Climate change risks of fracking outweigh benefits – BMJ editorial

pnr 180501 ros wills 6

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, 1 May 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The scale of harm from shale gas to health is uncertain, but the danger of exacerbating climate change is not, two professors of public health have warned.


In an editorial for this week’s British Medical Journal, David McCoy and Patrick Saunders said:

“Although we can’t be certain about the scale of harm that shale gas production will bring to local communities and the immediate environment, it will exacerbate climate change. And on these grounds alone, the risks clearly and considerably outweigh any possible benefits.”

Dr McCoy, professor of global public health at Barts and London School of Medicine, and Dr Saunders, visiting professor of public health at University of Staffordshire, dismissed industry arguments about the environmental benefits of shale gas in the UK.

They said:

“Although it may offer some environmental benefit if produced and used efficiently, and if it displaces “dirtier” sources of energy like coal from the energy mix, this does not hold true for countries like the UK that have already phased out coal.

“The argument that shale gas is relatively clean and can assist with our transition to a sustainable energy system is thin, if not hollow. It also implies an unacceptable indifference from proponents of the industry to the global threat posed by climate change.”

They added:

“Methane, the main component of shale gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that leaks directly into the atmosphere at different points in the production and supply line, producing an additional global warming effect.”

The academics have previously co-authored two health impact assessments on shale gas for the health charity, Medact.

In this week’s editorial, they said the hazards and effects on health of shale gas developments depended on many factors. These included, they said, how many shale gas wells were drilled and over what land area, the size and proximity of local populations; how the industry behaved and was regulated, as well as local factors.

They conceded that shale gas production may not be a population level health threat on the scale of tobacco, sugar, alcohol, or motor vehicle pollution. But they added:

“Some evidence shows that it increases the risk of negative health and environmental outcomes, including increased risk of cancer, adverse birth outcomes, respiratory disease, and mental wellbeing.”

Public health review

Public Health England (PHE) published a review in 2014 of the potential public health impacts of pollution resulting from shale gas extraction. This concluded:

“The potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction will be low if the operations are properly run and regulated.”

This report has been criticised for looking only at emissions from shale gas sites and for failing to take account of the most recent research.

170831 PHE petition presentation

Dr Frank Rugman and Claire Stephenson delivering a petition to Public Health England in August 2017

There have been calls for an updated report, including a petition with nearly 6,000 signatures delivered to PHE in August 2017.

In May this year, the Energy Minister, Lord Henley, said PHE “continue to review evidence on the potential public health impacts of emissions associated with shale gas extraction and have not currently identified any significant evidence that would make it change its views”.

PHE told DrillOrDrop a team of three-to-four staff focus “part of their time on onshore oil and gas”. They also have responsibility for assessing impacts from chemical incidents, air quality and industrial emissions.

The organisation said there was “an on-going process to identify new peer-reviewed papers” on shale gas health impacts. These were “assessed, summarised and reviewed to identify any new areas of public health concern”.

PHE confirmed that it had not published any further papers but “continues to review the evidence on emissions associated with shale gas extraction.”

98 replies »

  1. Ahhh how sweet? Martins got a little list?
    Do you think that everything here gets reported to “You Know Who”?
    But I imagine his boots are clean enough martin without more tongues?
    The yachts might need a clean tongue though?

    Lets see what Gilbert and Sullivan and i have to say about it shall we?

    “As someday it may happen”

    As some day it may happen that some victims must be found,

    He’s got a little list? He’s got a little list?

    Of society offenders who might well be…..underground…..?

    But who never would be missed, they never would be missed!

    There’s ecology, and democracy that gets right up in their way,
    There’s banksters scoot off to Tax Havens and we never have a say,
    Or those who have their policies discredited and lie to save their hair,
    Or PR bots who post on Drill Or Drop proliferate and swear!
    And fracking men who bore everywhere and make your houses list,

    They’d none of them be missed, They’d none of them be missed!

    CHORUS: He’s got them on the list, He’s got them on the list
    And they’ll none of them be missed,

    They’ll none of them be missed.

    There’s the PR posters with many names that they rapidly rehearse,

    And on the graveyard shift, I’ve got him on the list!

    All frackers, crackers, spammers, and those who never did evolve,

    They never would be missed, They never would be missed!

    All bankrupt operators that their accounts never can they find?
    And politicians who kiss and tell and wiggle their behinds
    And dumb down facile media who to entertain us try
    By fabricating news and repeating fracking lies
    And who on close observance must be either stoned or p(!)ssed

    I don’t think they’d be missed, I’m sure they’d not be missed!

    CHORUS: He’s got them on the list, He’s got them on the list
    And they’ll none of them be missed, They’ll none of them be missed.

    There’s oppressors who write letters for the Inland Revenue

    And the corporate columnists, he’s got them on the list!
    Regulators and rubber stampers and complicit planners too,

    They’d none of ’em be missed, They’d none of ’em be missed.

    All fake traffic plans, and injunctions that kill democracy by design,
    All those who spout the fossil lies, politicians of all kinds
    And censored silent editors who delete the vital lines,
    Who fill their rags with gossip and celebrity naked… writs

    But anyway I think by now you must have got the gist?

    They’d none of them be missed, They’d none of them be missed!

    CHORUS: You may put them on the list, You may put them on the list

    And they’ll none of them be missed, they’ll none of them be missed!

      • Ha! Ha! I was worried that if I blinked I’d end up half way down the page again?
        Maybe their cheque bounced? Another rubber stamp job I suppose?
        I expect the police will be along in a minute?
        It will be “Move along down the column sir, this is an exclusion zone, we’re expecting a martin header and footer drill rig along anytime now?”
        Think I’ll build a tower? You bring the tea urn Sher and we’ll lock on in this header!
        None shall pass!

        • It seems ‘they’ are all back-posting, trying to get the last word in where it cannot be seen? shame.
          It must be really sad sitting in an office with a promise of a career, and be told create multiple personas to ‘talk’ to yourself, whist the directors run off with the investor’s cash……..

          • Yes I noticed that too Sher, indicative of frantic desperation to rewrite the memes and pump up the overtime and pay per post before the redundancy notices arrive.

  2. “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

    ― Richard Feynman

    For the greenhouse theory to operate as advertised requires a GHG up/down/”back” LWIR energy loop to “trap” energy and “warm” the earth and atmosphere.

    For the GHG up/down/”back” radiation energy loop to operate as advertised requires ideal black body, 1.0 emissivity, LWIR of 396 W/m^2 from the surface. (K-T diagram)

    The surface cannot do that because of a contiguous participating media, i.e. atmospheric molecules, moving over 50% ((17+80)/160) of the surface heat through non-radiative processes, i.e. conduction, convection, latent evaporation/condensation. (K-T diagram) Because of the contiguous turbulent non-radiative processes at the air interface the oceans cannot have an emissivity of 0.97.

    No GHG energy loop & no greenhouse effect means no CO2/man caused climate change and no Gorebal warming.

    Nick Schroeder, BSME, PE

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