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Fracking risks more likely from operational failure than emissions – Public Health England

The government’s health advisor says emissions from fracking are likely to be a low risk to public health – providing operations are properly run and regulated.

Public Health England says shale gas extraction has the potential to cause pollution to air, land and water. But current evidence indicates the risks are low. It says groundwater contamination from leaking boreholes is a concern and the impacts on health from spills and accidents above ground are potentially significant.

The report says: “Experience from commercial operations, particularly in the USA, demonstrate that good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of operations is essential to minimise risk to the environment and public health.”

It believes the impact of single wells is likely to be very small. But the cumulative impacts of many wells in various phases of development in small areas needs careful scrutiny.

The report says there is little peer-reviewed research on the effects of shale gas extraction. It calls for further work on baseline monitoring of the effects on public health and the cumulative impact of multiple wells.

It recommends:

  • Appropriate regulation
  • Monitoring around shale gas sites throughout the lifetime of development, production and post-production
  • Development of emission inventories and monitoring programmes
  • Early toxicological assessment of chemicals used in fracking fluids
  • Consideration of the impacts on health of increased traffic, impacts on local infrastructure and work migration
  • Public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids and risk assessments  before their use
  • Maintenance of well-integrity after production and the appropriate storage and management of fracking fluids

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