Shale gas extraction ‘low risk’ to public health

The public health risk associated with shale gas extraction is low if operations are properly run and regulated, according to a Public Health England (PHE) report.

The agency focuses on the potential impact of chemicals and radioactive material from all stages of shale gas extraction, including the fracturing (fracking) of shale.
Dr John Harrison, director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “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.”
“Where potential risks have been identified in other countries, the reported problems are typically due to operational failure.”
 
The report states that contamination of groundwater from the underground fracking process itself is unlikely because of the depth at which it occurs.
However, it says leakage through vertical boreholes could lead to groundwater contamination and therefore robust well construction and maintenance is essential.
 
The report also recommends 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.
 
Energy Minister Michael Fallon said: “The UK has the most robust regulatory regime in the world for shale gas and companies will only be granted permission to frack for shale if their operations are safe.
 
“Public safety and health is paramount and Government will continue to work with industry to ensure the stringent safety guidelines are upheld as they explore the great potential for shale.”