I saw this “Perspective” piece in the New England Journal of Medicine … and I thought I recognized one of the authors’ names. Dr. Philip Landrigan is the Director of the Global Health program at Harvard’s School of Public Health; but he’s also the guy who (among others) fully documented the harm that lead was doing to kids’ health. His work led to the banning of lead paint, one of the most significant advances in public health in the 20th century. He also did epidemiological work on the aftermath of 9/11.
He’s one of the very top experts in children’s health. This guy’s words carry weight. And he makes exactly the same case that anti-gas activists are making in Weymouth, today:
But beneath this rosy narrative [of clean-burning gas] lies a more complex story. Gas is associated with health and environmental hazards and reduced social welfare at every stage of its life cycle.2 Fracking is linked to contamination of ground and surface water, air pollution, noise and light pollution, radiation releases, ecosystem damage, and earthquakes (see table). Transmission and storage of gas result in fires and explosions. The pipeline network is aging, inadequately maintained, and infrequently inspected. One or more pipeline explosions occur every year in the United States. In September 2018, a series of pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts caused more than 80 fires and explosions, damaged 131 homes, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, injured 25 people, including two firefighters, and killed an 18-year-old boy. Gas compressor stations emit toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. Wells, pipelines, and compressor stations are disproportionately located in low-income, minority, and marginalized communities, where they may leak gas, generate noise, endanger health, and contribute to environmental injustice while producing no local benefits. Gas combustion generates oxides of nitrogen that increase asthma risk and aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Compounding these hazards are the grave dangers that gas extraction and use pose to the global climate.3 Gas is a much more powerful driver of climate change than is generally recognized. As much as 4% of all gas produced by fracking is lost to leakage, and these releases appear to have contributed to recent sharp increases in atmospheric methane.4 Methane is a potent contributor to global warming, with a heat-trapping potential 30 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year span and 85 times greater over a 20-year span. Gas burned in stoves and boilers additionally contributes to global warming by generating carbon dioxide. Together, this evidence suggests that the purported advantage of gas over coal and oil has been greatly overstated.
You may have even heard some of these arguments being made, ad nauseum, at this very site.
This should put Governor Baker’s consistent efforts to expand gas infrastructure into stark perspective. Baker, and most of the state’s thought leaders on energy policy, been egregiously wrong for years. We’ve been telling him so. People on the South Shore have been telling him so. He’s not listening. He won’t even meet with people who are trying to tell him the plain facts as they are.
Governor Baker can ignore ordinary people with their ordinary eyes and ears, telling him the facts in front of their faces. Maybe he can’t ignore one of the great heroes of public health. Maybe Dr. Landrigan, a local guy, can try to get an “audience” with the Governor.