21st July 2014
The organisation representing environmental health officers has urged local authorities to prevent fracking in their areas until they are satisfied about its risks to public health or the environment.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said today there were “major shortcomings” with the regulation of shale gas and there was currently not enough evidence to be sure that fracking was safe.
The CIEH was responding to a briefing document, which assessed peer-reviewed evidence of potential threats from UK shale gas extraction.
The report, commissioned by CIEH and Scientists for Global Responsibility, concluded that fracking:
- Is not yet adequately regulated in the UK to prevent contamination
- Would lock the UK into continued reliance on fossil fuels and the international gas market
- Would undermine national and international efforts to tackle climate change
- Could cause water shortages
The report also suggested that the job creation potential and community benefits of shale gas extraction had been exaggerated.
CIEH Chief Executive, Graham Jukes, said: “In the enthusiasm to exploit new sources of energy we must assess and 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 point. We believe that there is currently insufficient evidence to provide such assurance for proposals in the UK and the precautionary principle should apply.”
The report drew attention to the failure of the government to develop regulations that were specific to the shale gas industry and to insist on robust monitoring, even though this was recommended by the Royal Society in its 2012 report.
It quoted an employee of the Environment Agency, who said the organisation relied on operators to “self-report problems”. The employee asked: “How can you guarantee businesses are self-reporting properly if you don’t have the staff to check the reports?”
The authors also listed examples of where operators, including Cuadrilla, had failed to comply with conditions required by regulators.
The report concluded:
“The combination of weak regulation, diminishing resources within regulatory bodies, inexperience of industry and regulators, lack of an appropriate monitoring framework, poor industry compliance and potential conflicts of interest within the planning regime is disquieting”.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The report accepted that the carbon footprint of shale gas was lower than coal, assuming minimal methane leakage. But it suggested that shale gas was unlikely to displace coal, and would contribute to, rather than help tackle, climate change.
“In the absence of a global cap on emissions, the use of shale gas will undoubtedly be in addition to, not instead of, coal and will therefore result in an overall increase in emissions. Until such a constraint on emissions is in place, this problem remains unresolved.”