Time for comprehensive review of health impacts of fracking, say doctors

Health sign

Photo: DrillOrDrop

A government adviser has been accused of “negligent failure” for refusing to revise a report on the health impacts of fracking.

Two senior doctors have urged the chief executive of Public Health England (PHE), Duncan Selbie, to “reflect on previous inaction and publish an updated review”.

In an open letter, Dr Frank Rugman, a retired consultant haematologist, and Dr Barbara Kneale, honorary assistant professor at Nottingham Medical School, said:

“PHE appears to have allied itself with the pro-fracking UK Government, in suggesting that the risk can be mitigated and reduced to an acceptable level through regulations that have already been found to be inadequate”.

The doctors asked whether the Government and PHE were truly committed to the Cleaner Air Strategy when they had refused to review new evidence on air pollution linked to fracking.

They said:

“The medical profession not only has a duty to protect the health of individuals and to do no harm, but also has a duty to protect the health of populations.

“We cannot in all conscience stand by, without making comment on what many now consider to be a negligent failure by Public Health England in refusing to publish an updated review.”

1406 PHE report

The original PHE report, published in 2013, concluded that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with shale gas would be low if operations were properly run and regulated.

The report has since been criticised for being out-of-date and for its limited scope.

It considered only studies on the effects of direct emissions of chemicals and radioactive material from the extraction of shale gas. It did not consider studies of the 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.

An update of the report considered peer-reviewed or published reports up to January 2014 but there was “no significant changes” to the conclusions, PHE said.

There are no plans to update the review. But Drs Rugman and Kneale said new research has found evidence of the adverse health effects of fracking.

They said it was “irrefutable” that the shale gas industry was “inherently hazardous”. They cited: particulates PM2.5; volatile organic compounds, such as benzene; physical hazards; radioactive materials; excessive heavy traffic; and the impacts of dust.

They said:

“Some of these hazards are classed as carcinogens and as such it is accepted that there is no safe limit.

“Moreover, Public Health England, has accepted that there are hazards harmful to health but have dismissed them as being “low’’ due to the ability of the UK regulatory system. An assumption which is disputed by many.”

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Protestors at Preston New Road site 13 October 2018 Photo: DrillOrDrop

This is the doctors’ latest call in an ongoing campaign for a comprehensive review of the health impacts of unconventional oil and gas.

In August 2018, they wrote to the energy minister, Claire Perry, arguing that people living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site were being treated as guinea pigs for studies on the impact of chemical emissions.

Also that month, the pair were among signatories of a letter organised by campaign network, Frack Free United, to Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the chair of the parliamentary health select committee. This called on the committee to review all the current evidence on the health effects of unconventional oil and gas production.

In November 2018, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed that PHE had not changed its view on the hazards of shale gas.

He told Dr Wollaston:

“PHE continues to review the evidence on the potential public health impacts of emissions associated with shale gas extraction and have not currently identified nay significant evidence that would make it change its views stated in its review.”

Frack Free United has called on Mr Hancock to provide a list of the research assessed by PHE since 2014. It also asked why PHE was not considering wider health impacts of fracking.

47 replies »

    • Jack

      I think that your link shows more how a move from coal to gas, increased gas demand in Asia and fracking in America is causing a rise in methane levels.

      Plus the study is not a new one ( ie not just discovered ) and not stunning, plus has been linked on here before.

      Nor does the NASA report say that fracking is destroying the atmosphere.
      That is left to ‘think progress’ to do a Daily Mail on the subject

      This does not detract from the facts in the NASA report. The large expected increase in LNG production may well drive the increase in future, frack or no frack.

      • HEWES62

        Although we could debate as to the exact words to be used in this case.

        When we take note of the fact that Methane over a 100-year period traps 28 times more heat per mass unit than Carbon Dioxide . I would say that my use of the words ” destroying the atmosphere ” was on the light side when you consider how dangerous a high Methane content in the earths atmosphere will be to ALL living things.

        We only have ONE atmosphere, lets protect it whilst we still have a chance to .

        Fracking leaks a major factor in US methane ‘hot spot’ – NASA

        • Jack
          I am sure we will not fall out over words.

          But maybe better to say that the move from coal to gas, allied with the expected increase in global energy demand will result in an increase in atmospheric methane levels, despite the recent development of renewable energy sources and expansion of nuclear power.

          Hot spots are likely over areas of gas and oil production, in particular where gas is flared as a byproduct of oil production ( as per the 2014 Ethane Spike .. N.Dakota as noted here on DOD ). Be that in the US or other parts of the globe where this occurs ( just as we did in the N.Sea prior to the ‘dash for gas ).

          So…like pushing diesel in Europe, maybe making coal the big bogey man has not resulted in outcome we hoped for.

          Meanwhile, maybe we should ban cruise ships or convert them all to LPG, or concentrate on converting busses and HGVs to hydrogen asap?

          As ever, for a consideration, the exponential investor will give you advice on how to profit from any move to reduce emissions ( nothing guaranteed of course ).

  1. One doctor retired, the other working in a medical school.

    Yep-obviously a consensus. (In anti terms.)

    Wonder how many UK doctors will be dealing with patients with fuel poverty related conditions this winter? The majority I suspect, and too busy to campaign.

  2. Isn’t this part of the problem? The Pennsylvania Medical Society unanimously call for a moratorium on fracking but get nowhere because the Governor knows how important (economically) fracking is. 300 doctors cannot be accused of being anti fracking activists, it is obvious they care about public health. But it is convenient to ignore their concerns, convenient to dismiss the numerous peer reviewed papers despite the concerns they identify. Scientists know how difficult it is to conduct studies on public health because humans do not live in a bubble and have different lifestyles and exposures to environmental impacts. But significant and large peer reviewed studies have now been conducted by reputable scientists and organisations that show among other things an increase in pregnancy complications, including premature birth. If we care more about health than profit shouldn’t we be listening to Drs and scientists and erring on the side of caution? Just as the tobacco industry had the scientific fact but worked to down play the health impacts of smoking, Exxon Mobil is now facing a court case for deliberately withholding its own scientific evidence about fossil fuels and manmade climate change. Indeed many fossil fuel companies have and do contribute funds to anti global warming PR and climate change denying organisations and often whilst still publicly claiming their concerns for climate change!
    We have not established a fracking industry in the U.K. so have little U.K. obtained data. An exploratory well here or there is not the equvalent of a fully operational fracking industry. But the US does and despite the legal barriers and powerful industry opposition, extensive peer reviewed studies have been completed and the results should raise concerns. PHE must be held accountable for its decision if it is not prepared to carry out another assessment and so should the politicians that support that decision.

    • Sorry KatT, but what they do in USA should NOT be taken as a blueprint for UK.

      What other industry would do the same? I worked within agriculture all my working life and, whilst there are many US agricultural methods and standards that are superb, there are some that are not, or just related to US conditions and circumstances. The UK is perfectly able to assess matters itself, and should do so, where appropriate. Whatever you imply regarding PNR it is being very extensively monitored, according to UK requirements, and that is where the focus should be. Apart from some very minor issues, that would be replicated on most construction sites across this country, nothing has been identified as a serious environmental issue. Yes, it is only one test site, but I would still prefer UK to roll out to more sites, than take the lazy route of “Where are there numerous sites? Oh yes. Lets take that as determined for UK.”

      • You may claim PNR is being extensively monitored but the fact remains that it is Cuadrilla that are submitting their own data to the regulators. Practically all the regulator site visits have been pre arranged. . Cuadrilla marking their own homework is hardly credible independent monitoring.

  3. The retired Environment Agency executive stated at the recent enquiry into potential fracking industry activity at Wallasey that gold standard monitoring as promoted by David Cameron et al is an impossibility.
    Experience at PNR definitely backs this up!

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