Health experts call for fracking moratorium as energy industry slams “flawed” report

Concerns over inadequate regulation and risks to public health have led to a call for a five year fracking ban from health experts.

The report "Health & Fracking: the impacs and opportunity costs" was published this week by Medact

A new report “Health & Fracking: the impacts and opportunity costs” from health charity Medact is calling for a moratorium on fracking of at least five years for more detailed study of health impacts. According to the study the moratorium should also be used to correct deficiencies and uncertainties in the regulatory system, and to undertake more analysis of local impacts of fracking at an industrial scale.

"The authors ignore and fail to heed warnings by recognised experts of the dangers of incorrectly and inappropriately applying experiences from other countries to the UK.”  Ken Cronin, UKOOG

“The risks and serious nature of the hazards associated with fracking, coupled with the concerns and uncertainties about the regulatory system, indicate that shale gas development should be halted until a more detailed health and environmental impact assessment is undertaken,” states the report.

According to the report determining the precise risk to health cannot be sufficiently undertaken due to incomplete knowledge over the toxicity of certain pollutants, a limited amount of data on fracking itself and the fact that the level of risk will vary from site to site.

“While there is much uncertainty about risk, one can conclude that the regulatory system for fracking is presently incomplete and inadequately robust. Additionally, there are indications that the capacity of regulators is being further eroded by budget and staff cuts,” states the report.

However energy industry body the UK Onshore Operators Group said that the report was flawed and failed to understand the regulatory system in place in the UK.

“The Medact report does not recognise the UK regulatory assessment and permitting process for onshore oil and gas which has been created to protect the environment and health; the authors ignore and fail to heed warnings by recognised experts of the dangers of incorrectly and inappropriately applying experiences from other countries to the UK,” said Ken Cronin, CEO of UKOOG.

He also pointed out that the report is at odds with that of experts such as Public Health England (PHE) and the Scottish Government Independent Expert Scientific Panel on Unconventional Oil and Gas.

UKOOG also accused Medact of ignoring the fact that environmental permitting exists to regulate industrial processes to ensure that they operate within defined environmental standards and a raft of wider regulations set to protect health.

Last summer consultant Arup published the Environmental Impact Assessment produced for energy company Cuadrilla. The document was to support the planning application for four hydraulic fracturing exploratory wells in Lancashire. “We’ve put down a comprehensive set of documentation that sets out for the first time what a multi-well exploration pad with lateral drilling would look like and what the consequences would be for the environment,” Arup experts told Infrastructure Intelligence.

“Our client was keen that, as the first of its kind, the EIA should be as thorough as possible. This has seen specialists from 25 separate disciplines within Arup making over 100 site visits. They have contributed to a consultation process giving local people the chance to have their concerns addressed and for the local council to make an informed decision.

A planning decision for two such sites proposed by Cuadrilla was expected at the end of January but following noise concerns raised by Lancashire County Council Cuadrilla submitted more evidence and a decision is now expected at the end of April. The Conservatives have made clear their support for fracking and shale gas with David Cameron announcing in January 2014 that the UK would go “all out for shale”.

The Infrastructure Act which received Royal Assent on 12 February contained a number of measures aimed at supporting the proposed shale gas industry. Most significant was the provision that energy companies would no longer require landowner permission access subterranean land more than 300m beneath the surface.

Energy companies can now in theory access a wider resource of shale gas than that which exists in their own boundaries as hydraulic fracturing processes enable drilling up to 3km horizontally. Landowners will be notified and compensated for any loss of amenity but energy companies won’t be dependent on their consent to be under their land.

Also in the Act was the requirement not to drill in protected groundwater source areas or other protected areas but clarity on what these terms mean is to be set out in secondary legislation due to be published by 31st July 2015. Groundwater source catchment zones are classified from 1 to 4 and a definition of which areas are exempt is much anticipated.  

Amendments from some MPs to issue a complete ban on drilling in SSSI sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were rejected during the passing of the Infrastructure Act. As it stands energy companies could drill in these sites if the well pads were located outside of the boundary.

The Medact report was published alongside a letter co-signed by the Climate and Health Council and other senior health professionals. The call for a moratorium echoes that made by the cross party Environmental Audit Committee in January which raised environmental concerns and said that fracking  was incompatible with long term climate change targets for emissions reduction.



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