A petition will be presented next week calling for a review of an official UK report on the impact of fracking on health.
Two campaigners who live near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire will deliver the petition, which at the time of writing had 4,144 signatures, to Public Health England.
The organisation concluded in a review published in 2014 that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction would be low if operations were properly run and regulated.
But since then there has been criticism of the scope of the review and calls for it to be updated.
Yesterday, a study by three US organisations estimated that 17.6m Americans lived within a mile of oil and gas developments. It is the first peer-reviewed nationwide measurement in the USA of the numbers living near actively producing oil and gas wells.
It referred to studies which have indicated negative health outcomes associated with active oil and gas operations. Reported symptoms have included: nose, eye, and throat irritation; headaches; and fatigue. There is evidence of increased hospitalisation rates to cardiology, neurology and oncology departments, as well as increased incidence and severity of asthma. Studies have also shown that children who lived near oil and gas developments were more likely to have lower birth rate or preterm births and increased incidence of childhood cancer.
Dr Frank Rugman, from Preston New Road Action Group, will be presenting the petition to PHE. He said:
“At Little Plumpton, unfortunate residents just 350 metres from the site may also be subjected to night-time noise at 42 decibels. Sleep disturbance, particularly in vulnerable residents, can aggravate cardiovascular and arterial disease, impair cognitive function and impair learning in children.
“Despite industry claims of safety and ‘better regulations’, reports of air or water pollution and negative health impacts continue to accumulate.”
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire added:
“This new report validates our serious concerns about the potential health risks which will arise as a direct result of turning the Fylde into the largest onshore gas field in Western Europe. The government has so far refused to consider minimum set-backs between fracking sites and places where people live, play and learn.
“With evidence mounting on the negative impacts from air, light and noise pollution that follow fracking wherever it imposes itself, this issue can no longer be conveniently swept under the carpet. We urgently call upon our MP, Mark Menzies, to recognise its importance and hold the government to account.”
Scope of the PHE review
The PHE review looked only at studies on the direct emissions of chemicals and radioactive material from the extraction of shale gas.
It did not consider studies of impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable use of water resources, noise and odour, traffic (apart from vehicle exhaust), occupational health or visual impact.
The first version was criticised for reviewing studies published only up to December 2012. According to an appraisal by Paul Mobbs, this excluded 52 studies published in 2013. An update considered peer-reviewed or published reports up to January 2014 but there was “no significant changes” to the findings.
Claire Stephenson, who launched the petition and will also deliver it to PHE next week, said:
“Since that [PHE] report, hundreds of other health reports have been published with critical evidence that now needs to be taken into account before any shale activity should proceed within the UK.”
She cited two reports by the health professionals’ charity, Medact, one of which argued that greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas were incompatible with the UK’s commitment to address climate change.
Ms Stephenson said:
“Public Health England’s mission is: ‘to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities’
“If Public Health England is to fulfil their public duty and mission statement, then to not acknowledge and act upon the wealth of contraindications towards hydraulic fracturing, they could be in breach of their position and may face a legal challenge.”