A new report by the health professionals’ charity, Medact, has concluded that fracking for shale gas poses significant risks to public health.
The report, published today, calls for an immediate five-year moratorium to allow for an assessment of the effects on health and the environment.The study said:“The risks and serious nature of the hazards associated with fracking, coupled with the concerns and uncertainties about the regulatory system, indicate that shale gas development should be halted until a more detailed health and environmental impact assessment is undertaken”.
Medact said the public risks from fracking included:
- Potential health hazards from air pollution and water contamination, including toxins linked to increased risks of cancer, birth defects and lung disease;
- Negative health impacts associated with noise, traffic, spoilage of the natural environment, and local social and economic disruption.
- Indirect effects of climate change produced by greenhouse gas emissions
The report stated that the precise level of risk to human health could not be calculated. It said intensive levels of fracking activity could pose additional risks in the UK when compared to experiences elsewhere because it was likely to be closer to larger populations.
“Shale gas development involves continuous activity conducted over a sustained period of time for the entire course of a day, seven days a week”, the report said. “Noise (from compressors, generators, drilling and heavy trucks); light pollution; bad odours; and heavy traffic can cause distress and negative health impacts on nearby communities, especially in the context of quiet rural and semi-rural areas.”
“The introduction of a temporary and intensive extractive industry will also disrupt and divide the social fabric of local communities, compounding both the mental and physical effects of other hazards. When conducted on an industrial scale, it will also alter the character and aesthetic of the local area and potentially affect wildlife and biodiversity as well.”
The report said the regulatory system for fracking was “currently incomplete and inadequately robust”.
“It is clear that no assurance can be given that the [regulator] system is adequately robust and protective of human and ecological health”.
It also highlighted what it said were the limitations of Public Health England’s report on fracking, which concluded in October 2013 that the risks were low if the technique was properly regulated. Medact criticised the PHE study for being too narrow in scope and for failing to critically assess the regulatory system.
The director of Medact, Dr David McCoy, said: “Today, Medact, alongside a wider group of health professionals, has called for a moratorium on fracking because of the serious risks it poses to public health. Fracking has already been suspended in Wales and Scotland because of health and climate risks and New York State has banned fracking because of the ‘significant health risks’.”
Medact’s report said shale gas produced greenhouse gas emissions that were incompatible with the UK’s commitments to address climate change.
Dr Patrick Saunders, a co-author of the report said: “Climate change is the biggest long-term threat to global public health. Suspending fracking now will also allow time for the independent UK Committee on Climate Change to complete its next assessment of the climate change risks.”