It is not just the process of drilling for natural gas — that unnatural process — that bares the land of trees. We know that drilling, gas extraction, and fracking are associated with huge amounts of water contamination (fracking wastewater can even be radioactive), explosion hazards, and corruption of the human health. Yet, it is worse than that. “Natural gas” is also deadly for the trees that line our city streets.
More chemicals, more air pollution, more deforestation — 21st century natural gas production leads to more death. Furthermore, we now know that natural gas leaks invade urban life in ways we didn’t realize before. “Working pipes” that are leaking can actually kill trees.
Elevated levels of methane in the soil are killing trees in cities and towns. It is taking down that precious little green we have in urban environments, some of it. A new study, “Natural gas leaks and tree death: A first-look case-control study of urban trees in Chelsea, MA, USA,” adds to the list of issues from high-volume natural gas production and supply.
InsideClimate News points to the climate change factor here as well. The study took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston. Trees help oxygenate, provide shading, and help cool the heat waves of summer. InsideClimate News notes, “Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.”
“‘I was pretty blown away by that result,’ said Madeleine Scammell, an environmental health professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health who co-authored the study. ‘If these trees were humans, we would be talking about what to do to stop this immediately.’
“The study measured soil concentrations of methane and oxygen at four points around the trunks of 84 dead or dying trees and 97 healthy trees. For trees that had elevated levels of methane in the surrounding soil, the highest concentrations were found in the dirt between the tree and the street, suggesting that the gas had leaked from natural gas pipelines, which are typically buried beneath roadways.”
It’s bad enough to have attractive, soothing urban trees die for the aesthetic benefits they offer, but we should also remember their importance to human health. Air pollution causes countless premature deaths (one estimate for the US is 200,000 per year). A recent study showed the synergistic numbers between air pollution and COVID-19. Another study by Harvard University showed the same relationship. Even a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution made for largely increased vulnerability to infection and death rate from Covid-19. So, even pandemics are amplified by air pollution, pollution which trees help to remove.
Trees are critically necessary for city circulation, well being, balance, and health. It’s a crisis in all directions when the greenery of cities disappears. Now we have another reason to prefer clean, renewable energy from the sun and wind over natural gas that belongs under the earth.
Climate change and explosion hazards aren’t the only problems posed by natural gas pipeline leaks. Methane that escapes from aging gas infrastructure under city streets is killing trees in urban environments, a new study warns.https://t.co/EzYrOdY0lJ
— Inside Climate News (@insideclimate) May 21, 2020
“A nationwide #fracking ban would be invaluable for human #health,” Barbara Gottlieb @PSRenvironment said. “Fracking harms human health, contaminates huge amounts of water, and pollutes the air.” #ClimateFriday @AlexCKaufman @HuffPost @SenSanders https://t.co/i7ICFfsR6F
— PSR Environment (@PSRenvironment) February 7, 2020