GreenWeek Volume 21, November 1

By subscription only People power Community-owned £1.1m solar plant opens in Somerset village P4 Weather mystery Britain’s woeful wash-out summers explained by Arctic sea ice link P7 Dear Mr Cameron Business leaders send warning letter to PM over roll-back threat P11 GreenWeek ClickGreen’s review of all the week’s news, views, research and analysis with a focus on low carbon and sustainability Volume 21: Nov 1, 2013 Government scientists admit risk to public health from fracking New Department of Health research ackowledges potential dangers By Stuart Qualtrough G overnment health chiefs have admitted there is a risk to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction under the current monitoring framework. And scientists at Public Health England (PHE) admit that in the absence of regulations in the UK, drilling operators could potentially use a “wide range of chemicals… many of which are classi?ed as highly toxic and/or carcinogenic”. It con?rms that the risks from small-scale drilling for exploratory purposes are “clearly different from the risks from commercial scale operations”. The Government’s own body, which is part of the Department of Health, admits there will remain a low risk to health even if operations are properly run and regulated but described “potentially signi?cant” pollution impacts to air, land and water. The draft report was published this week and reviewed the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction. Its study of the scienti?c literature focuses on the potential impact of chemicals and radioactive material from all stages of the process, 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. Dept of Health report reveals list of recommendations to protect health 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 identi?ed 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 ?uid are essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health.” Good on-site management and appropriate regulation are essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health Dr John Harrison, Director, PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards However, Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “Low risk is not the same as no risk. Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the US. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen here – especially given gaping holes in regulations. “If we’re going to tackle climate change we can’t afford to burn more dirty fossil fuel – we should be developing renewable energy instead.” The PHE report con?rms 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 groundwater contamination. Contamination of groundwater from the underground fracking process itself is unlikely because of the depth at which it occurs. However, the report delivered a number of key recommendations to minimise the risk to public health in the future: • Public Health England needs to continue to work with regulators to ensure all aspects of shale gas extraction and related activities are properly risk assessed as part of the planning and permitting process • Baseline environmental monitoring is needed to facilitate continued on page 7