The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), along with more than 80 other health professionals , demands that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stop permitting oil and gas infrastructure and instead move toward more clean sustainable sources of energy to protect the health of people and the planet.
In an open letter to the FERC issued in September 2015, health professionals from across the country addressed some of the health issues associated with the construction of oil and gas projects. Unconventional fracking, gas pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals are associated with chemicals that can cause cancer and other diseases. Fracking and its related activities are essentially an uncontrolled health experiment destroying communities and risking the lives of residents. These projects can also cause harm to the workers who build and maintain them. For the health of all who are involved, the MNA and health professionals nationwide demand that this unethical “experiment” stop.
The MNA is also a member of the Massachusetts Health Care Providers against Fracked Gas, which opposes the associated infrastructure used to support the gas fracking process. This organization consists of members of various health care disciplines that have partnered to take action against fracking within local communities, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the nation as a whole and the planet. The group is calling for a moratorium on new gas pipeline infrastructure pending a comprehensive health impact assessment (CHIA). Until FERC agrees to stop permitting oil and gas infrastructure in every state, the MNA strongly supports using CHIAs to evaluate the health effects of fracking and related activities and to protect local communities.
It is clearly stated in An Analysis of State Health Impact Assessment Legislation that CHIAs follow a structured process that brings together public health expertise, scientific data, and stakeholder input to (1) identify potential health effects of a proposed policy, project, or plan, and (2) offer recommendations based on any possible risks or benefits identified in the study. CHIAs are used by legislators, public agency officials, academics, non-governmental organizations and industry to objectively evaluate a project or policy before it is built or implemented so that policy changes, design modifications, or other measures can be taken to optimize the health effects and mitigate health risks. It is with this understanding of the crucial role a CHIA can make that the MNA supports this as a necessary component to be included within an overall assessment of a proposed project .
There are critical areas regarding the role CHIAs can play concerning natural gas transport and infrastructure proposals that need to be addressed when reviewing applications for permits. A CHIA can be introduced and performed at various levels of policymaking and regulation. Often intimately related to environmental impacts, the objective of CHIA should be incorporated into an environmental impact statement (EIS), but often is not. Consequently, the typical EIS does not consider the human health impacts of the project nor the “description of the affected environment. ”
The American Public Health Association has stated that a public health perspective has been inadequately represented in policy processes related to High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). MNA does agree with the concept of proactive environmental policies that anticipate potential public health threats and require greater transparency using a precautionary approach in the face of uncertainty. The MNA calls for policies that allow and provide monitoring and adaptation toward the prevention of potential public health harm as the understanding of risks increases in an effort to significantly reduce the negative public health impacts of this approach to natural gas extraction .
The processes involved in HVHF raise questions about the consequences and impact to public health and the environment. Areas of specific apprehension are ground and surface water contamination, climate change, air pollution and worker exposures to toxins used during the fracking process. All areas have significant risks to public health and the environment .
MNA acknowledges the importance of using a CHIA in that it adds to the review process an in-depth and systemic approach that uses “an array of data sources and analytic methods and considers input from stakeholders to determine the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program or project on the health of population and the distribution of those effects within the population .”
In conclusion, nurses understand and value the use of CHIAs because nurses achieve excellent patient outcomes through the use of patient assessments in their daily practice of nursing. The MNA therefore recommends the public health tool CHIA be utilized to evaluate any proposed fracked gas-related projects as part of an environmental health impact study. As long as the federal government continues to permit these projects – against the advice of health professionals – the health of local residents, workers and communities should be considered and protected.