By Lloyd Alter, May 24, 2021
A new report from the Climate Council of Australia, Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming our Health, looks at the hazards of the production of gas, including from coal seams and from shale gas, as well as the effects of cooking with gas in homes.1 It concludes “the direct health impacts of mining and burning gas increases the imperative to move beyond the technologies of the past and ensure access to clean, modern energy for all.”1
Outside the Home
There are many posts on Treehugger listing the problems of gas inside our homes, including piles of peer-reviewed research showing how bad cooking with gas is for your health. But this study also looks at what happens in the communities near where gas is extracted, much of it recovered through the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the ground, creating openings that the gas can flow through. This uses a great deal of water which is often inadequately treated. But there is also significant air pollution:
“People living near unconventional gas operations may be directly exposed to airborne pollutants including volatile organic compounds and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons evaporated from wastewater, diesel fumes from trucks and machinery, and sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from flaring. In addition, reactions between airborne pollutants from unconventional gas mining, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, can produce significant quantities of ground-level ozone.”
Inside the Home
The report looked at studies from around the world: “A US-based study found that not only did homes with gas stoves have around 50% to over 400% higher concentrations of NO2 than homes with electric stoves, but that indoorNO2 pollution from gas stoves often reaches levels that would be illegal outside.”1 There is also research that is specifically Australian, which Treehugger covered earlier, that found up to 12% of childhood asthma is attributable to the presence of gas cooking in the home.2 The study notes properly functioning modern range hoods can help, but do not eliminate the risk.1 And, as we have noted many times, properly designed hoods are rare, and “efficient range hoods with flues that vent outdoors are very often either not present or not used.”
The researchers compared the rates of asthma caused by cooking with gas to those from living in a house with smokers and noted:
“Many parents today wouldn’t dare to expose their children to secondhand cigarette smoke, particularly inside their home. However, many parents wouldn’t be aware the effect of gas cooktops on the burden of childhood asthma is comparable to the impact of passive smoking in the household.”
This report is from the Climate Council, so it is not a surprise its first recommendation is Australia should transition out of gas production, ban further unconventional gas development, impose strict monitoring for emissions, leaks, flaring, and dealing with decommissioned wells.1
“Australia must rapidly move beyond fossil fuels, both for domestic use and exports, including gas,” reads the report. “Renewable energy, backed by storage, offers the best path to affordable and reliable electricity for homes and industry. Over time, gas used in manufacturing processes can be replaced by renewable alternatives.”
In homes and businesses, they note newer technologies like induction cooktops and heat pumps make it much easier to go electric and gas users should be encouraged to switch. They go beyond just encouragement, with some serious carrots and sticks:
- Provide incentives for homes, schools, and businesses to switch to electric appliances, including subsidies for low-income households.
- Phase-out gas connections in new residential developments and remove any planning rules that require new residential developments to be connected to gas. This includes removing rules that restrict local governments from banning gas connections in new residential developments.
- Introduce planning rules and building regulations that encourage the installation of non-gas-powered heating and cooking–such as induction cooktops, reverse cycle air conditioning, or electric heat pumps for water–in all new homes.