Two residents’ groups in areas where Cuadrilla wants to test drill have accused the Task Force on Shale Gas of proposing to experiment with their health.
The industry-funded Task Force, chaired by Lord Smith, published its latest report today on the impacts of fracking on health and local communities.
The groups in Lancashire and West Sussex criticise the report’s findings, which include a recommended health impact assessment only when wells have been fracked and data becomes available.
The Preston New Road Community Group, which last month successfully opposed Cuadrilla’s application to frack, said: “Once again this is saying we at Preston New Road are to be used and our health put at risk in a UK fracking experiment. The evidence from the US is clear. There is a definite health impact on communities from fracking.” A spokesperson for the group said:
“We refuse to be treated as guinea pigs, and demand that both Cuadrilla and the government abide by the Lancashire County Council decision to refuse planning permission at Preston New Road.”
The Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association, based in the West Sussex village where Cuadrilla drilled in 2013, said the report downplayed the risks of fracking. Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter, said:
“This is a report that wants to use us as guinea pigs. There is a growing body of evidence from around the world of illness in communities near oil and gas wells: cancers, respiratory and skin diseases, birth defects… with the vulnerable, young children and old people most at risk.”
“Fracking has been deemed too risky in Holland, France, Scotland, New York State and elsewhere. Chris Smith and his Task Force do us a disservice in underestimating the risk.”
Accusations of bias
The Preston New Road Community Group (PNRCG) accused the Task Force of bias for relying on a study by Public Health England while criticising a more recent report by Medact.
“The Medact report concluded from studying the latest data from the US that there was sufficient risk established for the precautionary principle to be invoked.
Yet the Task Force, rather than discussing this conclusion, accuses Medact of being an anti-fracking organisation, accuses its report of providing no new data, and repeats personal slurs on two of the contributors. This is outrageous, particularly when it endorses the PHE report which provided no new research data, and failed to take account of the latest peer-reviewed reports.”
PNRCG also suggested the Task Force had sided with industry by recommending a change to the planning system to allow monitoring boreholes to be drilled without planning permission. “The democratic process is being dismantled to allow this Industry to proceed at reckless speed”.
The group also identified what it described as “serious omissions”. It said these affected the validity of the report’s conclusion that fracking could be safe. They included no consideration of the seismic activity damaging wells and no examination of potential migration routes from fractured rocks to aquifers. The group concluded:
“This report has itself nothing new to say. It repeats the same old message, fracking could be safe with tough regulation. We are tired of hearing this same old story. UK regulation is not tough enough. It is not enforceable by agencies which have their budgets and workforce cut.”
Risks at exploration stage
FFBRA criticised the Task Force report for not proposing tighter regulation of oil and gas exploration.
“If Cuadrilla comes back to test-flow the Balcombe well, the gas will be flared, sending pollutants down the prevailing wind into our village – polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene, toluene”.