UK Health professionals call for moratorium on fracking

Medact’s new report, Health & Fracking: The impacts & opportunity costs, concludes that fracking poses significant risks to public health and calls for an immediate UK-wide moratorium to allow time for a full and comprehensive health and environmental impact assessment (HIA) to be completed.

The report, released on Monday 30th March, concludes that fracking generates numerous public health risks, including:

● Potential health hazards associated with air pollution and water contamination: these include hazardous toxins that are linked to increased risks of cancer, birth defects and lung disease;
● Negative health impacts associated with noise, traffic, spoilage of the natural environment, and local social and economic disruption;
● The indirect effects of climate change produced by greenhouse gas emissions;

It is also supported by a letter, published in the British Medical Journal, calling for shale gas development to be put on hold:

“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 letter is signed by signed by Medact, the Climate and Health Council and several senior health professionals including Professor Hugh Montgomery (UCL), Professor Sue Atkinson (Co-chair Climate and Health Council), Dr Clare Gerada (former chair of the RCGP) and Dr Sheila Adams (former Deputy Chief Medical Officer).

Dr David McCoy, Director of Medact, said:

“Today, Medact, alongside a wider group of health professionals, has called for a moratorium on fracking because of the serious risks it poses to public health. Fracking has already been suspended in Wales and Scotland because of health and climate risks and New York State has banned fracking because of the ‘significant health risks’.”

Ken Cronin, CEO of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, has criticised the Medact report saying that it ignored the current regulatory system  in the UK to cover shale gas exploration, and failed to acknowledge “warnings by recognised experts of the dangers of incorrectly and inappropriately applying experiences from other countries to the UK”. He also claimed the report contradicts a 2014 Government report by Public Health England on fracking, which found the risks of public exposure to dangerous chemicals was “low if the operations are properly run and regulated”.

The Medact report however highlights the limitations of this Government report, including the fact that it was narrow in scope and failed to critically assess the adequacy and reliability of the regulatory system. It describes how the UK regulatory system for fracking is currently incomplete and alarmingly weak. It also emphasises that intensive levels of fracking activity could pose additional risks in the UK when compared to experiences in other countries, because of the proximity and size of surrounding populations.

Dr David McCoy told the Guardian:

“[Firstly] There is evidence of regulatory capacity being eroded as a result of staff and budget cuts. The second is that it does appear as though there’s been so much pressure to promote fracking that there seems to be a readiness to compromise on safety in order to make fracking commercially viable.”

Working with various experts in energy policy and climate change, the report also describes how shale gas extraction produces a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is incompatible with the UK’s commitments to address climate change.

Dr Patrick Saunders, a co-author of the report, said:

“Climate change is the biggest long-term threat to global public health. Suspending fracking now will also allow time for the independent UK Committee on Climate Change to complete its next assessment of the climate change risks.”

 

FURTHER READING:

Medact supplementary paper on the medical effects of the chemicals used in fracking: ‘Additional information about potential pollutants and toxins’

New York State report on the health impacts of fracking: http://www.health.ny.gov/press/reports/docs/high_volume_hydraulic_fracturing.pdf

Committee on Climate Change assessment of the climate impacts of fracking: http://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/letter-response-to-the-environmental-audit-committee/