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Green view: the 10 ways fracking ‘may harm your health’

Gina Dowding12/11/2014 - 13:00

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Lancashire County Council has recently considered the health impact of two proposed fracking sites. Gina Dowding, Lancashire’s Green Party councillor and a former NHS health promotion officer, outlines her personal view of the key health risks.

The CIEH's assessment of the risks is available here:

1. Climate Change

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The greatest threat to future wellbeing is climate change. It is now recognised that 70 per cent of known fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid more than two degrees of global warming. It is imperative that the UK takes the lead on this and concentrates on investment in renewable energy development instead of new fossil fuel exploration and extraction. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently issued again stark warnings that urgent action is required now.

2. Air quality

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Venting and incomplete flaring of shale gas will lead to the release of benzenes and other known carcinogens. In the US fugitive gas levels around sites have been found to be up to 100 times more than predicted.

3. Water pollution

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The risk of well leaks is a chronic problem that the oil and gas industry do not know how to fix. Studies (such as by Schlumberger published in Oilfield Review) admit that 6 per cent of wells leak immediately with 50 per cent leaking in 15 years - leaving a potential toxic legacy that may irreversibly damage underground water supplies.

4. Flowback Fluid

The flowback fluid produced by the process contains toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials. There are concerns about sufficient capacity to treat hazardous: In Lancashire and at peak times one of the proposed sites alone will utilise a major proportion of the available treatment capacity within 100 miles of the site (based on radiation levels and physical treatment capacity).

5. Chemicals

The chemicals used in the Fracking process in the US have been linked to cancers and low birth weight in infants. Breast Cancer UK have called for a moratorium on all exploration and licensing due to their concerns about the potentially adverse health effects.

6. Transport related accidents

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Site visits undertaken in Lancashire show that HGVs with large loads e.g. 40ft trailers for office space and work space would have difficulty safely negotiating the narrow rural roads in proximity to the project sites. But there are long-term traffic implications once drilling is underway. The Lancashire Roseacre Awareness group are highlighting the risk of accidents and the impact of traffic on their rural villages.

7. Noise

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Health effects that may result from community noise are well documented and include interference with communication; effects on sleep, and on the cardiovascular and psycho-physiological systems and noise-induced hearing impairment. Drilling is planned 24 hours a day, including nighttime; it is expected that the noise levels will be continuous for at least 14 months.

8 Occupational health risks

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There is limited evidence on occupational health risks due to cumulative exposure to silica dust, noise and air pollution during shale gas exploration in the UK context. The concern is that there are no specific occupational health standards for onshore oil and gas extraction.

9. Emergencies

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Local residents have anxiety over emergency scenarios. Although emergency planning is a requirement for this type of development, this process has not been ‘visible’ to residents. Anxiety fuelled by uncertainty over this issue could potentially have wider health impacts than the risks themselves

10. Inadequate regulation

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Perhaps most significantly Lancashire’s Health Impact Assessment report acknowledges that the current regulations in place in the UK which are there to protect the public’s health are inadequate to properly regulate the fracking industry. The report notes that the lack of public trust and confidence, is causing stress and anxiety from uncertainty, that could lead to poor mental wellbeing. At the very least the government should heed calls from public health bodies, campaigners and the public alike that industry specific regulation must be introduced before fracking takes hold in the UK.

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