Fracking poses low risk to human health if properly regulated: PHE

well pad

Public Health England has published the final version of its review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction.

PHE has reviewed the literature on the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction. It has concluded that the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to
public health in the vicinity of shale gas extraction sites will be low if shale gas extraction is properly run and regulated.

Where potential risks have been identified in the literature, the reported problems are typically a result of operational failure and a poor regulatory environment. Therefore good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects from
exploratory drilling, gas capture, use and storage of fracking fluid, and post-operations decommissioning are essential to minimise the risk to the environment and public health.

PHE has identified particular concerns including density and location of drilling, the need to ensure bore-hole integrity, transparency about the chemicals used and the importance of environmental monitoring. Overall, however, we do not regard shale gas exploitation as posing a significant regulatory challenge for the protection of local people’s health as a result of releases of chemical and radioactive pollutants. The PHE position remains, therefore, that the shale gas extraction process poses a low risk to human health if properly run and regulated.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) welcomes the publication of the report.

CIEH Chief Executive, Graham Jukes, OBE, said: “The CIEH does not object to shale gas extraction provided the impacts and remediation of those impacts are fully understood and taken into account and this report is an important contribution to the information base surrounding this process.”

“It is important to note that the report explicitly does not look at the sustainable use of water resources or local environment issues such as noise and odours, nor the socio economic benefits or impacts of extraction to local communities.  Nevertheless, the key message from the report is that on the currently available evidence the potential risks to public health from the emissions associated with shale gas extraction will be low if the operations are properly run within a framework of robust environmental regulation.”  

Mr Jukes continued: “In the enthusiasm to exploit new sources of energy we must ensure that there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment or on the health of people in the communities surrounding extraction sites. Despite central government encouragement for the process, local authorities should resist allowing shale gas extraction in their areas until they are satisfied on that.”

Recently, at the UK Shale Conference, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said that the energy security crises in the Ukraine and Iraq as further reason for the UK to focus on shale gas and oil.