One of the UK’s leading public health experts heard testimony today about the stress of living with fracking from neighbours of Cuadrilla’s shale gas site.
Professor John Middleton, the president of the Faculty of Public Health*, met people whose homes are within a few hundred metres of the Preston New Road site in Lancashire.
The residents, all of whom oppose fracking, told him and Professor Patrick Saunders, of Staffordshire University, that their health and wellbeing had been affected by Cuadrilla’s operations.
Graham Daniels, who lives at Carr Bridge residential park, said he felt his health had deteriorated.
“I now have problems with blood pressure which I didn’t have before. My wife now is being treated for blood pressure. She also was clear – she never had any illness of any sort or any medication.
“I think it is the worry, the stress of what is going on here, that has exacerbated our conditions.
“It is a worry about what is going to happen if this takes off. When the flaring starts, for one thing, the air quality could be a problem. We just don’t know what the effect is going to be.”
Susan Holliday lives 350m from the site perimeter and can see the pad from her bedroom window. She said she had worked in a stressful job and was used to being under considerable pressure. But she said:
“The difference is that this is your home that is affected. It is the place we chose to buy to retire to. People get very emotional about the situation. It is stressful.”
As current chair of the Preston New Road Action Group, she continues to represent local residents. But she said a small group of neighbours of Preston New Road had been opposing the proposals for at least four years.
She said residents challenged the application through the local planning system, then went through a six-week public inquiry, followed by a judicial review and finally the court of appeal. When work got underway at the site, they began carrying out their own independent noise, air and water quality monitoring.
Her husband Chris described how, unlike a job, the workload and stress was round the clock.
“People are online 24/7. Susan is getting emails at all times. It is relentless.”
Dianne Westgarth, who lives 850m away from the site, said she had previously been very healthy.
“I donated a kidney to my brother and you have to be very healthy to do that. Now my blood pressure is so high it is not controllable.”
Ms Westgarth said the original application was 4,500 pages.
“That is what the community had to get its teeth into. That is huge for a little community to take on. We have fought this for four years, primarily self-funded.”
With fracking now underway, Moggsy Marsh, said:
“It is very, very scary. It’s not just for me. It’s for my grandchildren and everybody else, even your animals. I’d love it to just stop. It’s not fair on ordinary people.”
The residents said the recent series of earth tremors caused by fracking at the site had alerted more people in the area to what was happening at Preston New Road. They said the overwhelming local feeling was against the operation.
Peter Watson, who lives about 370m away from the site perimeter, said there appeared to be no accountability for problems:
“We have invested a lot in our houses. They have old-style foundations. If we do get earthquakes there will be a lot of damage and there is no recourse.”
James Marsh said:
“We cannot afford to get out of the house. If the house is damaged we have nothing to leave to our son.”
The residents described how some local houses were not selling as quickly as they had before Cuadrilla’s application and how some had lost value. But they stressed their concerns were not about money.
Dianne Westgarth said:
“I do not think we will ever be the same. We don’t laugh like we used to.”
The professors also visited campaigners opposite the site gate and were due to meet Lancashire’s Director of Public Health.
Professor Saunders said the number of scientific studies on the effects of direct exposure to fracking were very small. Based on them, he said:
“No serious scientist would come to the conclusion that fracking is safe or unsafe. You could not come to that conclusion.
“But you can say that your experiences are real.”
Professor Middleton said:
“We wanted to see and hear directly how this is affecting you. We have a clear view of how it is impacting you day-to-day.”
He said the Faculty of Public Health would be arguing against fracking on climate change grounds but he said:
“At the same time no one should have to suffer what you are having to put up with.”
He promised to investigate the progress of a review by the government’s adviser, Public Health England (PHE), of the latest evidence of the health impacts of fracking.
- The Faculty of Public Health is a membership organisation that sets standards for public health specialists in the UK. It was formed in 1972 by the Royal Colleges of Physicians.
Reporting from this meeting was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers