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UK fracking “irresponsible” without more health studies and stricter regulation – oil engineer tells The Lancet

20th June 2014

The UK is not ready to resume fracking because regulations are inadequate and the evidence of impacts on health is being ignored by the government, according to correspondence in The Lancet, published online this morning.

Oil and gas engineer, Mike Hill, says recent studies from the US suggest an increased risk of adverse health effects in people living close to gas developments. These include congenital heart defects and low Apgar scores – the test to assess the physical condition of new born infants.

“These preliminary findings need to be replicated and explored further in large prospective studies”, Mike Hill writes. “It may be irresponsible to consider any further fracking in the UK (exploratory or otherwise) until these prospective studies have been completed and the health impacts of fracking have been determined.”

The letter accuses the government of implementing in full only one of the 10 recommendations on shale gas extraction made two years ago in a report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.

“Although the Government has now stated it accepts all of the recommendations, the reality on the ground does not follow the theories in the Department of Energy and Climate Change”, he said.

“We need to start informing regulators and industry with what is important and what must be done to ensure the risks are managed and are as low as reasonably practicable”, he said. “This is presently not the case.”

Mr Hill was responding to a comment in The Lancet by a group of researchers, led by Sari Kovat. Their opinions, published in March this year, suggested that the UK’s regulatory framework could modify developments to reduce health effects.

This gave the misleading impression, Mr Hill said, that the industry was regulated and the Government had things under control. “It isn’t and they don’t”, he said. “The reality of shale gas regulation in the UK is far from the best practice alluded to in the Comment and far from that needed to protect the public and environment in a densely populated country such as the UK.”

The drilling company, Cuadrilla, recently submitted planning applications to frack for shale gas in the Fylde area of Lancashire, with up to eight wells across two sites. Mr Hill said 22 million litres of fracking fluid would be used for each well and 88 million litres of waste left underground, free to migrate. This waste, he said, contained lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other materials at much higher concentrations than those found in drinking water. Other health effects should also be considered, he added including truck movements, flaring, fracking waste treatment, compressors, noise pollution, generators, wireline logging and drilling,

Mr Hill calls for “specific regulations” that would be strictly enforced through an “independent competent body”. Existing regulators, he said, were being scrapped, restructured or downsized and new regulations were being fiercely opposed by the government. “They choose to legislate to make fracking easier for the operators, but fail to make it safer for the public.”

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