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Shale gas and ‘fracking’: examining the evidence

Fracking Diagram edited
Emma Cowan on July 21, 2014 - 12:30 am in News

Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) have today published a report which reviews current evidence across a number of issues associated with shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). These include environmental and public health aspects and socio-economic considerations.

Importantly, the report is an independent assessment which draws heavily on academic research. It highlights:

  • major shortcomings in regulatory oversight regarding local environmental and public health risks.
  • the large potential for UK shale gas exploitation to undermine national and international efforts to tackle climate change.
  • the water-intensive nature of the fracking process which could cause water shortages in many areas.
  • the complete lack of evidence behind claims that shale gas exploitation will bring down UK energy bills, and concerns that it will impact negatively on UK energy security.

The report also points out that, despite claims to the contrary; evidence of local environmental contamination from shale gas exploitation is well-reported in the scientific literature. However, extrapolation from the experience in the USA (where most fracking has been carried out to date) to the UK is not straightforward. Nevertheless, there is widespread concern that, even with strong regulation, the safety of fracking for the UK is in doubt.

Furthermore, the report highlights that local authorities and other regulators have undergone budget cuts, undermining their ability to provide adequate regulatory oversight. Yet paradoxically regulation is being presented as the way in which the process can be effectively managed to reduce the risks.

Gary McFarlane, Director Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) Northern Ireland said: “The CIEH has consistently made the case for a full independent environmental impact assessment to be carried out on all shale gas extraction proposals before permission to drill is given.

“In the enthusiasm to exploit new sources of energy we must assess and ensure that there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment or on the health of people in the communities surrounding extraction sites. Despite some positive soundings by the NI Executive for the process, local authorities in Northern Ireland should resist allowing shale gas extraction in their areas until they are satisfied on that point. We believe that there is currently insufficient evidence to provide such assurance for proposals in the UK and the precautionary principle should apply.”

SGR Executive Director and co-author of the report, Dr Stuart Parkinson said: “The evidence we have gathered shows that exploiting yet another new source of fossil fuels – such as UK shale gas – is likely to further undermine efforts to tackle climate change. We need to focus on low carbon energy sources, especially renewables, together with concerted efforts to save energy.”


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