with Hydraulic Fracturing
Two issues that adversely affect human health and quality of life near natural gas well sites are noise during the pre-production process and at compressor stations, and unnatural light levels at night during times when operations are continuing on a 24 hour per day basis. By themselves, either of these nuisances can be disturbing, or even harmful. Together, they can negatively alter lives of people and animals living close enough to be affected.
Light: Nobody can deny that worker safety requires intense lighting for nighttime operations in a hazardous industry such as gas well drilling and exploration. Indeed, it would unthinkable to expect people to work on a project as dangerous as gas drilling without adequate light to see what they were doing. It would risk serious injury or death, and possibly put an entire community at great risk of vapor or chemical exposure, explosion hazards, toxic watere flooding or other potential problems that would have disastrous consequences. Most people would agree that lighting is necessary for those phases of pre-production that require round-the-clock activity at the well site.
The issue of light pollution is far greater in an urban residential area than it is in rural areas where well sites may be further away from habitations. Since most urban residents work during daytime hours getting a good night's rest is essential for job performance efficiency and personal demeanor. Bright lights shining through windows causes an undue burden on residents that they do not normally encounter. Light pollution can also disrupt the tranquility and enjoyment of outdoors activities that are better under cover of darkness, such as stargazing. But, sleep patterns of animals is also a concern that is generally overlooked when considering the issues of light pollution.
The effects of light pollution on the aggrarian lifestyle is no less important. Cycles of light and darkness are necessary to the production of plants including food. They are also important for animals. Bright lights at night can adversely affect wildlife and livestock breeding, foraging and sleep cycles as well as general health. In agriculture animals, such as dairy cows and chickens, this can lead to decreased production and weight loss that reduce agricultural revenues. According to the Humane Society of the United States,
"Although there are a wide variety of artificial lighting regimes, broiler chickens are commonly reared under nearly continuous lighting. A lighting schedule with 23 hours of light and 1 hour of darkness per 24 hours is known to hasten growth compared to a more natural photoperiod. However, reduced nightly periods of darkness are detrimental, because they reduce the opportunity for sleep and resting behavior, which is important for all animals, and promote feeding behavior, further enhancing growth and exacerbating problems with leg disorders, sudden death syndrome, higher mortality, and ascites."1
It is important to recognize the adverse effects that artificial light can have on humans, animals and plants, and to limit the ill effects whenever possible. Directional lighting is used on well sites in some cases, but it is hardly the norm. Usually, the only real concern on the part of the gas well drillers is lighting the pad site sufficiently so that their workers can function day and night without any thought to who or what else might be adversely affected, and that paradigm needs to change.
Noise is another issue altogether. It is not just sounds that we hear, but is also noise that we feel - subsonic frequencies below about 20 Hertz (Hz) and the low frequency range from 0 to about 500 Hz. We all know that longterm exposure to high sound pressure levels (SPL), measured in decibels (dB) will adversely affect our hearing. OSHA requires hearing protection for workers in industries where high SPL is the norm because it causes deafness and risks injury or death to workers. We are just now starting to consider the enormous importance of low frequency (LF) sound exposure, but what is already known is very troubling.
Anybody who has been around an oil or gas field knows that it is a loud environment. Operating heavy equipment to move earth, shape a padsite, erect a drilling rig, operate that rig, supply the well site with materials, tools, etc. via semi trucks and run all the equipment necessary to set up and drill a well is a very loud operation that lasts 25-45 days, in most cases. To surrounding neighbors, some of those noises are irritating and offensive, but some of them are harmful. Loud noises interrupt sleep cycles with the same negative results as are found from light pollution. This is why many municipalities where drilling is allowed require the use of sound baffling materials around a well site. Those work with limited success, but they are better than nothing.
The nuisances of loud noise are well understood and bad enough. The problems of LF and subsonic sound exposure, especially longterm exposure, are just starting to become known and studied. It has been shown by the Center for Human Performance (Portugal), School of Biomedical Engineering, Sciences and Health Systems at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) and CITIDEP (Portugal)2 that longterm exposure to LF and subsonic noise can cause major health effects including cardiac infarcts, stroke, cancer, epilepsy, rage reactions and suicide. Other believe that brain anuerysms are produced by longterm exposure to LF and subsonic SPL.
Sadly, none of this is acknowledged or addressed by the oil and gas industry. To the contrary, the industry denies that its activities have any harmful effects, and it challenges citizens and government to prove that people have been harmed by drilling, frac'ing and production activities knowing that most people have neither the time nor money to pursue such testing and evaluation as would be required to prove their claims. Usually, companies have to prove that what they do does not cause great harm before being allowed to proceed. The oil and gas industry has been a free pass, and that needs to end.
Other documents will be cited at the right to provide documentation on studies conducted to determine the adverse health effects of light and noise pollution. Considering the potential for disrupting normal life for people and animals, this is an issue that requires further examination and discussion.
1 HSUS Report on Farm Aminal Welfare
Industrial Wind Turbines, Infrasound and Vibro-Acoustic Disease (VAD)
Responses of the Ear to Infrasound and Wind Turbines
Clinical Stages of Vibroacoustic Disease
Low Frequency Noise and Health
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