New research reveals stress from living near UK shale gas sites

pnr 190831 Refracktion 4

Campaigners at rally outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 31 August 2019. Photo: Refracktion

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”.

“Long-last effects”

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.”

53 replies »

  1. What an interesting, if typical, bunch of rants from pro frackers, once again shooting the messenger. This article looks to me like DoD once more providing an accurate precis of a peer reviewed study. Paul has already clearly referenced the methodology, so perhaps these commentators would care to provide an informed critique of where they believe the study came to the wrong conclusions, rather than the easy and pointless carping at Ruth for providing her usual excellent service of accurate reportage. Better still, contact the report’s authors, argue the toss with them and come back with some informed conclusions. Perhaps the same people can provide some well evidenced commentary about stress and it’s impact on the physical and mental health of people?

    • Mike – the main point that most seem to make is that any stress caused was due to the scaremongering of the antis. There is absolutely no reason for people to worry and the only reason they do is that they have been feed a bunch of untruths.

      • Good heavens Simon, you were remarkably quick arguing the toss with the authors. That was their precise quote in response was it? Surely this isn’t just another personal view of yours, with all the same words, but not necessarily in the right order?

        • Mike – I was simply giving the opinion of most of the people I know who have a very deep knowledge of hydraulic fracture stimulation as well as the results of a whole range of surveys and focus groups conducted by industry and academia. It is crystal clear that people’s fear of fracking is inversely related to their knowledge of the subject. Unlike the hypocrites who use natural resources but object to their extraction near where they live, I would be more than happy to have a drilling pad in my garden.

          • Ah, so you ARE just giving your own personal view and the very narrow view of those in the industry that would have us believe their rhetoric, half truths and weasel words. I was hoping for a sensible debate based on the findings of the independent experts who wrote the report, peer reviewed. As long as I know it’s just your personal opinion, that’s fine. Believe it or not, there are views from many other experts in climate change, methane leakage, water contamination, air quality, planning, traffic, seismicity, economics and many other aspects that are important to the overall fracking debate. A ‘very deep knowledge of hydraulic fracture stimulation’ is only a very small part of the whole industry and its impacts.

            • Mike, until recently I’d not worked on shale gas/oil for six years. Over the last six months I’ve taken on a consultancy project (not for the petroleum industry) in which I’ve reviewed over 3000 papers covering every aspect that you mention. I’ve also been give access to a range of surveys of public opinion and results from focus groups. Obviously my interpretation of these is my opinion. A couple of issues have come up that are cause for concern but these involve practices that would not be allowed in the U.K. I know exactly who you are and in my opinion you do not have the technical competence to even comment on this subject. Sometimes it’s useful to recognise the boundaries of ones competence and knowledge!

              • Now we’ve established that you have vast knowledge and expertise in every single aspect of fracking and its impacts, and that I am too utterly unworthy to even comment, perhaps you could use that vast expertise to return to my original point. ‘Would you care to provide an informed critique of where you believe the study came to the wrong conclusions’? Other than the uninformed conclusion that anyone suffering stress must have only listened to or read fake news.
                My lack of technical competence began around 2012 when I started researching the subject, as fracking was being heavily pushed by govt and O&G industry to expand to a major UK industry within a decade or so. Now in 2020 it doesn’t seem to have moved forward one iota. Is this merely because govt, planners and regulators listened only to a few ill informed tree huggers and decided it wasn’t a good idea?
                Wow, you give good VFM as a consultant. Reviewing more than 8 technical papers every day for 6 months, 7 days a week, or at least 57 a week if you had days off. How on earth do you find time to constantly follow DoD? If they’re not for the petroleum industry, did they have any relevance to fracking?

                • Mike – the study is flawed for several reasons but the main ones are (I) it relies on the honesty of the respondents and we all know that the antis have a propensity to exaggerate and lie, and (ii) it is impossible for it to be representative as replies will be strongly dominated by those that object.
                  The problem with your research is that you’re not qualified to critically appraise what you read. For example, if you read about methane in drinking water near a fracking site do you (I) assume that it’s caused by fracking or (ii) look at the history of methane in the drinking water in the area, interpret the isotopic composition of the methane, look for the presence of higher order organic molecules, assess the inorganic geochemistry of the water? I very much doubt you are qualified to do the latter.

                  In terms of reading, it is quite easy for me to read over 50 academic papers and several PhD theses everyday. Most contain lots of superfluous information that is needed to help the non-expert. I can read those parts of extremely quickly and concentrate on the 20% of the work that is relevant.

                • Interesting Simon: ‘it relies on the honesty of the respondents and we all know that the antis have a propensity to exaggerate and lie’. That’s a very subjective view, if not libellous. Where’s your evidence for that?
                  How do you know what I’m qualified to do? Or even what knowledge I have that requires no qualifications? Is your source for my abilities and qualifications reliable and suitably qualified to comment?
                  What qualifications and expertise do you have in ‘climate change, methane leakage, water contamination, air quality, planning, traffic, seismicity, economics and many other aspects’ that allows you to ‘read over 50 academic papers and several PhD theses everyday’ and ‘extremely quickly concentrate on the 20% of the work that is relevant’ and yet still have time and energy to comment so extensively on DoD? What a remarkable and wide ranging expert you must be.

                • Well Mike, not so long ago one of your buddies was trying to redefine “knowledgeable” by lowering the bar way below the Oxford English Dictionary. Now, you seem to want to argue that knowledge amongst those who have worked within an industry and have the appropriate qualifications, is to be ruled out because you find it uncomfortable!

                  You antis really do want to rubbish the intelligence of your own colleagues, to accept such. Perhaps some would find that to be insulting (I would hope so.) For those who don’t, I could quite understand why they might be stressed.

                • Mike – there is nothing remarkable about my level of knowledge – there are thousands of people in industry and academia who have very broad expertise. The remarkable thing is that you find it surprising that professionals have such knowledge. In terms of anti-frackers lying – I’ve got 100s of hours of footage of the protesters screaming total rubbish – driving along PNR seeing signs such as “fracking kills babies” is a very good example. I even see that many of the academic contingent of XR are dissociating themselves from the crap their leaders are spouting.

                • I don’t find it remarkable that professionals have a great depth of knowledge. Somewhat more remarkable that you seem to think that only pro frackers are capable of such a depth of knowledge and in such a breadth of subjects. 100’s of hours of footage eh? Now that is remarkable, and no doubt very interesting for you. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this, but an awful lot of anti frackers don’t stand screaming…. anywhere. Could that have anything to do with the fact that after all this time, effort, govt backing and money (deep pockets in other people’s trousers), there doesn’t appear to be much UK fracking going on. No evidence yet to back up your libellous claim that ‘the study is flawed for several reasons but the main ones are (I) it relies on the honesty of the respondents and we all know that the antis have a propensity to exaggerate and lie’.

          • Simon,
            One of the main reasons residents around the PNR test fracking site were concerned)scared was their knowledge that where fracking has previously occurred both nearby and elsewhere earthquakes usually, possibly always,. follow.
            And they did at PNR to the extent fracking us as good as dead here in the UK!

            Egan said he would be more than happy to set up his family home in the PNR fracking pad. That was some two years ago and he’s not moved in yet!

            You’re more than welcome to join him when fracking restarts, not that that’ll be at PNR of course because our geological structure doesn’t react well!

    • Mike 81% probably did not respond as they are not stressed.

      Following that the 19% are in a large minority but the minority does not rule the majority if it did there would be no planning application’s of which I am sure the majority of the sample19% will seek one at some point in there lives despite the anxiety.

  2. I did, Mike.

    Did you?

    As they say, not liking the answer is not the same as getting no answer. I am sure what looks to you, can look quite different to others.

    That is what the comment section is for. Just because there are not many antis who want to comment, it does not preclude others.

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