People living around Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road near Blackpool say they are horrified to learn that there has been no independent testing for the radioactive gas, radon.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) has been surveying water and air quality, greenhouse gases, seismicity, ground motion and carbon dioxide in soil around the site at Little Plumpton (details).
But the organisation confirmed to DrillOrDrop that there has been no monitoring of radon in the air or homes, before operations begin at Preston New Road. It also said it was not aware of any radon monitoring in the area by other organisations.
A similar project near Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire, has been monitoring for radon. It received a grant from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). But the BGS confirmed there has been no direct government funding for the Lancashire monitoring.
Neither the Fylde nor central areas of the Vale of Pickering have high radon concentrations. But monitoring would create a baseline against which data collected during drilling and fracking can be compared.
The absence of baseline radon data at Preston New Road was spotted by a resident living nearby and raised with his local MP, the Conservative Mark Menzies.
Preston New Road Action Group, which opposes Cuadrilla’s operations, said today:
“Local residents should be very concerned at this. There are no safe limits for radon. It is vitally important that it is monitored both near the site itself and in surrounding homes.
“This failure to monitor radon is not in line with the robust regulation that we are told exists for this Industry to protect communities from harm. We feel very let down.
“It appears that there is no funding available to monitor Lancashire, though there is a clear requirement to do so, and this monitoring is in place for Yorkshire.”
Radon baseline recommended
Radon increases the risk of lung cancer, particularly among smokers. The higher the level of radon and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk. According to Public Health England (PHE), radon causes over 1,100 deaths from lung cancer each year. Half these deaths are among current smokers (details).
Explaining the value of radon monitoring in North Yorkshire, the BGS referred to the Public Health England review of potential impacts of exposure to pollutants result from shale gas extraction, published in 2014.
This review concluded that radon may be released to the environment from shale gas activities but at levels that were not expected to result in significant additional radon exposure. It did, however, recommend the establishment of baseline radon levels in shale gas areas.
Survey scoping underway
DrillOrDrop understands that Public Health England (PHE) is currently considering a plan for monitoring radon in air and homes around Lancashire shale gas extraction sites.
A PHE spokesperson said this afternoon that the plan was in the scoping phase and there were no details of when or where the monitoring might be carried out or how it would be funded.
But time is running out for a baseline radon survey around Preston New Road because Cuadrilla has already begun construction work at the site. A company spokesperson said drilling was due to start in quarter two of the year (April-June) and, depending on how long that took, fracking could begin in quarter three (July-September).
Without a baseline, there would be no evidence of changes in radon levels. This would be a vital piece of information to anyone who became ill and wanted to make a legal claim.
Residents call for community protection
Preston New Road Action Group said today:
“We call on the Director of Public Health for Lancashire, Dr Karunanithi, our MP Mark Menzies, our government and local authority to uphold their duty to protect and serve our community on this matter. Failure to understand and demand this monitoring is a dereliction of duty and puts local people at risk.
“We have always felt we are being used as guinea-pigs for fracking, but it is now clear that this experiment will be without scientific checks, safeguards and monitoring. We have been betrayed.”
A spokesperson for Mr Menzies said the MP had written to the business minister, Jesse Norman, last week about the issue and he expected a reply within two weeks.
DrillOrDrop contacted BEIS last week about why Lancashire had not received direct government funding for radon monitoring. We also asked why radon monitoring was needed in North Yorkshire but not Lancashire. The department has not responded.
Radon monitoring in North Yorkshire
In the Vale of Pickering, researchers selected about 150 homes at random in and around Kirby Misperton, Little Barugh, Yedingham, Pickering and Malton. Residents received two passive radon detectors which measured levels in an occupied bedroom and living area for more than a year.
Outdoor monitoring for radon was carried out around Kirby Misperton (15 sampling points), Yedingham (8 sampling points) and Pickering (6 sampling points). A control site at Chilton, in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, was also sampled. Four three-month passive detectors have measured radon concentrations at each sampling point. More details
The BGS said monitoring for radon in air and homes could be established quite quickly and should be done for a minimum of three months.
“Enhance scientific understanding”
In 2015, the BGS said its environmental monitoring would be different from that carried out by Cuadrilla and would provide “vital baseline information”. The BGS said:
“It is designed to enhance the scientific understanding and knowledge of the effects of shale gas operations on the environment and support peer-reviewed science.”