Shale gas extraction poses ‘low’ risk to public health, says UK report

10/31/2013

Shale gas extraction poses ‘low’ risk to public health, says UK report

LONDON -- The risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated, a new report from Public Health England (PHE) has found.

The report, published today, reviews the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction. This review of the scientific literature focusses on the potential impact of chemicals and radioactive material from all stages of shale gas extraction, including the fracturing 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.

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 identified in other countries, the reported problems are typically due to operational failure.”

Most evidence 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 ground water contamination. Contamination of groundwater from the underground fracing process itself is unlikely because of the depth at which it occurs.

The draft report is being made available for comment for one month. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the UK's Department of Health.

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