12 August 2016
MEDACT (Health Professionals for a Safer, Fairer and Better World, www.medact.org) have issued a report entitled “Health and Fracking: The Impacts and opportunity costs”. The report examines the direct and immediate effects of fracking on health, the adequacy and capacity of the regulatory system, and the relationship between fracking and climate change.
It finds that fracking and its associated activities create multiple actual and potential sources of pollution which are examined in detail. The health effects of these vary depending on the type and pattern of human exposure. But they include increased risk of cancer, respiratory disease and birth defects.
The hazards include airborne hazards such as leaks of gas, emissions from transportation, diesel engines and compressors and chemical agents, again examined in detail. Surface and groundwater contaminants include gas, fracking fluid combined with more chemical and radioactive agents.
In the UK, shale formations are thick and geologically faulted, features that increase health and environmental risks when compared to the US.
Indirect contributions to adverse health impacts include noise, heavy traffic, light and odour pollution. Especially in rural areas, the intensive activity is disruptive to communities. Economically, leisure and tourism and value of local property can be adversely affected, negating the job opportunities and Government financial incentives.
While there is so much uncertainty about risk, the present regulatory system is inadequate, and it is being made even less so by budget and staff cuts.
Shale gas can only be considered a clean, low carbon energy source if it replaces other fossil fuels such as coal. Otherwise, it simply hinders the development of renewable and zero-carbon energy.
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