UK fracking is ‘low risk to public health’, says Dept. of Health

The fracking process
The fracking process

The risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated, according to a Government report published today.

The Public Health England (PHE) report reviews the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction. As there are presently no commercial shale gas extraction – or fracking – sites 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 evidence shows 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.

“Contamination of groundwater from the underground fracking process itself is unlikely because of the depth at which it occurs.

“Most evidence from other countries suggests that any contamination of groundwater, if it occurs, is likely to be caused by leakage through the vertical borehole. Therefore good well construction and maintenance is essential to reduce the risks of ground water contamination.

“Consequently, 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 is essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health.”

Public Health England is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Its report is being made available for comment for one month. PHE will work with regulators to ensure appropriate assessment of risk from all aspects of shale gas extraction.

Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at PHE added: “In due course it will also be important to assess the broader public health impacts such as increased traffic, the impact of new infrastructure on the community and the effect of workers moving to fracking areas.”

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