THE SOURCE OF THIS DISTURBING REPORT ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF FRACKING IS HIGHLY CREDIBLE
WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION—DO WE KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING WITH THIS WORLD OF OURS—AND DO WE CARE?
Economists have a word for the incidental costs of financial transactions which are not specifically paid for within the framework of the transaction itself.
Such costs are an ‘externality.’
Economists are, arguably, one of the worst professions at coming up with terminology. They have a habit of taking a perfectly good word like ‘rent’ whose meaning is as clear as daylight to most normal human beings—and of using it for an entirely different meaning in such a way as to be both counter-intuitive and confusing. They are terrible communicators.
Yes, I am not unaware of the irony that I am both an economist—and a professional communicator.
What is ‘rent’ in economic terms? There are several definitions. The one I like—from Wikipedia—is as follows:
According to Robert Tollison (1982), economic rents are "excess returns" above the "normal levels" that are generated in competitive markets. More specifically, a rent is "a return in excess of the resource owner's opportunity cost".
Just an example. Back to the joys of externalities.
Externalities are normally a side-effect—and, not infrequently, a serious and costly one. They are largely regarded (by the originators) as of scant concern, and pretty-much dismissed, or accepted as a cost of doing business, but they represent an innate weakness of capitalism—and one we are going to have to deal with sooner or later.
The current reality is that we rarely consider the truce costs of a great many things—particularly where commerce is concerned. We count the immediate costs to us—whether we are manufacturers or service providers—and that is about it. But most actions have wider consequences. Considered in total, their impact can be devastating.
Climate change is just such an example. We take the climate for granted but we are learning that we shouldn’t—and that mankind, in total, can, and does, affect it.
Packaging is an ‘externality.’ The costs of producing and applying it are normally included in the overall price of the product it contains—but the cost of disposing of the packaging (which is significant) is not.
The pollution from a coal-fired power station is an ‘externality.’ It inhibits breathing and can kill—does kill in many cases—yet no one is accountable.
The run-off from pesticides and herbicides, which so pollutes our rivers, lakes, and oceans—to the point of rendering large areas lifeless—is an externality.
Traffic pollution—which is so ubiquitous that we are scarcely aware of it—is an externality. It is both harmful to humans, and damaging to the environment. We accept it as a trade off for the convenience of cars and trucks—but should we? I doubt whether many of us have much idea of the issues involved.
I don’t profess to know all the ins and outs in relation to fracking, but, based upon my reading, it seems absolutely clear that it can be harmful in some situations, and under some conditions. What I do not have the data to assess is the scale of all this.
What I can say, with certainty, is that it should be entirely unacceptable to inject vast quantities of material into the ground without even declaring exactly what you are doing. For a corporation to say whatever is being used is ‘safe’ is not sufficient.
As it happens, they are beginning to frack in the countryside surrounding the town where I now live—and I’m decidedly uneasy about it. I’m not blindly against it. We need energy. But, I find the secrecy unacceptable—and the whole thing somewhat unsettling..
Study Links Fracking To Premature Births, High-Risk Pregnancies
BY SAMANTHA PAGE OCT 9, 2015 8:00AM
Women who live near fracking wells were 40 percent more likely to have a preterm birth, a new study found.
A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has linked hydraulic fracturing — the process of pumping chemical-laced water into shale to extract the oil or gas embedded within — to premature births and high-risk pregnancies.
Preterm births were 40 percent higher among women who lived in areas of intense drilling and fracking operations, and these women’s pregnancies were 30 percent more likely to be considered “high-risk,” the authors found.
Preterm birth — when a baby is born earlier than the 37th week of pregnancy — is associated with a range of medical problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Being born premature is linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision impairments. In addition, preterm-related causes of death are the single leading cause of infant deaths, the CDC reports, accounting for 35 percent of infant deaths in 2010. Preterm birth can cause long-term neurological disabilities.
“The growth in the fracking industry has gotten way out ahead of our ability to assess what the environmental and, just as importantly, public health impacts are,” study leader Brian S. Schwartz, MD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, said in a statement.
In the past decade, fracking has experienced a boom across the United States, from Pennsylvania, where this study took place, to North Dakota, Texas, and California.
Production of natural gas from shale grew nearly seven-fold in the United States from 2007 to 2014.
“More than 8,000 unconventional gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania alone,” Schwartz said. “We’re allowing this while knowing almost nothing about what it can do to health. Our research adds evidence to the very few studies that have been done in showing adverse health outcomes associated with the fracking industry.”
Indeed, studies on fracking have linked the process to a number of concerns. Preliminary researchfrom Colorado and Pennsylvania had already pointed to low birth weights. More generally, a Yale study found that people who live near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions.
Researchers in Texas found higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water near fracking sites. Researchers at Duke found that wastewater, produced by both conventional and unconventional oil drilling, has high volumes of elements that basically turn into chemical cleaning agents when mixed with other pollutants.
The most comprehensive water contamination study is likely an EPA report, which concluded earlier this year that fracking has not led to “widespread, systemic” water contamination. However, the agency did find several specific instances of contamination from fracking and concluded that fracking creates several key vulnerabilities that could potentially undermine the health of drinking water in the United States.
“Fracking is a public health disaster unfolding before our very eyes,” Dr. Gina Angiola, a board member of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, said in a statement. “A premature birth can lead to a lifetime of health problems and expenses. Families suffer, while industry profits. Unacceptable.”