‘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.”


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. Didn’t UKOOG see Trump signing his pledge to re-open the US coal mines on a desk full of coal? Eschew? No – promote!
    “A number of reports”. ? By whom? Have the writers got links to UKOOG? One could check if the response clarified by whom the “number of reports” were written!
    We do have choices, as per the final paragraph. My choice is for renewable energy which would create far more permanent jobs than fracking. It will also not pollute the atmosphere., the froundcor the water tables. The government should not have abandoned the idea of tidal barriers. I also don’t understand some people aversion to wind turbines. Electricity pylons are much uglier. In North Wales which I visit regularly, there are fields full of solar panels, hundreds of wind turbines and some turbines on hills too. They are much more forward thinking than the Westminster Government. I don’t consider them ugly; I am just grateful that someone is trying to save the earth because the Uk government certainly isn’t!

  2. I rather trust consultant doctors with my health than shale gas apologists, which is what the OGA government and the pro shale commentators here. Local doctors here in Ryedale are aghast at the government and industry cavalier attitude to our health, and have no wish to expose residents as guinea pigs to known toxins. Ryedale is awash with highly educated well informed residents who have looked carefully into the evidence and concluded the air around a fracking site is not air they want to breath, and that are absolutely determined to stop it happening

  3. And also renewables are again having subsidies, this time to zero I am told, next April, in an annoncement smuggled out at the beginning of the summer break. All governments must abandon fossil fuel subsidies and plan for more renewables to completely replace all fossil fuels much more rapidly, to have ANY chance of avoiding sending humanity towards extinction with runaway human induced climate change, and leave all new gas and oil fields in the ground. And plant lots more trees.

        • The UK defines fossil fuel subsidies as “government action that lowers the pretax price to consumers to below that of international levels.” There are none.

          There are some tax breaks for decommissioning, but then the oil and gas industry pay more tax than any other industry.

          Corporation tax is ring fenced at 30% plus there is the additional 32% supplementary charge. Making the total tax bill payable to 62%

          • It’s worth remembering that the oil and gas that is being extracted belongs to the Crown, not to the extracting companies. So the payments the government are receiving are not so much a tax as our share of the profits on a resource that effectively belongs to us. I believe the headline rate of payments made to the government is now 40% This means we effectively pay 60% of the value of our resources to the companies who take them out of the ground for us. You may or may not think that is a good deal.

            • Paul, who is paying to extract the oil and gas? Who takes the exploration risk and associated write offs? Who pays for the appraisal and development costs? When do O & G companies start to make money from a typical field – if ever these days?

              If you use your logic I assume this applies to any extracted resources including metals, minerals, coal etc., water, wind, solar. We own them all but have to pay for them, or their end products?

              • I take your point, Paul, but was pointing out that the “tax” the oil companies pay is different in a fundamental way from the tax you and I pay, since it is in part a payment for something which you and I (indirectly) own. There is also the question of what is a fair share for the companies to keep – once upon a time they only kept 38% of the proceeds, now they keep 60%. Not being an oil or gas expert, I don’t know the answer to that one.

            • The other industries including renewables do not have a tax (as far as I know) equivalent to the 40% petroleum revenue tax. They only pay the corporation tax which the O & G companies pay on top of PRT.

              The PRT is a good deal for us – put it up and the companies leave and the O & G stays in the ground. The reason the tax it has dropped, is that it costs more to find and develop smaller fields now that all the big fields are depleted. Deeper water also costs a lot more to expore in and develop.

            • Oil/gas exploration is extremely high risk so without a fair tax incentives there will be no investment and fuel cost will sky rocketed. Tax too high the company will have to pass on the cost to end user. This is a common business practice in any industry.

            • Paul Seaman, There is a good summary on upstream tax take here. One of the reasons our country is finding it difficult to balance the books is beacuse formerly we were living of very high tax revenues from the North Sea. Of course it would have been better to have invested the lion’s share of those revenues i infrastructure, energy research & a Sovereign Wealth Fund (similar to Norway). Unfortunately our politicians tend to be very short term in their thinking & many of them have little or no technical knowledge necessary for modernising our country so that it can thrive.

  4. These doctors are hypocrites. They are fake news…. as with their scientific background they should know the only way to know is to test the hypothesis. Without experiment and test there will be no new knowledge or further advance.
    They are no scientists at all. They should go back to do their postdoc again.

    • YES BUT …….. TW


      The ” experiment and test ” has been done in the USA and no matter how much money the O&G industry throw at the government and the people to keep the nightmare quiet ..

      The truth is coming out in bucket loads and it’s NOT good….

      With hundreds of Peer reviewed studies and countless lawsuits against the Fracking industry. The ONLY ones it’s still looking good for in the US, is the chosen few of the elite.

      • The chosen few of the elite that are still able to cream of their slice amongst all the misery and suffering of others .

    • Yes TW, the only way to know is to test the hypothesis. As others have pointed out, there is a whole raft of evidence from other countries that are years down the line from us. In fact, there are hundreds of peer reviewed academic studies that give evidence of the harm – to health and other issues. This government’s choice is to disregard them all and start from scratch by testing the hypothesis outselves. To what standard will become apparent from our own peer reviewed studies, or evidence of harm, whichever arrives first. So the only way to identify the same harm here is to stringently measure the baseline, then continuously monitor the fracking industry if/when it develops in this country. Strange therefore that nobody will commit to the responsibility of taking a health baseline, as evidenced in the North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint Plan process. No baseline, no evidence. A 500m setback was also agreed as a reasonable and well evidenced proposal by the govt planning inspector – I believe it comes under the heading of gold standard regulation – to protect people from air pollution, noise, light, health and explosion risks, until sufficiently evidenced in this country. The industry immediately threatened to take this decision to judicial review and the govt immediately issued proposals to take decisions away from local Mineral Planning Authorities in response to the NY MWJP process. Interesting approach to regulation, localism, democracy and the planning process.

  5. Hope your right Martin ,about extra money going into the Health Service. If the science is right there will be a lot more health problems associated with the manifestation’s of fracking to contend with.

  6. KISHENY ,

    YES and did you also hear the one about the old lady in Scotland , who saw President Putin disguised as a chamber maid running away with her garden gnome in the middle of the night .

    It’s becoming truly laughable , watch this space……… Next you’ll have some bureaucrat blaming Putin for Pot Holes in the road .

    [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  7. Well, I am right Robert. Extra money IS going into the NHS. We just have to find where it is coming from!

    I would prefer it comes from UK industry, rather than UK individuals. Equally, I would prefer it comes out of tax on UK industry than buying in exports and being caught by every currency fluctuation. Sterling will be volatile for some years.

    By the way, my science tells me if a wind turbine falls on someone there are health problems. The answer I believe is to make certain they don’t. We will see if the same controls can be applied to fracking in the UK-it’s not as if it is being rushed into!

    • ‘it’s not as if it is being rushed into!’ – actually it has, it is only the efforts of those who have researched and slowed down the process [yes, you guessed it , the anti-fracking campaigners] or we would be in a right pickle now.

      Clearly there is a difference between a wind turbine and a garden windmill; falling on someone, are you having a breakdown MC?

      • The ‘extra’ revenue from the NHS if indeed it exists, would likely be coming from the pot of money stashed by the cons from their cuts to local government over their miserable time line [49% average cut per authority funding was quoted on the BBC this week]; staggering.

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