Research

Public health concerns about fracking were marginalised or ignored in England – new research

pnr gooseneck Cuadrilla Resources

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The UK Government and its advisers “marginalised, downplayed or ignored” public health concerns about shale gas exploration and fracking in England,  new research has concluded.

A study by the University of Stirling found that science was frequently ignored and the shale gas industry was very effective in influencing decision-making.

This had been to the detriment of public health, with vulnerable and disadvantaged communities at the greatest risk, it said.

The research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, said:

“The industry in England has largely operated in a policy field where the core assumptions of planners and decision makers have quite clearly been in favour of shale development at scale.”

It added:

“decision-making on developments marginalised, downplayed or ignored the science and public health concerns about shale exploration.”

The authors conceded there had been a policy reversal on fracking in November 2019, when the government introduced a moratorium in England.

But they said:

“major air pollution and associated climate change threats [from fracking] remain ‘denied’ and either wholly or partially unaddressed and so ethical and environmental justice dimensions of air pollution have been ignored and marginalised.”

England continued to lag behind the science and international initiatives on climate change and air pollution, they said.

Their study concluded that the Scottish Government had built a more ethical and environmentally-just decision-making process into its energy policy linked to shale gas.

“Science frequently ignored”

The study was described as the first of its kind to examine the environmental and public health aspects of decision-making processes in the shale gas industry in England.

One of the authors, Professor Andrew Watterson, of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, said:

“We found that science was frequently ignored and industry was able to influence decision-making within a political, legal and planning framework in England, to the detriment of public health.

He said:

“Our study looked at how environmental justice and ethics are considered in decisions around shale gas development, which has been shown to adversely affect air quality and contribute to climate change.

“The findings reveal that decision-making by the UK Government and several of its advisory groups marginalised or ignored the ethical and environmental justice consequences and, hence, the public health ramifications of permitting the shale gas industry.”

The co-author, Dr William Dinan, a specialist in political communication and the mediation of environmental and public health issues, said:

“Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change is the biggest issue facing the world and requires urgent action.

“Government, legal and planning decisions around climate change and air pollution is of the greatest importance to society. Local communities, governments, policymakers, civil servants, non-governmental organisations, and the sustainable energy industries may all benefit from the results of our research.

“Any new policies should ensure that there are ethical approaches to proposed shale exploration and environmental justice concerns must be incorporated into planning and decision making.”

“Total picture of impacts never fully considered”

The study analysed science on air pollution and shale gas linked to a range of adverse public health indicators. It also looked at planning and key concepts of ethical decision-making and environmental justice.

It found that decision-makers on shale gas were not sufficiently focused on the threats of climate change. Because they dealt with relatively small projects, they underplayed the threats to global public health from the sector as a whole.

The fragmentation of projects and decision-making on shale gas was a significant problem, the study concluded.

“It ensures the total picture of all shale oil and gas impacts is never fully considered and hence national and global burdens of air pollution that will affect small communities are not properly considered.”

Planners have failed to consider the threat of fine particle pollution, the study added. The links between deprivation and the impacts of public health from air pollution had also been neglected in England.

28 replies »

  1. Quite funny, listen to the science for Covid (quite rightly, in my opinion) but not for fracking. Double standards or what?!

    • It’s one thing saying you’re listening to the science, it’s another thing deciding which bits to use in any decisions, or even to ignore the lot and do whatever is best for the economy alone. Distinct similarities between Covid and Fracking in that sense.

  2. It’s certainly interesting when the science and the evidence behind it prove what you’ve been saying for circa 8 years was right all along. Not that that will stop Martin from denying it all in a subsequent comment, probably with the use of some completely unrelated issue.

  3. Vindication at last. PHE led the charge of science denial and conspired to persuade councils and government to suspend their curiosity and blindly recite the mantra of different population, different regulations and different geology so we have to frack to discover if England is different from every other country. I was unable to find anyone from PHE who admitted to having read any science from other countries. ‘I see no ships’. I love the way that ‘someone’ selected a set of scientific papers to educate county councils and other bodies. All came from government bodies or reports sponsored by the government . Good plan. They all said it would be safe if it was done safely.

    • Even worse Dr Thornton, when the government sponsored it’s own reports, such as on the impacts on air quality, if they didn’t like the conclusion, they chose to ignore or suppress them. You may recall such a report confirming the harm caused from fracking on air quality was withheld for two years and then quietly released after Cuadrilla got the go ahead?

  4. Public Health England need to wake up and stop being Westminster’s puppets.
    Those of us that refused to be cowed by their rhetoric that “ fracking has no significant effect on health” can feel some vindication in this report. Sad to say that much of PHE “ modelling” belongs on a catwalk.

  5. It’s interesting that the findings of the grand jury in Pennsylvania, after hearing hundreds of hours of evidence from experts, industry and the public, was that the state had failed to protect its citizens from the harms of fracking. And some of the many issues cited was a failure by those with responsibility to take account of the cumulative impacts and to believe industry and disregard the public. The parallels couldn’t be clearer.

    • KatT, the grand jury investigation into fracking problems in Pennsylvania was conducted in secret, its findings have not been subjected to scrutiny in a courtroom or anywhere else.

      The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that were criticised in the grand jury’s report only received a full copy after taking legal action.

      The DOH and DEP have responded to the grand jury investigation with the following statement.

      “it presents an inaccurate and incomplete picture of Pennsylvania’s regulatory program and how it is being implemented. The report relies upon unidentified witness snapshots, in some cases from 10-15 years ago.”

      “the grand jurors were not able to develop an understanding of the current regulatory program or the related law and, consequently, made recommendations that are ultimately unproductive and/or inappropriate”

      • A grand jury does meet in secret that is true, they provide a means of examining evidence in order to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges. It is a different way of examining evidence that bypasses the pre trial. This was an investigative grand jury it does not make it’s findings and less important. They have been subjected to scrutiny because that is what a grand jury does. And Shapiro as a lawyer would not publish a report like this if it was based merely on lies and half truths. This is a legal investigation that has taken two years. And of course the DOH and DEP will try to defend themselves, that’s a given. But the failings uncovered are numerous and by the very fact of carrying out a heavy industrial process close to where people live, you are putting people in harms way – let alone exposing them to all the rest of the impacts that come along with fracking. It is interesting to read what the DOH is saying now. It seems to be acknowledging that it needs to take a “closer look”. Hardly the considered response of an organisation that could prove unequivocally that it was on top of everything is it?
        There are too many peer reviewed studies, some from some of the best public health experts in the world, such as Johns Hopkins, and there is too much testimony and evidence from the public for harm to be discounted, and especially in the way it has been. Worse still – much of the harm has been caused by operations that are simply part and parcel of fracking, not just leaks from impoundment ponds. And as the report acknowledges, they still have not got a satisfactory way of dealing with all the toxic waste water in the US, over a decade after fracking started.
        You do not always have to take a matter to to court to establish fault, wrong doing or harm, just like many inquires conducted in the U.K. have done and they too have led to recommendations and change being implemented. The facts stand.

        https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2020/06/30/department-of-health-says-it-is-looking-into-fracking-public-health-risks-following-grand-jury-report/ investigative

        [AutoCorrect corrected at poster’s request]

        • Shapiro is a politician looking for re-election as well as a lawyer. He only released a section of the report for publication, the DEP and DOH had to take legal action to obtain the full report.

          The grand jury report classifies the evidence of negative health impacts associated with fracking as “clear and convincing,” but there is however no documentation of any occurrences or any evidence to associate health effects with unconventional gas development. Their connections are based on personal accounts, rather than facts or clinical research.

          The grand jury was not provided with clear or accurate information about the relevant regulatory requirements for the unconventional oil and gas industry.

          The report claims that the use of chemicals for fracking and the treatment of return fluid is unregulated, this is contrary to Pennsylvania’s regulations and DEP records.

          In short, the grand jury report fails as an expose of government agencies ignoring their statutory duties and constitutional obligations.

          The report also fails as a meaningful tool for improving the regulation of the unconventional gas industry in the State of Pennsylvania or the US, because the report is not informed by the applicable laws or facts.

        • Shapiro is a politician looking for re-election, as well being as a lawyer. He only released a section of the report for publication, the DEP and DOH had to take legal action to obtain the full report.

          The grand jury report classifies the evidence of negative health impacts associated with fracking as “clear and convincing,” but there is however no documentation of any occurrences or any evidence to associate health effects with unconventional gas development. Their connections are based on personal accounts, rather than facts or clinical research.

          The grand jury was not provided with clear or accurate information about the regulatory requirements.

          The report claims that the use of chemicals and the treatment of return fluid is unregulated, this is contrary to Pennsylvania’s regulations and DEP records.

          In short, the grand jury report fails as an exposé of a government agency ignoring its statutory duties and constitutional obligations. The report also fails as a meaningful tool for improving the regulation of the unconventional gas industry, because the report is not at all informed by the applicable law or facts.

          • John, a lawyer is a lawyer irrespective of political ambition and as such has to uphold legal and ethical standards. You cannot simply flout the law. And you cannot simply dismiss the findings of a grand jury just because you don’t like the findings.The facts stand.
            Hundreds of peer reviewed studies of people living close to fracking sites show harm. Complications in pregnancy, premature births, nose bleeds, migraines, hives etc have all been recorded by doctors and scientists. That is of course when doctors were eventually permitted to report medical impacts – after the Supreme Court quashed Act 13, the so called doctors gagging order.
            Shapiro is right, the use of gagging orders, the power and tactics of the industry has suppressed the facts and prevented justice for too long. I admire what he is doing, it is no easy task as he is well aware. In his public address Shapiro made it clear he knew exactly what the industry would say and was prepared. I wish him every success.
            And with regard to waste water disposal, as I understand it the issue is that if laws were not enforced, hence the criticism of the DEP, but the report states that no satisfactory way of disposing of the water after over a decade of the industry operating has been found. Partly due to the volume, partly due to the salinity and other content.

  6. Ahh, some more personal attacks. Bit like the lockdown. Once the controls are eased some will just let rip.

    Obviously, some who are concerned with different opinions, or just easily excited. Very Orwellian.

    Maybe they should just concentrate a little more on their own contributions and try and be a bit more accurate. Reminder: It was YOUR use of reports that I was indicating was subjective and selective, Dr. Frank. If that was not clear to you, then I am sorry. Accuracy not the antis strong point. Again. Change the definition of words, or what was stated, and no one will notice? Probably not, if activist propaganda is the sole objective.

    [Edited by moderator]

    Congratulations Carol. Played the ball there.

  7. [Martin ]Collyer, please kindly enlighten us as to which of the numerous peer-reviewed studies on the adverse health impacts of fracking on close residents you would regard as ”subjective” ?
    You will probably say ”subjective”. But it’s what we rational people prefer to call ”true”.

    • [Edited by moderator]

      Let me enlighten you, that there are reports around Elvis working in a chip shop, there are even reports from others who try and support them with their qualifications, Dr. Frank, that are full of “might” when you read them, so take away the qualification, and they are Mystic Meg in another body. That has been exposed previously on this site. If you want to look at your own area of expertise, you will find many reports that show black is black, white is white and many more that black is white. We could have real fun looking at reports on efficacy of medications and how that dictates what is prescribed, when that may have just as much to do with the attractiveness of the Pharma. rep.! Even there, selective and subjective can come into play. I have worked for a number of pharma. companies, so that is fact, not fantasy.

      [Edited by moderator]

      • Any chance of you actually addressing the above article and the evidence and findings of the study Martin?

  8. [Martin ] Collyer, you disappoint me. Your lame reply is somewhat less than Socratic.
    Which of the numerous peer-reviewed studies of the adverse health impacts of fracking on close residents, from, for example the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, funded by the US NIH, would you regard as equivalent to ”Elvis in a chip-shop” ?

  9. Ah, I thought you might choose that example. How about another?

    I was prescribed a medication some months ago, as my GP stated her experience and reports, showed it would be efficacious. I used, and it was.

    Within two months, I received a letter, from the NHS, saying their reports showed the product was not efficacious so was no longer available on the NHS.

    I contacted my GP, who confirmed what she had said in the first place and could supply me with reports to justify, however she also suggested there was perhaps a reason why black was white, which was obvious, and advised I just purchased the product.

    I did. I am sure most will have their own similar experiences. Either with health issues, or others.

    It really is NOT that difficult, Dr. Frank. John has explained some reality in terms of reports that are quoted as gospel. DoD had others keen to quote Pennsylvania with great fan-fare and “credibility”, and then offered their opinion of the Barclay Brothers ownership of Third Energy! You quote John Hopkins, others quote other sources. Mr. Not Stupid uses Covid-19 to say follow the science! Well, perhaps identify which bit of science, because on that subject there are many different recommendations, many quite contradictory, all of which would be claimed as the bit to follow by some. (I have just had an e-mail from a friend who has recently completed weeks of an on line course on THE (LOL) science of Covid-19. I expect there will be many more available shortly, if not already, probably with very different conclusions and reports to justify.) I trust none will utilize Sir Keir, as his comments at PMQ show he hasn’t a clue! Surprised he has not been called to the House to apologize for misleading it, but I suspect Boris is storing it up for future use. (Pillars and post code conflation, plus incorrect dates, if anyone is confused.)

    You quote the IMF! Is that a good source in terms of accuracy, or is it just a name some might recognize? Not exactly an organization that has a good history in respect of forecasts and recommendations. Others, much better, but maybe that will reverse next year-just from chance-which makes the reputation of some economists and destroys that of others.

    How about the health impacts of kids mining for cobalt, Dr. Frank? Or will you just dismiss that as was done by somebody else on this site?

    How about the health impacts of the manufacture of solar panels in China?

    Health impacts COULD be removed in each case. It might be that UK could be better in that respect than either USA, China or DRC. Meanwhile, all continue. Two fit the anti agenda, so are dismissed, the other doesn’t so is multiplied and often misused and misquoted. Selectively and subjectively. Maths. and English are modified as well. I have no issue with that, but I do recognize it, which may be disappointing.

    Greta wants panic.

    Naomi wants thought.

    Don’t really agree with either of them in most respects. But in that summary, I will go with Naomi.

    Anyway, keep safe over the weekend. There are going to be idiots at large, “exercising” their new freedoms. I am hunkering down and sticking to my gardening.

    I will be back!

    • Any chance of you actually addressing the above article and the evidence and findings of the study Martin?

      • Not again, Mike. If you missed it the first time, I am sorry. There are more ways to skin a cat etc., etc. I will leave the repetition to others.

        This time, I must really do as I said, except I then realized I had forgotten to do something before my hunkering down.

        • Any chance of you actually addressing the above article and the evidence and findings of the study Martin? You could try something rational and specific like Hewes.

  10. Its an interesting report

    But a few things to think about

    On page 1 it says

    ‘In Scotland, the political dynamics are quite different: industry does not enjoy the active support of key ministries and the Scottish government has adopted a more precautionary approach that appears to weigh environmental and public health issues
    more seriously than the UK government as we evidence later. A core question raised in our analysis is how the concerns of industry appear to influence the UK government superstructure, local authorities.”…..

    Well – yes, Scotland has the bulk of the UK oil industry on its patch and plenty of gas to keep it going. Why would it have to consider fracking? It also has a very healthy frack gas using petrochemical and chemical industry which contributes to its economy. Scotland imports the bulk of UK fracked gas for chemical feed stock.

    So, no need for fracking, its awash with oil and gas. Why upset the electorate?

    Then – page 7

    ”Currently the oil, gas and chemical industries in England continue to dominate and influence energy and feed stock-related
    policy making to the detriment of ethical and environmental justice decision making with significant consequences for public health”.

    Hmmm. What English oil and gas industry (I have not looked at the chemical industry).?

    The bulk of its gas industry is offshore in the N Sea, Morecambe Bay and Liverpool Bay. The bulk of the English oil industry is near Swanage. The bulk of the British oil industry is in Scotland. Is it true that these industries (primarily offshore for gas and one declining private oil and gas company) are dominating and influencing the energy and feed stock related policy making decisions to the detriment of ethical and environmental justice decisions in England? And do these oil and gas industries have a significant impact consequent for public health?

    As we import most of our oil and gas from outwith England, we should look at which industries are dominating feed stock related policies.

    So, is the Norwegian Gov, Nigeria, the US or China dominating our energy and feed stock policy? Is Scotland bulling us into using Scottish oil and gas? Or maybe those companies importing oil and gas to the UK are dominating the feed stock debate. As most of the feed stock comes from outwith England, what is it that they are looking for and how is that having consequences for public health here in the UK? Or is it that environmental justice is that those who use it, should get the pollution it creates (the polluter pays) and that its the users who are lobbying the gov?

    Or maybe England is energy poor and views (or viewed) local energy production possibilities in a different light to a country awash with it? This must be why England is a world leader in offshore wind (something to do with a lot of space to put it as well I Guess).

    Later on the paper notes

    In November 2019, with an election looming, the government changed its position and announced a moratorium on shale gas development in England. This appeared to be an attempt in the short term to avoid alienating its electoral base in rural areas that usually
    supported the Conservative government. The government argued it adopted a precautionary and sustainable approach to shale prior to this date, geared towards minimising disturbance to those living and working near to shale developments and preventing risk of any damage [140].

    Hmm, a bit of a stretch I think

    But then says later

    ”The industry in England has largely operated in a policy field where the core assumptions of planners and decision makers have quite clearly been in favour of shale development at scale. This state of affairs was unexpectedly disrupted in November 2019, when an English shale moratorium was introduced. However, despite this policy reversal (in the context of a general election campaign and
    with the pretext of the seismic impact of shale exploration rather than on grounds of climate or public health), major air pollution and associated climate change threats remain ‘denied’ and either wholly or partially unaddressed and so ethical and environmental justice dimensions of air pollution have been ignored and marginalised.”

    A bit of bias there I think. The moratorium was on a pretext? The seismic activity was nothing to worry about in the opinion of the authors? Seismic activity up to and in excess of that estimated (or the maximum worst case estimated) level was not a concern for the OGA? The conservative government though …hmmm, Get Brexit done may not do it, to get the red wall on our side we need to ban fracking for a while?

    While I may have got a bit carried away with that one, I do not disagree with the report, but wonder why these issues stood out on the 5 minute quick read. I guess different issues stick out depending on what you are looking for.

    Finally …. page 9 ….picked at random

    “The link between childhood hematologic cancer, air pollution and residential proximity to oil and gas development has been reported [82].”….

    Does that mean that there is a link, is it proven? Has anything else been linked? Have any studies failed to find a link (one person wins lottery worth reporting, 67 million do not, not worth reporting)? Has that link been reported? Well it has been studied and that study has a report. But does it show a causal link?

    To help I have attached abstract from that report below.

    What is says is, more work is required.


    ”Findings
    Overall, ALL cases 0–24 years old were more likely to live in the highest IDW well count tertiles compared to controls, but findings differed substantially by age. For ages 5–24, ALL cases were 4.3 times as likely to live in the highest tertile, compared to controls (95% CI: 1.1 to 16), with a monotonic increase in risk across tertiles (trend p-value = 0.035). Further adjustment for year of diagnosis increased the association. No association was found between ALL for children aged 0–4 years or NHL and IDW well counts. While our study benefited from the ability to select cases and controls from the same population, use of cancer-controls, the limited number of ALL and NHL cases, and aggregation of ages into five year ranges, may have biased our associations toward the null. In addition, absence of information on O&G well activities, meteorology, and topography likely reduced temporal and spatial specificity in IDW well counts.

    Conclusion
    Because oil and gas development has potential to expose a large population to known hematologic carcinogens, further study is clearly needed to substantiate both our positive and negative findings. Future studies should incorporate information on oil and gas development activities and production levels, as well as levels of specific pollutants of interest (e.g. benzene) near homes, schools, and day care centers; provide age-specific residential histories; compare cases to controls without cancer; and address other potential confounders, and environmental stressors”

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.