Medical research into fracking is increasing rapidly. Most studies show impacts, and an increasing number of medical organisations and professionals are calling for a temporary or permanent ban on fracking.
Most papers on the topic have been published in the last couple of years, since the UK government last reviewed the health impacts of fracking. So our government’s current position is based on out of date science.
Here are just a few key reports on the health impacts of fracking.
British Medical Journal Letter
Eighteen senior UK health professionals have written to the BMJ, saying that “The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming.” (Further details of the Medact Report can be found below this letter)
We write as concerned health professionals who seek to draw the public’s attention to the dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and shale gas extraction in the United Kingdom, as highlighted by a recent report published by Medact.
Fracking is an inherently risky activity that produces hazardous levels of air and water pollution that can have adverse impacts on health. The heavy traffic, noise and odour that accompanies fracking, as well as the socially disruptive effects of temporary ‘boomtowns’ and the spoilage of the natural environment are additional health hazards.
Such risks would be magnified in the UK where fracking is projected to take place in closer proximity to more densely populated communities; and where there are concerns about the effectiveness of the regulatory system for onshore gas extraction.
But in addition to this, shale gas is not a clean source of energy. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas in its own right, and when burnt, produces carbon dioxide. Shale gas extraction would undermine our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and be incompatible with global efforts to prevent global warming from exceeding two degrees centigrade.
The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming. There are clear grounds for adopting the precautionary principle and prohibiting fracking.
Dr Robin Stott, Co-Chair, Climate and Health Council
Professor Sue Atkinson CBE, Co-Chair, Climate and Health Counci
Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL
Professor Maya Rao OBE
Professor Martin McKee, LSHTM
Dr Clare Gerada, GP and former Chair of RGCP
Dr Christopher Birt, University of Liverpool and Christie Hospital, Manchester
Professor John Yudkin, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UCL
Dr Sheila Adam, former Deputy Chief Medical Officer
Professor Klim McPherson, Chair of the UK Health Forum
Dr John Middleton, Vice President UKFPH
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, KCL
Helen Gordon, Board Member, Climate and Health Council
Dr Frank Boulton, Medact and Southampton University
Dr Sarah Walpole, Academic Clinical Fellow
Professor Allyson Pollock, QMUL
Dr Julie Hotchkiss, Acting Director of Public Health at City of a York Council
Professor Jennie Popay, Lancaster University
Competing interests: No competing interests
This letter is on the BMJ website here
Medact Report – Health and Fracking
Since the release of the original MEDACT report in 2015, over 350 academic papers have been published, examining the impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) for shale gas on air and water quality, health, climate change, social wellbeing, economics, noise and light pollution, and seismic events. This new report updates the findings of a review of the more recent evidence. David McCoy, the report’s lead author states that ‘the biggest threat posed by shale gas is via global warming, but there are also direct risks to the health and wellbeing of local populations. What is striking is the lack of an integrated social, economic, environmental and health impact assessment of fracking”.
Medact’s view that the UK should abandon its policy to encourage shale gas production remains unchanged.
In arriving at this view, Medact carefully considered the arguments put forward by the industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas, which concluded that shale gas production in the UK would be safe, economically beneficial and important for the UK’s energy security. Medact’s latest report disagrees with their conclusions and explains why:
Hazardous pollutants are produced at all stages of the shale gas production process. The range of pollutants are outlined in the report. Based on current evidence it is not possible to conclude that there is a strong association between shale gas related pollution and negative local health effects. However, there is clearly potential for negative health impacts. In particular, there are risks of:
(i) adverse reproductive outcomes due to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals,
(ii) risk of respiratory effects resulting from ozone and smog formation,
(iii) stress, anxiety and other psycho-social effects arising from actual and perceived social and economic disruption.
Further details of the updated Medact Report can be found here