Government scientists admit risk to public health from fracking

by ClickGreen staff. Published Sat 02 Nov 2013 15:48
New Department of Health research ackowledges potential dangers
New Department of Health research ackowledges potential dangers

Government health chiefs have admitted there is a risk to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction under the current monitoring framework.

And scientists at Public Health England (PHE) admit that in the absence of regulations in the UK, drilling operators could potentially use a “wide range of chemicals… many of which are classified as highly toxic and/or carcinogenic”.

It confirms that the risks from small-scale drilling for exploratory purposes are “clearly different from the risks from commercial scale operations”.

The Government’s own body, which is part of the Department of Health, admits there will remain a low risk to health even if operations are properly run and regulated but described “potentially significant”pollution impacts to air, land and water.

The draft report was published this week and reviewed the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction. Its study of the scientific literature focuses on the potential impact of chemicals and radioactive material from all stages of the process, including the fracturing (fracking) of shale.

As there is no commercial shale gas extraction in the UK, the draft report looks at information from countries where it is taking place.

Dr John Harrison, Director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “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.

“Where potential risks have been identified in other countries,the reported problems are typically due to operational failure.

“Good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of exploratory drilling, gas capture as well as the use and storage of fracking fluid are essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health.”

However, Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “Low risk is not the same as no risk. Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the US. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen here – especially given gaping holes in regulations.

“If we’re going to tackle climate change we can’t afford to burn more dirty fossil fuel – we should be developing renewable energy instead.”

Click here to read the full story in this week's issue of GreenWeek




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