Laird Cagan, MD

Health effects of fracking worrisome

Laird Cagan, MD

As a physician practicing in Longmont for the last 20 years and 10 years before that in California, I am worried about the effects of fracking in our community.

Admittedly fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a fractious issue (pun from “Science News”). I have an interest in the problem and have done some research, but I do not claim to be an expert. I recognize that the United States needs the methane energy locked in the deep-seated shale, energy that can be tapped via fracking. However, the need for energy must be balanced against the health of our community.

There are two significant ways fracking can affect the health of Longmont residents. Methane can get into surface water as part of the fracking process, and this has been proven to occur in scientific studies (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, S.G. Osborn et al, May 17, 2011). In the water, methane can act as a toxic substance causing headaches, stomach problems and other ills. Methane can also pollute the air, where it can cause respiratory illness. Methane in the air is also 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the environment. (Science News, Sept. 8, 2012, Volume 182, No. 5, pp 20-25).

Secondly, fracking fluids come back to the surface as waste water. A 2011 report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee identified 25 of the fracking chemicals as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act, nine as regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and 14 as known possible carcinogens (Science News). Furthermore, accidental and/or intentional dumping of the waste water has damaged forests and killed fish (Science News).

So with these dangers, would not federal, state and local governments protect us with regulation of the fracking process? Well, no. Fracking is not regulated to the standard of most other industries, perhaps because of the nation’s need for energy. As a result, fracking can be done almost anywhere without regard to public health, such as in the city of Longmont.

My recommendation is to support Ballot Question 300 to ban fracking in Longmont (and the same should be done in all populated areas).

For the longer term, more scientific study is needed and robust regulation of the industry must be pursued.

Laird Cagan, M.D., is a Longmont resident and is a member of an internal medicine practice in the city.