People living near three shale gas sites in England reported increased levels of stress, a new study has found.
The research, which studied communities in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Yorkshire, found people experienced anxiety, sleep disturbance, high levels of anger and exhaustion.
One in seven people surveyed for the research experienced levels of distress high enough to indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the authors said.
They recommended that the impact of stress on communities should be taken into account when decisions were made about shale gas sites. Arrangements to detect and mitigate stress-related problems should also be in place
A residents’ group in Lancashire, where Cuadrilla fracked in 2018 and 2019, welcomed that the report had recognised “what we have been feeling and experiencing over the last six years”.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, used surveys, interviews and observation in communities living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool, the IGas site at Ellesmere Port and Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site in Ryedale. The research was carried out before fracking began at Preston New Road.
The authors, from universities in Newcastle, London and Oklahoma, said 40% of people who took part in a survey had never experienced shale gas related stress. But 14% scored high enough on a stress index to indicate PTSD.
The evidence suggested that stress had long-lasting effects on opponents, supporters and people not directly involved in campaigning about the industry.
The authors said:
“Our findings suggest that there was a sizeable group of local residents who experienced stress as a result of planned or actual gas developments in their area.
“The levels of stress for some of those residents were very high, as some even mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder to describe the impacts hydraulic fracturing has had on their lives.”
Follow-up interviews revealed that stress and anxiety intensified as shale gas activities progressed.
The time when shale gas developments were being planned was perceived as a stressful event, the authors said. It was seen as “a harbinger for harm to themselves and their community”. The authors said:
“Importantly residents reported that stress was not only a reaction to development, but a consequence of interacting with industry and decision makers.”
Some people described shale gas development as a threat, a “dark, dirty cloud” hanging over families, intruding on lives.
Some stopped campaigning on the issue because they said the impact on their health was “excessive”. Others told researchers they “could not withdraw from their activism because they felt too strongly about their views”.
Some felt under constant pressure to research, write and organise. One opponent told researchers:
“I have been up at 4 am writing reports and sending stuff in the middle of the night because I thought that I needed to have that done.”
A supporter in North Yorkshire said:
“It has taken over my life. I work more than any 40 hour a week on this, particularly at the height of it all. I don’t like being beaten. I like fairness and I like the truth. And when those are not happening, I will fight against it, what they are doing.”
In some communities, people avoided talking about shale gas because “it was perceived as too controversial”. One resident from Kirby Misperton told researchers:
“It really isn’t something that you talk to somebody in the village . . . we just don’t talk about it because it was just too heated a discussion.”
The authors said their findings was consistent with research in communities living near US shale gas sites.
A spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group said:
“It is good that what we have been feeling and experiencing over the last six years has been recognised in the conclusions of this report. We trust that the findings will be taken on-board by the planning authorities.
“For local residents at Preston New Road the stress levels have not fully dropped even six years on, as even though no fracking is currently taking place, while the site is still there, there is always the worry about what might happen next.”