Regulation

‘Government is using Lancashire residents as guinea pigs in a fracking impacts experiment’ – doctors

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Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site preparing for fracking the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well, 6 August 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

An open letter from two doctors has accused the energy minister, Claire Perry, of using Cuadrilla’s fracking site near Blackpool to study the impact of toxic chemical emissions on people. Consultants’ letter to Claire Perry

Dr Barbara Kneale, a consultant in occupational medicine, and Dr Francis Rugman, a retired consultant haematologist, said the “experiment” was without the informed consent of residents.

They called for an immediate moratorium until there has been an evaluation of all the evidence on health, safety and environmental issues on fracking.

Cuadrilla received government approval last month to frack the UK’s first horizontal shale gas well at the Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton. It has since applied to frack a second well. The process is expected to begin in weeks.

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Claire Perry giving evidence to a select committee on 21 May 2018. Photo: Parliamentary TV

The doctors, both opponents of fracking, pointed out in their letter that Ms Perry announced the consent three days before the publication of a government report from 2015 on the impacts of shale gas extraction on air quality. Link to report

This report acknowledged that the total fracking process generates air pollutants and releases substances hazardous to health.

It also stated that US studies have shown significant adverse impacts on both local and regional air quality.

Dr Kneale and Dr Rugman drew attention to a comment in the report that UK evidence on the impact of emissions could be collected solely by studying the first commercial wells.

They said:

“The only conclusion that can be made is that the Cuadrilla site at Little Plumpton will be used as a prospective observational study to monitor emissions of toxic chemicals, known to adversely impact human health.

“This experiment is to proceed without the informed consent of the impacted close residents, some of whom live at only 350 meters from the site.

“Many question whether such an experiment complies with ethical guidelines.”

The doctors added:

“This is not ‘gold standard’ regulation. Are human receptors (ie Fylde residents) to be used as ‘guinea-pigs’?”

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Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation at Preston New Road, 27 July 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

“Questionable credibility”

The doctors said a review of the impacts of shale gas extraction by Public Health England had, in effect, given the government “written permission” to proceed with fracking. The review concluded that fracking was a low risk to public health if it was regulated properly.

But the review was “widely considered by experts to be of questionable credibility and was severely criticised at the time of publication”, the doctors said.

They added that Public Health England (PHE) was aware of the air quality report because a named assessor and observer from the agency was involved in its production. Despite this, PHE has refused to update its own review.

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Dr Rugman and Claire Stephenson delivering a petition in August 2017 calling on Pubic Health England to update its review. Photo: Frack Free Lancashire

Dr Kneale and Dr Rugman said the primary purpose of PHE and other regulators was to protect public health and safety. But they said:

“There has been no consideration for health monitoring of the local population [at Preston New Road]. Without detailed baseline and continuous monitoring of the close residents, any observed adverse impacts on health may be invalid.”

They added:

“In 2018, there is now abundant and accumulating evidence from the USA, of the potential harm, not only from the release of toxic volatile organic chemicals, but also from breathing in the diesel exhaust micro-particle PM 2.5 emissions from the numerous on-site diesel compressors and associated heavy diesel truck traffic.”

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Heavy goods vehicles visiting Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site on 8 August 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

Studies had also highlighted risks from dust from fracking sand and thermal injuries from fires or explosions, the doctors said. Proximity to fracking sites has been linked in US research to increased hospital admissions and dermatological and respiratory symptoms, as well as worsened asthma, low birth weight and pre-term births.

There is no setback distance in Lancashire between fracking sites and homes, the doctors said. Nor has a specific emergency evacuation plan between described or published, they added.

“We believe that PHE should consider all the high-quality evidence since 2014 and update their report as a matter of urgency.

“We believe there should be an immediate moratorium on fracking until a transparent review takes place to evaluate all the health, safety and environmental issues.”

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement:

“Shale gas has the potential to be a new domestic energy source, further enhancing our energy security and continuing our transition to a lower-carbon economy. It also has the capacity to deliver substantial economic benefits, both nationally and locally.

“The UK has world leading regulation to ensure that shale gas can be explored safely and ensure there is no risk to public health.”

Industry response

A statement from the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said:

“UKOOG are concerned that the authors of the letter to Claire Perry have not fully understood the regulatory process in the UK. A hazard by itself does not constitute a risk; it is only when there is a hazard source, a receptor (i.e. a person or population) and a pathway of exposure connecting the two that there is any potential for risk to health. This letter also makes several far reaching claims about declining air quality in the US. However, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, emissions specifically referred to in this letter – such as NOx, PM2.5 and sulphur dioxide – all fell in the USA from 2000 – 2017, by 35%, 41% and 79% respectively. This is thanks to the increased consumption of natural gas, as the US moves to eschew highly-polluting coal.

“The protection of human health has been a fundamental principle to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) since its initial inception in 1969, through to the recently amended European Union EIA Directive which strengthens the existing legislation and makes the EIA process even more demanding. The potential hazards associated with onshore oil and gas are well understood; and are not unique to this industry. Appropriate design is the primary mechanism to control all potential hazards which are then addressed through the UK regulatory planning and permitting process.

“There have been a number of reports on health issues in England, Scotland and Wales all of which have concluded the risks are low and manageable in a properly regulated industry. The objective and outcome of the planning process is that the source-pathway-receptor linkage is either removed by design, such that there is no potential for health risk (avoidance), or where this is not possible, the regulatory regime controls and minimises emissions in order to achieve a high level of protection for the environment and human health (mitigation).

“The 2015 air quality document referenced acknowledges that the data is out of date and that a number of processes have already been put in place by industry and Government to monitor and publicly report emissions at our sites, which, incidentally, were the subject of the recommendations in the report.

“This monitoring is carefully regulated using environmental permits administered by the Environment Agency. The report also notes – as many reports have done in the past – that the UK has different geology and superior regulation from the countries that data has been collected from to date. There is a need for a UK evidence base under UK regulation within UK geology which we as an industry are committed to delivering.

“We have a choice: import higher lifecycle emission gas from overseas, or produce it here at the benefit of our climate, UK jobs, tax revenues and community investment.”

  • A petition to government ministers to ban fracking, launched two days ago, had attracted nearly 61,000 signatures at the time of writing.

39 replies »

  1. Furthermore, Balcombe primary school pupils will be exposed to higher levels of pollution because all the vehicles that travel too and from the Lower Stumble site, just South of the village, will pass within just a yard of the school’s railings. The risk is higher because the school is on a slope and is therefore lower than the road. Authoritative reports have stated that higher levels of pollution have a more significant adverse impact on the youngest in our society. Should the site go into full production, the school site, and the main road from the site through to the village and beyond, will have increased levels of pollution for years, possibly decades. The recently belatedly released report specifically refers to a rise in pollution levels, not just from the extraction processes, but also from onsite diesel engines and the movement of vehicles, which are primary the larger HGVs. Our local council, in their wisdom, in full knowledge of this increased risk to our children (because we told them so!) chose to ignore our protestations on this matter and approved the application to flow test. I believe they also failed to require adequate emissions testing anywhere in the village, but most particularly at the school site. Perhaps their decision would have been different if they had read this report. But it seems we have a gung ho council in West Sussex when it comes to onshore fossil fuel exploration, although I suspect the risk of the exploration companies taking them to court should they decline their application is tantamount to blackmail, especially when central government contributions to local government have been massively reduced since 2010.

  2. Thanks to Dr Barbara Kneale and Dr Francis Rugman, we may have an outbreak of commonsense. Claire Perry please take note. The government has all of the current information with regards to the potential health hazards but continues to ignore it. Chosing to use a very dubious PHE report from 2014 is reckless. Hundreds of peer reviewed studies on the health risks associated with this industry have been published since 2014. However, this does not suit the governments ‘crawl for gas’ (dash for gas is no longer applicable, unless we consider 6 years as being a dash). This will affect peoples lives in the near future and beyond. To quote the lyrics from a song by Robin Grey “Our tattered democracy just filed for divorce.”

    • you’re saying a BEIS made just before 23 July 2018 is made on the basis of potential health impacts as assessed in 2014 {PHE]? Which PHE report? That’s the least I can ask. thanks.

  3. I suppose the other side to this argument is the massive incentive payments (I gather about £1.5 BILLION this yea) paid to renewable producers and what that contributes to higher energy bills and eventually higher winter deaths among the elderly.

    Shale development will not immediately lower prices but surely higher U.K. production must eventually contribute to higher supply.

  4. I would wager all both these concerned doctors. are contributing to the very pollution that they are protesting. either by their own vehicles. or how they heat their homes. perhaps their argument would be more convincing if by example they were to stop contributing to the pollution themselves.

  5. Since campaigning for the White House, Trump has vowed to revive the ailing U.S. coal industry. Both the U.S. coal and nuclear power industries have been shrinking for years, under pressure from cheaper natural gas along with advances in solar and wind energy.
    As part of the plan, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) could exercise emergency authority under national security laws to direct the operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear facilities, according to a memo reviewed by Reuters. (bit.ly/2LPCTp3)

    that doesn’t fit well with UKOG’s claim that fracked gas has now cleaned up the US statistics on air pollution, and therefore is not a problem in the UK’s well regulated gold standard industry.

  6. Desperate.

    Didn’t work for the Weald, so let’s try the same formula for PNR. Still won’t work. Losing any credibility left.

    Meanwhile, Sterling weak increasing the cost of imports. Most vulnerable in society, in fuel poverty, will be faced with higher energy bills and these Doctors will see more cases of death due to pneumonia complications. Pretty responsible-not.

    See them off, Ms. Perry.

  7. Are we not creating our own “Novichok” with our gold standard useless Environment Agency and Government? Time will tell, and by then all the decision makers and the tax evading (entrepreneur’s ?) will be long gone.

  8. Time will tell, Robert. Maybe we will have a plump Sovereign Wealth Fund that can then produce the sort of health service they have in Norway, and proper investment into sensible alternative energy, that they have in Norway? Or, perhaps there will still be some stopping that and shipping that across the North Sea to Norway? Very charitable some in the UK.

    • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our government had the foresight and fiscal management ability to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund similar to the highly successful Norwegian model. I’m sure most people on this blog would heartily support such a move. In the absence of any evidence for it happening, we’ll maybe not hold our collective breath. Perhaps like Brexit planning, the government will start to plan for it once the reality of loadsamoney materialises.

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