The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has welcomed the publication of Public Health England (PHE)’s report on the potential public health impacts of exposure to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Although the Public Health England report has no locus in Scotland, its report will be regarded as authoritative by local authorities – while the CIEH operates on a UK-wide basis – notwithstanding the ‘Five New Fracking’ planning rules announced last week by the Scottish Government.
In October last year, Public Health England – which is part of the NHS – concluded that fracking is a ‘low risk to public health’ (Scottish Energy News, 31 October 2013)
Chief Executive Graham Jukes, OBE, said: ‘The Chartered Institute of Public Health does not object to shale gas extraction provided the impacts and remediation of those impacts are fully understood and taken into account and this report is an important contribution to the information base surrounding this process.
“It is important to note that the report explicitly does not look at the sustainable use of water resources or local environment issues such as noise and odours, nor the socio-economic benefits or impacts of extraction to local communities.
“Nevertheless, the key message from the report is that on the currently available evidence the potential risks to public health from the emissions associated with shale gas extraction will be low if the operations are properly run within a framework of robust environmental regulation.”
That is an important proviso, however, and the CIEH has consistently made the case for a full environmental impact assessment to be carried out on all shale gas extraction proposals before permission to drill is given.
Jukes added: ‘In the enthusiasm to exploit new sources of energy we must ensure that there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment or on the health of people in the communities surrounding extraction sites. Despite central government encouragement for the process, local authorities should resist allowing shale gas extraction in their areas until they are satisfied on that.’
Mandatory environmental impact assessment which the CIEH would support is not a recommendation in the report but is alluded to in PHE’s call for adequate risk assessment, baseline and continuous environmental monitoring during the extraction process, and the need to assess the broader socio-economic impacts which reflect the longer term precautionary principle.
Jukes concluded: ‘The CIEH is not opposed to shale gas extraction if the impacts and remediation of those impacts are fully understood and taken into account. We will shortly be publishing a report which reviews current evidence across a number of aspects associated with this process including environmental and public health aspects and socio economic considerations.’