What do gas stoves and home heating systems Have in common?

Many of them run on natural gas. But what many people don't know is that this "natural" gas is a health hazard — for families in BC who live beside the LNG-fracking industry that produces it, for people who burn it in their homes, and for the climate change that warms our planet.

As doctors and nurses who care for communities across western Canada, we say: it's time we talk about the health effects of natural gas.

What is "Natural" Gas?

Natural gas is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases mostly composed of methane. However, despite being branded as "natural", natural gas is a fossil fuel, like coal, oil and gasoline. It fills the air with greenhouse gases and pollutants when it burns.

Two of North America's largest natural gas reserves are located in British Columbia, deep underground.

In BC, natural Gas is Fracked Gas

To access gas deposits in BC, fossil fuel companies must use a polluting technique called hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," to crack the earth open.

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Fracking begins with the drilling of a long vertical or angled well that can extend several kilometres into the earth

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As the well nears rock formations where the natural gas deposits are, drilling gradually turns horizontal

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A slurry of chemicals, sand and fluid is then pumped in under high pressure to create fractures in the surrounding rock

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Gas then flows to the surface for gathering, processing, and transportation

Across northeastern BC, more than 20,000 fracking wells fracture the land, with more wells being built everyday.

Forests and farmland are being destroyed by fracking infrastructure. In fact, access roads, well pads, water hubs, pipelines, compressor stations, gas plants and waste disposal in BC cover five times as much land as Alberta tar sands mines.

Fracking is a Major Health Threat

The process of fracking is deeply polluting. It poisons the air, contaminates the water, and imperils the life of those living close by the well.

Findings from more than 1,700 studies, articles, and reports show that fracking activities are associated with a host of health problems including birth defects, cancer and asthma. It is no wonder that fracking is banned in several countries (including France, Germany, the UK) and provinces (including Quebec and New Brunswick).

Click Here to Read CAPE's Health Report on Fracking

A typical multi-well pad in Northeastern BC

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Cough, shortness of breath and wheezing are the most common complaints of residents living near fracked wells. Toxic gases like benzene and radon are released from the rock by fracking.

Similarly, a toxic waste brew of water and chemicals is often stored in open pits, releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. Fracking wells also leak volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which cause asthma, cancer, and severe illness.

Each fracking well pollutes up to 10 million litres of  fresh water that can never be consumed again. Fracking in BC pollutes half a million water trucks worth of freshwater each year and the industry's footprint is five times that of Alberta’s tar sands mines.

Harmful chemicals including BTEX chemicals and heavy metals like mercury and lead have contaminated agricultural areas near fracking operations.  Exposure can occur from eating produce grown on contaminated soil, or by consuming animals that consumed contaminated feed.

Fracking chemicals are harmful to pregnant women and their developing babies. Researchers have found endocrine-disrupting chemicals in surface waters near wastewater disposal sites and evidence of increased levels of the carcinogen benzene in the  blood of pregnant women. These types of chemicals can hurt the developing fetus.

A 2019 study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that women living closer to a greater number of fracking wells had a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.

B.C.'s Peace region is experiencing roughly 1,500 small earthquakes a year and most of them are connected to fracking operations. In parts of BC, a total of 439 earthquakes up to 4.6 magnitude were associated with fracking between 2013 and 2019.

Scientific research indicates that fracking can cause earthquakes in two ways:
(1) By fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults.
(2) By the disposal of fracking wastewater via underground injection.

"I have some patients whose symptoms I can't explain. There's one, an older farmer. His farm was surrounded by wells. Shortly after the flares went up he developed episodes where he would suddenly pass out ...,I can't make the industry go away, but they should have to comply with strong regulations."

Dr. Ulrike Meyer, Family Physician in Dawson Creek

"I worked at the Unist'ot'en Camp — along the path of the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline — for eight years. That place is a beacon of hope for people who are trying to stand up for the environment"

Head Chief Smolgelgem, Wet'suwet'en Nation

"We moved to Dawson Creek to be closer to nature and raise our children in a small town — we love the outdoors. But we went from a country lifestyle to all of a sudden semis blowing stop signs and big drill rigs almost running you over during school bus times. We had a little piece of Heaven, and now it's all gas and flare stack" 

Karen Hosford, Environmental Scientists, BC

"There are five well sites within 1.5 km of our house. There's lots of flaring in the middle of the night that wakes you up, like a 747 taking off. When I hear ads saying, "Put in a fireplace and cook with natural gas," I don't think they're grasping the full reality of the impacts on the environment and us."

Brain Derfler, Third-generation Farmer
Farmington BC

Natural Gas is Also A Climate Disaster

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year span—in other words, it has enormous short-term impacts on our climate.

While gas itself is less carbon-intensive than coal when burned, methane leaks at every stage of its use. If enough methane leaks during its production, its greenhouse gas advantages are wiped out. Recent studies have suggested that, yes, methane leakage is bad enough to make natural gas the greenhouse equivalent of coal.

BC'S Government & Natural Gas

In 2020-21, BC’s government spent $1.3 billion on fossil fuel subsidies — 8.3 percent more than the previous year. Rather than decrease over time, these subsidies are estimated to surpass $1.8 billion in 2023-24—more than triple what the previous government spent in 2016-17.

The largest single source of this increase is the Deep Well Royalty Program, a tax loophole for fracking operators, which is projected to cost taxpayers $421 million this year. The outstanding liability fracking companies have amassed through unused Deep Well Royalty Credits has grown to $3.1 billion.

Invest in a Healthy future for BC

If Canada succeeds in its efforts to maintain a safe and healthy climate, fracking and LNG will not be viable industries in 30 years.It is time to have an honest conversation as a province about what comes next. Across the region, there are companies and communities that are already well on their way to building an economy that will last. We need to have a conversation in BC—between stakeholders including government, Indigenous Nations, health organizations and industry—about how we all will thrive in a future without fracking or LNG.

Our Asks

As doctors and nurses working in British Columbia, we ask the following changes to be implemented in order to guarantee a healthy and sustainable future for our province

A Moratorium on Fracking

Due to its immense health harms for the people living nearby the wells and its impact on the planet, the provincial government needs to put a moratorium on fracking in BC.

Invest in Zero Emissions Buildings

Invest in retraining programs and mobilize workers to build affordable zero emissions buildings, and retrofit all existing buildings for zero emissions.

Ensure a just transition

Support workers and Indigenous communities impacted by LNG production in a just transition. Provide financial support for retraining, and guarantee zero emissions jobs.

End fossil fuel subsidies

End all fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidies as defined by the World Trade Organization include: direct spending, tax breaks, transfer of risk, and public finance,

We Need Your Help

Implementing these changes in BC won't be easy. We are up against a number of fossil companies who spend millions each year lobbying our provincial and federal government. But together we can make a difference in fighting climate change and fracking. Sign up below to stay updated on our campaign and ways to help out.

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