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expert reaction to PHE report on shale gas and public health

Public Health England (PHE) reviewed the literature on the potential public health impacts as a result of shale gas extraction, concluding the potential risks to public health are low if extraction is properly run and regulated.


Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Sedimentary Geology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The PHE report on contamination is well balanced, and rightly points out that drilling and production of fluids from underground can also produce a range of natural pollutants in dilute form.  The substances listed are no different to those already handled during North Sea oil and gas exploitation, so the technology exists to cope. Challenges for Government are to ensure high quality analysis of groundwater before shale gas drilling commences – that may require specialist shallow sampling boreholes. Also to ensure that the UK has enough inspectors to ensure that strong rules are adhered to. The University of Edinburgh is already developing robust baseline monitoring to detect any shale gas contamination in groundwaters.”


Professor Quentin Fisher, Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering, University of Leeds, said:

“This is yet another study suggesting that contamination of the groundwater due to the hydraulic fracture process itself is unlikely. The two main risks identified are surface spills and leakage along boreholes. These risks can be dramatically reduced by the development of a robust regulatory framework. I think it’s particularly important for the public to understand that leakage along boreholes is far less likely in the UK compared to the USA because we have never had a large onshore petroleum development program so pre-existing boreholes close to the shale gas resources are not a significant issue. Overall, the report provides even more evidence that production of gas from shale can be made very safe.”


Professor Richard Davies, Professor and Director of Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:

“Public Health England has highlighted a critical aspect in the debate around shale gas extraction, namely that checking for well leaks and monitoring of shale gas sites is important. Of the 2,152 wells drilled onshore in the UK since 1902, approximately 50% are buried and therefore not easily monitored, and 1,138 were drilled by companies that no longer exist. If the rocks are suitable and the UK presses ahead, then well integrity is an area that we will need a great deal more focus.”


Professor Peter Styles of the School of Geographical and Physical Sciences at Keele University said:

“I welcome this timely report from Public Health England which emphasises the very low risk to public health posed by shale gas extraction but which stresses the importance of robust monitoring protocols, full public disclosure of chemical use and the need for continuing research.”


‘Review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction’:

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