Press release

Shale gas extraction emissions are a ‘low’ risk to public health

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 PHE report.

The report published today (31 October) reviews the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction.

This review of the scientific literature focusses on the potential impact of chemicals and radioactive material from all stages of shale gas extraction, including the fracturing (fracking) of shale.

As there is no commercial shale gas extraction 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 currently available evidence indicates 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.

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.

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.

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

Dr Harrison said:

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, said:

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the need for environmental monitoring to provide a baseline ahead of shale gas extraction, so that any risks from the operation can be appropriately assessed.

Effective environmental monitoring in the vicinity of the extraction sites is also required during the development, production and post-production of shale gas wells.

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.

The draft report is being made available for comment for one month. PHE will be pleased to be made aware of any peer reviewed or published reports that are relevant to the findings or recommendations.

Notes to Editors

  1. Review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction: Draft for Comment. See a copy of the draft report.

  2. Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. www.gov.uk/phe Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk

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