A fantastic display of people power this week outside #dirtyAGL‘s AGM in the CBD to call out the climate criminal and remind it we are not going away.
Special thanks to 350.org, GetUp!, Lock the Gate, Ecopella and all the speakers for driving the points home and making it so fun.
Our message to AGL is to do the right thing and walk away — now — from coal and gas!
AGL AGM Rally, Angel Place, Sydney
28th September 2016
Dr Helen Redmond, Doctors for the Environment Australia
I’ve been asked to talk to you about health impacts of air pollution from unconventional gas development.
Air pollution is just one of the major health impacts of unconventional gas. Others include water impacts, land-use and degradation, underground chemical injection, and climate change.
Doctors for the Environment Australia has for years now held the view that the current assessment, monitoring and regulation of the unconventional gas industry in Australia are inadequate to protect the health of current and future generations.
We hold the position that the risks are so potentially serious, so difficult to manage and so likely to be long-lived, that any further development of this industry in Australia has to be seen as unwise and unhealthy.
There is still much unknown about health impacts, but in the last few years there has been a rapid rise in peer reviewed research on health and UG – nearly 700 papers in total. Most comes from the US where over 15 million people live within a mile of at least one active gas well.
Population health studies have now been possible. What is emerging is a correlation between proximity and density of wells and negative public health impacts. 3 studies report negative birth outcomes: low birthweight, preterm, and birth defects. Another finds higher well density associated with increased cardiac and neurological hospital admissions. In another, gas activity near patient homes was associated with increased asthma attacks.
An analysis of gas and air pollution papers published in the last 5 years shows the vast majority report increased atmospheric concentrations of pollutants.
These air pollutants include methane, hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, also known as VOC’s. They can be released during drilling, methane separation, from the venting of wells, from holding tanks, holding ponds, compressors, diesel trucks and machinery.
Benzene is a VOC, part of the BTEX group including Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene. BTEX is found in petroleum compounds and in coal and shale formations. Benzene is a group 1 carcinogen so there is no ‘safe’ level of exposure. Benzene exposure also occurs from cigarette smoke, traffic and aircraft exhaust. So we are all exposed to some extent, but effects are dose dependent. Benzene increases cancer risk, the risk of leukaemia, causes problems with blood cell production and immunity. Gas workers, children, pregnant women and the elderly or immunocompromised are at most risk.
Natural gas is largely all methane, a colourless, odourless gas. At concentrations of over 5% it is flammable, and at concentrations over 15% it can reduce blood oxygen levels and cause asphyxiation. In open air, levels are too low to cause any direct impact on health, but during gas extraction methane may leak out of equipment, pipes or through natural formations such as the ground or water ways. We call these “fugitive emissions” and they can affect health in 2 ways.
Firstly, the methane and VOC’s mix with diesel pollution in the presence of heat and sunlight to create ground-level ozone.
Ozone affects even healthy lungs, causing inflammation, reduced lung function and increased respiratory symptoms. Exposure to ozone is linked to increases in death rates, hospital admissions and emergency department attendances , mainly for breathing problems. Asthmatics are particularly vulnerable and ozone can trigger asthma symptoms and worsen chronic lung disease.
Secondly, methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and climate change is widely acknowledged as the greatest global health threat we face this century.
Studies of fugitive emissions show the amount of gas leakage in the order of 1 – 5% but you only need 2-4% to wipe out any benefit gas has over coal in terms of climate impact.
At the recent COAG meeting of energy ministers, Frydenberg emphasised ‘the growing importance of gas as a transition fuel’ and all states including NSW committed to expanding onshore gas extraction. They are dreaming. We’ve proved over and over again, communities won’t let that happen! And doctors won’t let that happen! This is a deeply unpopular industry, and for very good reasons.
With climate change upon us we don’t have time for a transition fuel, but nor do we need one! We have cleaner and healthier alternatives right now.
The risks are so potentially serious, so difficult to manage and so likely to be long -lived, that any further development of unconventional gas in this country has to be seen as unwise and unhealthy.
Speech for AGL AGM 28 September, 2016
for the Knitting Nannas Against Gas firstname.lastname@example.org 0408 233 094
AGL – a destroyer of dreams…. Imagine you’re a young couple, either with small children, or about to start your family; and you find the home of your dreams in a new estate near Camden, the price is right, fresh country air, close to shops and amenities, perfect for bringing up a family. There may have been the mention of coal seam gas wells, but if you ask you’re told “they’re not a problem “world’s best practice”– nothing to worry about”. So you scrimp together the money for a deposit, mortgage your life away and move in.
But the dream turns into a nightmare – your children unaccountably start having frequent severe nose bleeds that gush out like a ruptured artery; children and adults alike are suffering chronic headaches and hay-fever like symptoms; your hair starts falling out …… which is when you discover that there is nothing benign about living in a coal seam gasfield..
The possible health effects of living in a gas field can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, coughs, seizures, nose bleeds, dermatitis, skin rashes, nose and throat irritations, burning and irritated eyes, difficulty breathing, genetic defects, to say nothing of the associated psychological issues. Children and older people are the most likely to be affected.
There are 90 gas wells in the Camden gasfield, some only between 40 to 200 meters from family homes and schools, as the 2 kilometre exclusion zone does not apply to CSG wells that had already been approved. Some houses have horizontal drilling underneath them.
AGL’s first leak detection report on the Camden Gas project in 2013, showed 9 of its CSG wells to be leaking. Their second leak detection report in 2014 showed 11 leaking, and the report for 2015 showed that 19 were leaking – 1 “significant” leak (over 50,000 parts per million methane) and 10 “major” gas leaks (10,000 – 50,000 parts per million methane). As you can see the number of leaking wells is continuing to rise.
According to a CSIRO report for the NSW Chief Scientist, odourless methane poses two potential hazards: as an asphyxiant displacing oxygen needed to breath, and being flammable at sufficient concentrations.
Dr Anthony Ingraffea, Distinguished Professor of Engineering from Cornell University, has cited industry figures that say 6.5% of all well casings fail initially, leading to methane migration. 60% fail over 20 years. They ALL fail over time. Why doesn’t the industry fix this systemic problem? BECAUSE THEY CAN’T!
In Queensland, QGC dismisses the families experiencing problems caused by living in the gasfields around Chinchilla and Tara as “collateral damage”.
AGL must be aware of the problems, but continually maintain that the wells pose no health problems to families in the area. They have announced that they will leave Camden in 2023, several years earlier than first planned. Australian Mothers Against Gas has collected over 10,000 signatures on petitions, urging AGL to close its Camden operation. But the company refuses to accept or acknowledge them. They have also refused to give a schedule of when the wells will be decommissioned, or to respond to a request for information about which chemicals were leaked into the Nepean River during a flooding event in June this year, when some of the wells were submerged.
This is not good enough Mr Vesey. No family should have to suffer health effects in their own homes. You have the blood of children on your hands, AGL, but you CAN remedy it. You like to market the company as a “green” energy supplier – Prove it! (we won’t mention here that you’re Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter).
The Knitting Nannas challenge you, Mr Vesey, to show you mean it when you say you want a clean green company, by immediately announcing a schedule to start decommissioning the wells, and close down the Camden operation as soon as possible, certainly well before 2023.
The Knitting Nannas also challenge all AGL shareholders to add their voices to this request, and to ask Mr Vesey and the Board to make it a priority to speed up the withdrawal and closure of the Camden gasfield, so that the families living there no longer have to suffer the health problems they currently face.
Do it for the children – they are the ones who are being put at risk