Australians are turning against the fracking practice not because they are uneducated, but because the world wide evidence of fracking’s harmful effects continues to swell. In just the last few months, a Duke University study linked fracking to elevated levels of methane, ethane and propane in groundwater; a study out of University of Texas, Arlington found high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in samples from water wells near active natural gas wells; and last month, a study in Environmental Science and Technology found concentrations of radium in the Allegheny River 200 times normal levels, as a result of fracking waste disposal. Recent studies also confirm that the common practice of shoving fracking waste down underground injection wells causes earthquakes. Or even more outrageous is Buru’s Energy latest claim that they will recycle their toxic tailing produced water. The details of where and how they intend to do this and what they will use the recycle toxic wastes for is all a bit ambiguous. While fracking’s impacts are increasingly clear, what is unclear is why the Australian federal and state continues to make huge provisions for oil and gas corporation’s interests, ignoring the science—even when the data comes from their own departments.
A bit-o-background: all natural gas is contaminated with some radioactive radon gas. Radon is produced constantly as the uranium in all rocks undergoes radioactive decay. Natural gas extracted from a uranium deposit contains more radon than natural gas extracted from ordinary rocks. Radon decays rapidly which means it is highly radioactive. It lasts long enough to reach places where the natural gas is consumed, like your home. Burning it mixed with natural gas in, say, in a cookstove doesn't change it at all. It survives the flames and enters the room air where you can breathe it. If it decays in your lungs, the cells nearby are blasted with ionizing radiation at close range. This is one way cancer is known to be initiated.
There isn’t a lot there. If you cook and heat with gas, you get exposed to a dose of radioactivity a mere 15 times what you’d be exposed to if you lived right next door to a nuclear reactor and you used nuclear electricity to cook and heat with instead of gas. Because reactors emit so little radiation, 15 times as much as what living next to a reactor exposes you to isn’t dangerous.
The authorities I got the 15 times figure from put it online to show people who worry about nuclear reactors how safe they are. They weren’t trying to pin a label of radioactive danger on natural gas. But how will people feel if the new gas exposes them to hundreds of times more radioactivity than a reactor?
Turning to the DOE study: Review of Rn222 In Natural Gas Produced From Unconventional Sources: