A dramatic billboard went up last week at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in which a group of BC doctors and nurses asked “How healthy is natural gas?”
They provided their own one-sided answer to that question in a news release that announced: “Today, physicians and nurses are raising the alarm—and billboards—over the significant harms to human health and climate change caused by natural gas extraction and use in BC.”
How representative are these campaigners of their professions? The new doctors’ and nurses’ initiative in BC is signed by 36 people who identify themselves as doctors (out of the more than 6,300 in BC) and by 16 who say they are nurses (out of the more than 38,000 in the province.)
Their climate-change argument we’ll leave up to you. We noted in our newsletter last week that the United Nations has called for “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” but there are numerous predictions that world demand for LNG and natural gas will grow steadily for decades.
And the International Energy Agency says that, over the last decade, switching to natural gas from coal has saved around 500 million tonnes of CO2 – an effect equivalent to putting an extra 200 million electric vehicles running on zero-carbon electricity on the road over the same period.
As for alleged health effects, the news release from the BC doctors and nurses cited no scientific studies, merely unspecified “local reports from physicians” that linked claimed increased rates of cancer, lung disease and negative pregnancy outcomes to nearby fracking.
But a study from the B.C. Cancer Registry in 2020 examined cancer rates in the South Peace River region, and found the incidence of cancer was normal. “The number of total cancers diagnosed in this region are consistent with Northern Health regional rates. . . . Overall cancer incidence over the past 10 years in this region is consistent with average cancer rates in Northern BC.”
And the Canadian Energy News Network, moving to set the record straight, noted that studies by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that chronic exposures during production operations — even very close to an oil or gas well — were in the “safe” levels of exposure.
The BC activists said fracking and its infrastructure “use vast quantities of freshwater.” But the BC Oil and Gas Commission says water-use approvals, and water licenses, account for only 0.003% of the total volume of mean annual runoff in northeast BC. (And much water used comes from recycling or is saline water from underground.)
The doctors and nurses protest that natural-gas extraction and transportation processes “overtake BC’s valuable farmland.” The latest number on land-use from the BC Oil and Gas Commission was in 2013, when it reported that less than half of one per cent of the total area of Northeastern B.C. is used for natural gas production and pipelines.
The commission regulates land-use, too: “We ensure operators plan oil and gas, and geothermal activities, to avoid and/or minimize impacts to the land, mitigate impacts where no realistic opportunity exists to avoid, and restore the impacted area to its pre-development conditions at the end of a project.”
The commission adds: “Directional and horizontal drilling used in unconventional technologies is reducing the effects of new development on plants and wildlife since companies can locate operations where there is less impact. . . . Ultimately, natural succession and reclamation will restore the surface area used to a biologically functional state.”
This is the second such publicity campaign by the doctors of the Canadian Association of Physicians for Environment, CAPE.
The first was in 2019, and it was taken apart by Blair King, a BC scientist well known online as “a chemist in Langley.”
King’s 2019 blog raked the CAPE campaign for “bad epidemiology” consisting of “a small number of practitioners presenting their anecdotal observations to the public.”
King continued: “The anecdotal experiences of the people in the roadshow are trumped by the epidemiological work done to date in BC’s northeast and that any decision on the future of BC LNG should be based on science and not anecdotes. . . .
“The thing we have to keep reminding ourselves is that a presentation that includes a lot of compelling stories is of little use in determining if the LNG industry is safe.
“For that you need epidemiological research and the epidemiological work to date identifies no cancer hot-spots in need of more detailed assessment.”
Looks as if CAPE and CANE take the cake for flaws. And for another example, their biased billboard below shows the “flaring” of natural gas from several stacks. That’s not what happens in BC, thanks to the BC Oil and Gas Commission: http://ow.ly/Epm750FTqB1