HEALTH, CLIMATE & FRACKING: MORE GRIM READING FOR THE INDUSTRY

A medical editorial published this month (June 2018) in the British Medical Journal is another rankle for the deficient fracking industry and steamroller-happy UK government who are in perpetual denial of fracking and its health-related impacts.

Written by reputed professors, David McCoy, professor of global public health at Barts and London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University in London and Patrick Saunders, visiting professor of public health at the University of Staffordshire, their conclusion raises yet more speculation as to why health impacts from fracking have been such a low priority for the UK government.

 

Professor David McCoy

Professor Patrick Saunders

The report states that:

“Some evidence shows that it [fracking] increases the risk of negative health and environmental outcomes, including increased risk of cancer, adverse birth outcomes, respiratory disease, and mental wellbeing.”

Previously, a letter published in British Medical Journal, and signed by 18 academic and health professionals said:

“The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming. There are clear grounds for adopting the precautionary principle and prohibiting fracking.” 

The glaring fact that should be more widely reported is that the Public Health England 2014 report on shale gas is offensively four years’ out-of-date and narrow in its reporting scope. Since its publication, there have been hundreds of new scientific and peer-reviewed papers, all citing harm or negative impacts on human health from fracking, all of which have been ignored by the UK government.

We have years of experience of fracking in the USA to garner information and evidence from. Indeed, the fracking industry in the UK has happily supplied figures and statistics from the USA shale gas industry, but only when it was convenient to their own agendas in getting through planning permission submissions and sugar-coated glossy ads, pushing the ‘benefits’ of a UK shale gas industry.

Following the publication in 2014 of an in-depth report by the Department of Health in New York, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens stated:

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative.

“High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.

“This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”

In March 2018, the Fifth Edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), was published. The authors, Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility strongly concluded:

“All together, findings to date from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations combine to demonstrate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.

“Emerging data from a rapidly expanding body of evidence continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks. There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.”

It’s quite clear from experience around the world, that impacts and harms from fracking cannot be regulated, no matter how many ‘gold-standard’ regulations the industry claims to operate under.

Also cited in June 2018 BMJ editorial, is the elephant in the Tories’ parlour room: climate change. Shale gas produces high levels of methane, much higher than originally assumed by the oil and gas industry. In Medact’s 2015 report on fracking, they too cited emissions as a factor in “…how shale gas produces a level of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions that is incompatible with the UK’s commitments to address climate change.”

The Paris Agreement that was sealed in 2015, is an accord signed by 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)– the UK were one of the signatories. The collective aim is to keep global average temperature rises below 2°C, with the intention of limiting this increase to1.5°C,to mitigate catastrophic climate change impacts.

Jim Warren, the executive director of USA-based climate and energy justice campaign, NC WARN spoke about fracking and methane discharges:

“The sharp increase in methane emissions correlates closely with the U.S. fracking boom. Leaking and venting of unburned gas — which is mostly methane — makes natural gas even worse for the climate than coal.”

The constant, weary soundbites from UK politicians and industry, claiming we need fracking as a “bridge” to a low-carbon future, whilst discounting the methane problem which accompanies shale gas extraction, are redundant. On methane, the authors said:

“Furthermore, methane (the main component of shale gas) is a potent greenhouse gas that leaks directly into the atmosphere at different points in the production and supply line, producing an additional global warming effect.”

The report also stated that: “a global rise in atmospheric methane concentrations since 2006 has caused alarm among climate scientists with evidence that the oil and gas industry is a major contributor.”

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change said in their 2017 report:

“Since 2012, emissions reductions have been largely confined to the power sector, whilst emissions from transport and the UK’s building stock are rising. The overall state of our natural environment is worsening, reducing its resilience to climate change.”

The UK Conservative government has a sloppy approach for climate and environmental protection, favouring industry and big business before committing to worthwhile action to help mitigate global climate change. Action, not posturing, is needed now, if we are to avoid this fracking disaster in the UK and to meet our climate change targets within The Paris Agreement.