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US health experts seek more study on 'fracking'
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 9, 2012

A group of US medical professionals called Monday for a halt to a type of drilling for natural gas called "fracking" in populated areas until more is known about its health impacts.

"When it comes to hydrofracking, our guiding principle for public policy should be the same as the one used by physicians: 'First, do no harm,'" said Adam Law, of Weill Cornell Medical College, and a founding member of Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

"There is a need for scientific and epidemiological information on the health impacts of fracking.Frankly, no one should be unleashing even more fracking before we have the scientific facts. There are health care needs in various gas drilling communities and these must be met.The reality is that industry has not done nearly enough to finance the needed research effort."

The comments came at a conference called in response to a suggestion made by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences the health implications of fracking -- which uses high pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals are used to blast through rock to release oil and gas trapped inside.

The technique has been used to vastly boost US natural gas output, but some critics express concern that it may lead to groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts.

"There are a lot of questions related to the human health and ecological impacts of this process of unconventional gas extraction that need to be answered," said Jerome Paulson of the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

"The answers to the questions about the human and ecosystem health impacts here will only come from scientific research."

Chris Tucker, spokesman for the industry-backed group Energy In Depth, said the gathering was not a conference of concerned scientists, its a conference of paid activists."

"We've been fracturing wells in this country since the Truman administration, more than 1.2 million applications over 65 years in more than 30 different states," Tucker said in an email.

"What these guys are essentially arguing is that the mere act of turning a drill bit horizontally... represents a greater risk to human health than drilling straight down into the formation, which we've been doing safely for more than 150 years. It's a position that's completely unmoored from the facts, from the science, and from the demonstrable history of safe operations to which this industry lays claim."

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Poland arrests seven in shale gas graft probe
Warsaw (AFP) Jan 10, 2012 - Seven people, including four state employees, have been arrested in Poland in a probe of suspected corruption linked to shale gas prospecting, the country's ABW security service said Tuesday.

"On January 10 in Warsaw, at the request of prosecutors, ABW agents detained seven individuals, including three staff of the environment ministry, an employee of the national institute of geology, and three businessmen representing companies which hold shale gas prospecting permits," it said in a statement.

Two of the ministry staff have been charged with corruption and could face between six months and eight years in prison, deputy prosecutor Waldemar Tyl was quoted as saying by Poland's PAP news agency.

Justice authorities will decide on how to deal with the remaining individuals once they have finished questioning them, he added.

Poland's environment ministry has over recent years issued scores of shale gas permits to firms including energy giants Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips.

Poland is pushing ahead with moves to exploit reserves thought to contain some 5.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas potentially covering its estimated needs for up to 300 years.

Little known even five years ago, tapping shale gas is seen as having the potential to change global energy markets, for example by doubling the estimated reserves of the United States.

If Poland's estimate proves right, it would allow the country to reduce its reliance on coal for electricity production as well as its dependence on Russian natural gas supplies, which cover 40 percent of its needs.

Poland's centrist Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said his country plans to begin commercial shale gas production by 2014.

Moves to tap gas from shale -- sedimentary rock containing hydrocarbons -- have sown deep divisions in Europe amid concerns that hydraulic fracturing used in its extraction is environmentally risky.

But support in Poland is solid, with surveys showing that 73 percent of the population support exploiting their country's apparently vast reserves and just four percent against.


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Iran has taken no action to close Strait of Hormuz: US
Washington (AFP) Jan 9, 2012
The US military has detected no signs that Iran is preparing to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz despite tough rhetoric from Tehran, the Pentagon said Monday. "We would have some knowledge of an intent to actively impede maritime traffic to the Strait of Hormuz. We don't see any active steps being taken by the Iranians to close the strait," press secretary George Little told reporters. ... read more

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