The risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated, says a Public Health England (PHE) draft report (‘Potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction’).

The potential impact of shale gas extraction can be reduced by good well construction and maintenance as evidence suggests that any contamination of groundwater, if it occurs, is likely to be through leakage through the vertical borehole says the report.

But as there is no actual commercial shale gas extraction taking place in the UK the information for the report is gathered from countries where it is taking place.

The Director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Dr John Harrison, 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.

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.”

Energy Minister Michael Fallon welcomed the report's findings saying:

"I welcome this report which shows that the potential risk to public health from shale gas production in the UK is low.

Shale Gas Tower by Ruhrfisch via Wikimedia Commons

Shale Gas Tower by Ruhrfisch

"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."

However, Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner, Helen Rimmer, said:

Low risk is not the same as no risk.

Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the US. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen here – especially given gaping holes in regulations.

If we’re going to tackle climate change we can’t afford to burn more dirty fossil fuel – we should be developing renewable energy instead.

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