by Amy Mall
National Resources Defense Council
(hat tip toEcowatch)
There are a few new reports from Europe on fracking that provide a lot of valuable information:
A joint report from Germany’s Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety was released in September. Among the conclusions about the environmental impacts of fracking:
Fracking technology can lead to groundwater contamination.
There are current gaps in knowledge about environmental risks.
Germany should use a step-by-step approach on the use of fracking.
There should be tight restrictions and a ban in areas that provide drinking water and spa regions.
Experts advise against large-scale fracking.
An environmental impact assessment should be conducted for every fracking project.
Also in Germany, Exxon-Mobil funded a panel of independent experts to conduct a Hydrofracking Risk Assessment (the lengthy executive summary is available in English). Yes, you heard me correctly: while Exxon-Mobil financed the study, the company had no say in the content of the report or the selection of scientists and none of the scientists involved in the study had ever worked for the oil and gas industry prior to this project. Can anyone imagine ExxonMobil funding a similar project in the U.S.? The panel of experts was monitored by about 50 stakeholder groups. Among the conclusions about the environmental impacts of fracking:
Hydrofracking entails serious risks as well as minor risks.
Hydrofracking-induced incidents can do substantial harm to water resources.
The greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas is between 30 to 183 percent greater than that of conventional natural gas.
Some of the chemicals currently used in fracking should be replaced due to environmental risks.
Fracking should be banned in certain areas such as areas with severe tectonic risk, areas with pressurized artesian/confined deep aquifers and continuous pathways, and Germany’s Zone I and Zone II drinking water protection areas and thermal spring conservation areas (which may be the same as the spa regions mentioned above). [In Germany, Zone I is 10 meters from a water well and Zone II is the distance from which it would take contaminated groundwater 50 days to reach a water well.]
Before fracking is allowed in broad areas, a new legal framework is needed as well as additional scientific knowledge.
For now, the only fracking that should be allowed is exploratory wells and single model demonstration projects—under extensive safety conditions—designed to define and optimize the state of the art, gain a greater understanding of the impacts of fracking, and test practices. Such efforts should only occur along with extensive in-depth dialogue with stakeholders and new statutory and planning structures.
The European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General also issued a comprehensive report (almost 300 pages) in September. It is a very thorough description of the fracking process, many of the best practices available to reduce risks, and European rules. Among its findings and recommendations regarding environmental impacts:
There is a high risk of surface and groundwater contamination at various stages of the well-pad construction, hydraulic fracturing and gas production processes, and well abandonment, and cumulative developments could further increase this risk.
Air emissions from numerous well developments in a local area or wider region could have a potentially significant effect on air quality including ozone levels.
There is a significant risk of impacts due to the amount of land used in shale gas extraction and it may not be possible fully to restore sites in sensitive areas following well completion or abandonment.
There are gaps or inadequacies in EU legislation that could lead to risks to the environment or human health not being sufficiently addressed.
Robust regulatory regimes are required to mitigate risks.
Nearly 12,000 patients have had their admission to hospital for treatments such as surgery cancelled between March and September this year.
Although there is a range of reasons for this, the most common problem is that the bed the patient due admission was going to be placed in had to be given to a patient who came through the hospital emergency department.
A lack of intensive care beds can also lead to cancellations because they are already occupied, leaving patients who will need to be admitted after surgery, waiting longer for their operation.
The cancellation can cause major upset and inconvenience as well as being very disruptive for someone who badly needs to have an operation or test.
AMONG the most damaging effects of the cutbacks in education is the casualisation of teaching and lecturing. Ironically, this is exacerbated by the abuse of legislation intended to protect employees against abuse. Many teachers and lecturers are experiencing severe income poverty because they struggle on fixed-term – which is to say temporary – contracts in part-time positions, mere fragments of jobs.
To make matters worse, these teachers and lecturers are routinely jettisoned or have their hours, and pay, reduced from one year to the next, a situation completely at odds with the common yet completely erroneous depiction of public servants as some rare breed of protected species in terms of tenure and job security.
We estimate that 30 per cent of second-level teachers are employed on a part-time basis. Local management has, in some instances, sought to play God by varying the working hours of teachers and lecturers on an arbitrary, whimsical basis.
As if this were not enough, there has been a savage, sustained and disproportionate attack on the pay of new entrants to the teaching profession since 2011.
Newly qualified teachers enter the teaching profession after an unpaid training period of five years, soon to be six at second level. It takes an average of a further five years to secure a level of permanency. Even then, this is very often only permanency in part-time work that sees them, in many instances, earning considerably less than the average industrial wage.
In the wake of the cynical elimination of qualification allowances, a teacher who enters the profession today is automatically
22 per cent down on the 2010 starting salary of a colleague with identical qualifications.
The principled struggle against casualisation and associated pay cuts that the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and other teacher unions are engaged in is one that, in the interests of this country and its young people, must be won.
A race to the bottom eventually impoverishes everybody and deprives the country of one of its most important competitive advantages: a high quality, highly regarded public education system.
TUI’s annual congress this year prioritised the plight of new entrants to the profession, committing the union to campaigning to have the divisive differential in the salaries of teachers doing the same job rescinded. The concerns of new entrants must be afforded priority in negotiations about pay and in any national agreements that may emerge.
Parents and communities also need to be aware that hundreds of teaching posts have been lost as a result of cutbacks in recent years and that the equivalent of a further 700 full-time positions have been taken out of the second-level system this September as a result of a cut to guidance-counselling provision.
Invariably it is vulnerable teachers in fixed-term positions on part-time hours who suffer first when such cuts take effect.
For students and schools, casualisation and cuts create instability. For example, they often result in students being taught by a succession of teachers in a given subject area over the course of the Junior or Leaving Certificate cycles. In terms of consistency of provision, this is undesirable, unacceptable and damaging.
In order to protect our students, our high-quality public education system and the integrity of the profession on which it relies, the TUI is seeking, as a first step, an end to the attrition that is causing casualisation.
We are asking the Department of Education and Skills to work with the education partners to put in place a system whereby teachers have an opportunity to secure sustainable jobs that allow them to develop as professionals and make an even more valuable contribution to the schools and communities that they serve.
Now more than ever, teachers need jobs, not hours.
John MacGabhann is general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, which represents more than 14,000 teachers and lecturers