If one were to examine the direct health impacts of drilling for and burning natural gas, in a vacuum, you may be led to conclude that it is harmful. It does release some greenhouse gases and the process of getting the gas involves diesel fuel trucks and generators and perhaps some chemicals.
But of course, natural gas can, and does, replace more “traditional” fuels. And just as the explosion of fracked gas in the US gas been a global warming boon, an economic boon, and a health boon for the United States, the discovery and expansion of natural gas in poorer countries is far more important for their health and well being than even here. Here is the latest bit of research on what it has done in Turkey:
Air Pollution and Infant Mortality: Evidence from the Expansion of Natural Gas Infrastructure
by Resul Cesur, Erdal Tekin, Aydogan Ulker - #18736
One of the consequences of rapid economic growth and industrialization in the developing world has been deterioration in environmental conditions and air quality. While air pollution is a
serious threat to health in most developing countries, environmental regulations are rare and the determination to address the problem is weak due to ongoing pressures to sustain robust economic growth. Under these constraints, natural gas, as a clean, abundant, and highly-efficient source of energy, has emerged as an increasingly attractive source of fuel, which could address some of these environmental and health challenges faced by these countries without requiring a compromise on their economic development. In this paper, we use the variation across space and time in the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in Turkish provinces using data between 2001 and 2011.
Our results indicate that the rate of increase in the use of natural gas has resulted in a significant reduction in the rate of infant mortality in Turkey. In particular, a one-percentage point increase in the rate of subscriptions to natural gas services would cause the infant mortality rate to decline by 4 percent, which could result in 348 infant lives saved in 2011 alone. These results are robust to a large number of specifications. Finally, we utilize supplemental data on total particulate matter and sulfur dioxide to produce direct estimates of the effects of these pollutants on infant mortality using natural gas expansion as an instrument. Our elasticity estimates from the instrumental variable analysis are 1.25 for particulate matter and 0.63 for sulfur dioxide.
These are extremely large effects, particularly given the comparatively extremely small impacts of the epidemiology in the United States that finds any adverse impacts of natural gas drilling, fracking in particular. I am not at liberty to discuss the results from a recent paper, which I sought out to find the “worst case” impacts of fracking on health in the U.S. And in a major study of PA gas wells, as I suggested a few months ago, there are small negative impacts on infant health (and some positive too, for example premature births are less likely in locations near wells) and it turns out that we think the damage is not at all coming from the fracking or the fracking chemicals or the gas, but rather from the activities above ground related to fracking (e.g. truck pollution), which of course exist only for a short time and are just as prevalent in the production of even the “greenest” of energy. Or do you wish to argue that solar panels and windmills install and maintain themselves?
Of course, none of this matters to the reality-based, science-based “E”nvironmental community.