Evidence for fracking health risks ‘inadequate’, report says

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A Health Protection Scotland assessment of the public health impact of fracking found “sufficient” evidence that cancer-causing dust crystalline silica occurred at levels which would pose a risk to fracking workers.

Researchers said evidence showed hazards from fracking, including the release of toxic hydrocarbons, “occurred at levels that could pose a risk to the health of nearby residents”, but this evidence was “limited”.

They found waterborne methane gas occurred at levels which “posed a potential explosive risk”.

The report into fracking was one of six released yesterday by the Scottish Government, which last year imposed a moratorium on shale gas extraction.

It added: “There was ‘inadequate’ evidence to suggest that other unconventional oil and gas-associated chemical hazards or nuisances such as noise, light or odours occurred at levels that could pose a risk to physical health.”

Overall, researchers said the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific publications was “inadequate” to determine if permitting fracking in Scotland would pose a risk to public health but said it “would justify adopting a precautionary approach” which could be based on mitigation measures.

The assessment said there were “relatively few” studies on the topic, which were characterised by “contradictory and inconsistent findings”.

Independent body the Committee on Climate Change said in a report that large-scale fracking in Scotland would not be compatible with the country’s greenhouse gas emissions targets unless three key tests were met.

These are: consumption in Scotland must displace imported gas rather than being in addition to it; additional emissions from fracking must be offset by reductions elsewhere in the Scottish economy; and emissions must be tightly regulated and closely monitored.

The committee said: “Strengthening of the regulatory system is essential before production can commence. It may ultimately necessitate the establishment of a dedicated regulatory body.”

A British Geological Survey report on unconventional oil and gas extraction and induced earthquakes found fracking generally sparked tremors “too small to be felt”.

Researchers said the largest earthquake triggered by fracking had a magnitude of 4.4 and any earthquake over 4.0 in Scotland’s central belt “would be strongly felt by people and may even cause some superficial damage”.

In the UK, an 0.5-magnitude limit for stopping fracking is imposed, and researchers said new local monitoring systems would be required to enforce this limit.

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