Comment 6 January 2018
On the 1st anniversary of the start of the roadside campaign against fracking at Preston New Road it is worth reviewing why the protest is both justified and necessary. There is a host of reasons it is foolhardy to start this invasive process in the UK, not least of which is the climate change imperative. But if we consider public health as just one, albeit major, issue, it is clear why action is vital to ban fracking.
When in March 2013 I published my book Fracking The UK, which signalled the dangers we faced, in the List of the Harmed, published by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Cl;ean Water and Air, the tally of Pennsylvania individuals and families adversely affected by fracking industry stood at something over 800. When I wrote the second volume in December 2016, the count had mushroomed to 21,700. By the end of the year the total was still rising, to 22144 at the latest count. Not all the entries refer to health issues, but the serious issues reported can not be brushed aside as anecdotal, as recent studies have added to the suggestion that fracking has considerable potential health risks. Bearing in mind Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan has promised to turn Lancashire into the "new Pennsylvania" this should strike a warning note at the highest level.
Over the last two years significant new research has built a picture of links between unconventional oil and gas and health problems. The Maryland John Hopkins University School of Public health has published separate reports of Pennsylvania studies indicating a link between asthma exacerbation and proximity to fracking sites, a link with migraine headaches, chronic rhino-sinusitis and fatigue. Another study of 10,000 birth records recorded a link between proximity to active fracking and high-risk pregnancy and premature births. Just recently, in December 2017, a study from Princeton University linked fracking site proximity to greater incidence of low birth-weight babies and declines in other measures of newborn health. These studies, amongst others, whilst not proving causal link, are more than worrying, especially when we consider the population density of England is nearly four times that of Pennsylvania and with nearly five times the population.
The government's response to claims of fracking's health risks is to point to the Public Health England report of June 2014, claiming the report said that fracking was safe if proper regulation were applied. There are many flaws with that response. The PHE report was limited in scope, concentrating on narrow chemical and radiation issues, and the evidence base from the US was already out-of-date when the report was issued. It is in desperate need of a review, four years on, of review. But, significantly, the governmeent took no note of the fact that PHE said the issues needed re-evaluatiopn if fracking was to continue to industrial levels, and further research was necessary, with effective monitoring. This has simply not happened. Nor has the government acted on regulation. It failed to implement the recommendations not only of PHE but also of the 2002 Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report. Only one of those recommendations, relating to seismic monitoring, can truthfully said to have happened.
In Yorkshire Ineos and other industry players are pushing for a planning system that accepts ten wellpads per 100 sq km, with more than ten wells (reaching out horizontally) per pad. This effectively means asking for every field in rural North Yorkshire to be drilled under. No resident would be more than a mile or two from a wellhead. Significantly, the government has failed to implement an EU requirement for member states to define setback distances of drilling from homes.
Nevertheless the government has promoted fracking, overruling local democtratic process in Lancashire, and it looks like it will move a step further by attempting to take decisions further out of the hands of local communities by bringing fracking developments within the permitted development system. Perhaps the worst offence was the government's implementation of the Infrastructure Act, which made legal a requirement to maximise onshore oil and gas production. This overreaching Act totally distortyed the local authoritie's ability to refuse fracking applications. To my mind this was in total confl;ict with both the government's climate change commitments, also the UN Aarhus convention, to which the UK is a signatory. Indeed I am surprised that action has not been take to delare that section of the IA unlawful. Sadly, the Labour Party allowed it through without comment.
Bearing in mind the above, a sad story of research pointing to significant hazards, but the government refusing to accept the precautionary principle or even take steps to reduce risks, it seems there is only one way for people to make their voices heard. To those camping and facing the winter cold, the lines of police and security guards ranged against them, to others who make the daily pilgrimage to join or support peaceful protest, including grandmothers who rarely miss a day making their point and calling for a ban, I raise my hat. I can only hope we do not go another year facing the folly of communities being used as guinea-pigs for a technique which is bound to fail, and facing the legacy issues, which again the government has turned a blind eye to. Even test wells will fail and leak eventually. Maybe not this year or next, Maybe decades into the future, not a prospect I enjoy thinking about. England MUST ban fracking, along with Scotland and Wales. There is too much at stake. The politicans have let us down. I hope that in the coming year the truth about fracking will start permeating the consciousness of the general public. It is a difficult battle. The government and the industry are powerful, and adept at producing misinformation. But one way or another there will be no fracking industry in the UK, I am sure of that.
We recommend a visit to the excellent
Drill Or Drop
for an excellent fracking journalism site with regular news updates and archive.
Rather than duplicate the thorough work there, we will post more occasional updates focused on related energy matters and international fracking issues.
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All author proceeds from these books will be used to help the people of the Fylde and West Lancashire fight against fracking.