27th June 2014
Public Health England is standing by its conclusion that fracking has a low risk to human health if properly run and regulated. But the organisation raises concerns about the density and location of drilling and abut bore-hole integrity. It repeats that robust regulation is essential.
The organisation, an agency of the Department of Health, has published the final version of its review of the potential health impacts of fracking for shale gas, updating a draft from October last year.
PHE said; “There have been no significant changes to the findings in the draft report.”
This was criticised in May by researcher Paul Mobbs, writing in The Ecologist. He accused PHE of “whitewashing” the public health impacts of fracking by failing to gather all the available evidence. He said the review considered studies only up to the end of December 2012. Since then, he said, there have been more than 90 pieces of peer-reviewed research.
In a cover note to the final version, PHE says: “The report has been updated in the light of new significant scientific evidence in peer reviewed or published reports, up to January 2014.”
It said the new material “supported the scientific conclusions of the report”. But it added: “Important concerns were raised that regulation of shale gas extraction may not be sufficiently robust and that the use of new techniques in the extraction process means that safety and low risk to the public’s health cannot be guaranteed.”
The PHE said particular concerns included:
- Density and location of drilling
- Need to ensure bore-hole integrity
- Transparency about chemicals used
- Importance of environmental monitoring
Overall, it said, “We do 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.”
But it said robust environmental regulation was essential to provide people with assurance that the process was safe. It said when things went wrong it was usually the result of operational failure and a poor regulatory environment.
PHE calls for:
- Good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of the process
- Consideration of the broader impacts of shale gas developments, including increased traffic, effects on local infrastructure and the movement of workers into an area
- Individual assessment of each sites because the gases extracted will vary depending on the underlying geology
- Appropriate regulations to maintain well integrity to control risks