Shale gas fracking a low risk to public health, review finds

British public health agency examined evidence from countries including the US

A file image of the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex. Photograph: PA

A file image of the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex. Photograph: PA

 

The risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction or fracking are low as long as operations are properly run and regulated, the British government’s health agency said today.

In a review of the potential health impact of fracking, which involves the pumping of water and chemicals into dense shale formations to push out gas and oil, Public Health England (PHE) said any health impacts were likely to be minimal.

Since there is currently no fracking in Britain, the PHE report examined evidence from countries such as the US, most of which it said suggested any risk to health is typically due to operational failure.

“The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with the shale gas extraction process are low if operations are properly run and regulated,” said John Harrison, director of PHE’s centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards.

“Good well construction and maintenance is essential to reduce the risks of ground water contamination,” he added.

Keen to stimulate a US-style production boom and offset dwindling North Sea oil and gas reserves, Britain’s Conservative-led government has backed fracking as an “energy revolution” that could create jobs and cut energy prices.

Activists say the government should instead invest more in renewable energy. Environmental campaigners have staged large anti-fracking protests, arguing that it can pollute water supplies and cause earthquakes.

Greenpeace said earlier this month it would encourage British landowners to join together in legally opposing fracking, a move that could strengthen the opposition to exploration and development of shale oil and gas.

Responding to the PHE’s report, Quentin Fisher, a professor of petroleum geoengineering at the University of Leeds, said it was “yet another study” suggesting contamination of the groundwater due to fracking was unlikely.

“The report provides even more evidence that production of gas from shale can be made very safe,” he added.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group which represents the onshore oil and gas industry, also welcomed the report, saying he hoped its findings would “reassure communities up and down the country that shale gas can be extracted with minimal risk to their wellbeing”.

Reuters

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.