oil and natural gas development on wildlife and human well-being,” was created by an inter-disciplinary collaboration that Deziel attended during a workshop about the community impacts of oil/gas development. Pejchar and Shamasunder’s presentations fascinated her, and she discussed the similarities in their perspectives on a long bus ride to a well pad. Deziel said that this spontaneous interaction highlights the value of conferences that have representatives from different disciplines. This was one of the paper’s recommendations.

Hydraulic drilling, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a method to extract gas and oil from shale. The process involves injecting water and chemicals into the bedrock at high temperatures. This allows for oil and gas to flow into wells and then be collected for sale.

Fracking is a widely used method in the United States. This has raised concerns about its effects on the environment and the health of the people who use it. The process generates large quantities of wastewater, emits greenhouse gasses like methane, produces toxic air pollutants, and generates noise. Studies have shown that oil and gas operations can cause loss of habitats for animals and plants, species decline, migratory disruptions, and land degradation. They are also associated with health risks for humans. Studies have shown a link between residential proximity and adverse pregnancy outcomes and cancer incidence, hospitalizations, asthma, and higher rates of asthma. Some fracking-related activities have been located near low-resource communities, increasing their environmental and social injustices.

The authors describe in their paper how past protections, however well-intentioned they may have been, have sometimes favored one group (the environment and wildlife, for example) at the expense or vice versa (humans and domestic pets) Deziel used buffers and setbacks as an example. By preventing oil and gas drilling within a certain distance from homes, schools, and other community domains, setbacks are intended to protect human health. This approach can be harmful to animal habitats and shift the threat from humans towards animals and the natural environment. Buffers can be used in the same way, but with the goal of protecting wildlife and sensitive areas. However, it would be safer for both animals and people to limit drilling.

Deziel stated that “the solutions are not being dealt with in an integrative manner.” “It is important to protect vulnerable populations as we make solutions. We should also be aware of the effects on the ecosystem and the ecological realm for their intrinsic value.

The authors recommend that practitioners and scientists adopt a more integrated approach that encompasses both conservation and public health. They also recommend that scientists and practitioners focus more on populations and regions that are historically marginalized or underrepresented. They cite One HealthAs an example of how a broad range of collaborations can work, see the initiatives One Health is a multi-sectoral, collaborative and transdisciplinary concept that aims to optimize human health outcomes and address infectious diseases. It also recognizes the interconnectedness of people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.

Deziel expressed hope that the paperand its recommendations will inspire future collaborations across ecology, social science, public health, and other fields, and encourage more inclusive decision making that includes input from individuals and organizations directly affected.

Study shows toxins found in wastewater and fracking fluids

More information:
Nicole C Deziel and colleagues, Synergies and Tradeoffs in Reducing Unconventional Oil and Gas Development’s Impacts on Wildlife and Human Health BioScience (2022). DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biac014

See Also

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Yale School of Public Health

Research (2022, March 30).
Retrieved 30 March 2022

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