The health risks of shale gas exploration are too great to justify it going ahead, the inquiry into Cuadrilla’s fracking plans heard today.
Public health expert, Dr David McCoy, said some professionals advised against shale gas production because the hazards were too significant. But he said this warning could also apply to exploration. He said:
“When you add in climate change and global warming, for me, the case becomes much stronger. When you add up all the arguments, the direct, indirect and long-term potential impacts, the case is very convincing that we should not be undertaking shale gas exploration or production.”
He said the health effects of exploration included:
- Stress and anxiety and lack of trust in fracking
- Impacts of noise
- Management and safe treatment of waste water
Low or negligible risk depends on best practice
Dr McCoy, a witness called by Friends of the Earth, said the risk to human health posed by potentially hazardous pollutants linked to shale gas exploration had been assessed as low or negligible.
But he said this assessment assumed operators followed best practice and stringent safety measures were enforced.
Noise and light pollution
Dr McCoy said both light and noise pollution can cause negative health impacts, including sleep disturbance. People in rural areas were more likely to suffer from noise and light pollution than people in cities.
People closest most at risk
Asked who would suffer most from the fracking proposals, Dr McCoy said:
“Any negative direct impacts on human health will be concentrated in people living in the immediate surroundings of the two proposed sites and be most likely caused by the effects of noise and other nuisances.”
Fear and stress
Dr McCoy said Lancashire residents were already suffering from fear, anxiety and stress as a result of the fracking applications.
He said the causes included:
- Perceptions of risk to health and the environment, particularly from commercial shale gas production
- An apparent lack of trust in the oil and gas industry in general and Cuadrilla in particular;
- Feelings of anger and helplessness caused by the view that shale gas production would be forced onto local people by national government policy
He said measures to alleviate fear and worry wouldn’t work while people believed the government would impose commercial shale gas production, there were doubts about the regulatory system and the risks of production had not been assessed properly.
“Only way to displace concerns is to do it”
Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, told the inquiry the only way to prove there was no risk to human health from fracking was to do it. She said:
“Then those concerns, we assume, will be dissipated because it will be shown to be safe. You can study until you are blue in the face but until you do it you won’t have the evidence”.
Dr McCoy replied:
“You are assuming that it will be shown to be safe and there is no evidence for that.”
“There are a whole range of reasons why we should be cautious about encouraging exploratory fracking. There are reasons that this risk is not worth it.”
Call for health impact studies
Dr McCoy called for an assessment of the health impacts of industrial scale production. He said:
“One way we could mitigate effects on anxiety would be to conduct an impact assessment of production at scale, including the impact of shale gas on climate change”.
“Even in this phase of exploration what is very clear is that the stress, anxiety and mental health impacts are related to fears of the risk of commercial production. It is entirely reasonable to undertake a risk assessment of commercial production at this stage.”
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, put it to Dr McCoy that Lancashire County Council had not turned down the applications on health issues nor asked for any conditions on health.
Dr McCoy said the Director of Public Health for Lancashire had recommended baseline monitoring of public health before any fracking began. Because of local mistrust in Cuadrilla, he said, it should be collected by a neutral party, such as an independent group of academics.
Financial burden on local authorities
Dr McCoy said public health agencies needed to be prepared for increased demand for their services if fracking went ahead. He said a weakness of the report by Public Health England was that it did not put a cost on effective regulation.
The inspector, Wendy McKay, asked Dr McCoy whether the impact would be greater at Roseacre Wood than Preston New Road. Dr McCoy said the health impact assessment by Ben Cave Associates had concluded that the impacts would be greater at Roseacre Wood.
Balancing energy and human security
Dr McCoy said access to energy had helped to improve public health. But he said the means by which we produce energy was beginning to pose threats to human security, he said. “We need to balance energy and human security more broadly.”
“Health organisations are now turning to climate change as a critical public health issue. We need to secure energy but ensure that it is clean and production is fair and consistent with other requirements to produce a secure life.”
“On the basis of current emission trajectories, temperature rises in the next 85 years may be incompatible with an organised global community”.