Intended for healthcare professionals


Health professionals call for urgent halt to fracking because of public health concerns

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 01 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1791

Re: Health professionals call for urgent halt to fracking because of public health concerns

To the BMJ, and the signatories of the letter informed by the Medact report. ‘Health and Fracking.
From Ken Wilkinson BSc Hons. Ex oil rig engineer.

I am concerned that many of those who signed the letter calling for a moratorium on shale gas are not aware of serious failings in the Medact report. I would ask them to review their support, in view of the following information.

I have gone into detail about these serious flaws in an Open Letter that I have sent to Medact.

The first major flaw is that the report details many supposed incidents from the USA. Various carcinogenic, mutagenic, and toxic materials are mentioned as possible health concerns. I was at the launch of the report, and I was surprised to find that the report has minimal mention of the EU and UK laws on the injection of fluids, and certainly this does not translate into the conclusions. These laws mean that only non-hazardous chemicals can be used. As such, raising concerns about serious health issues due to chemicals that are not permissible in the UK would seem improper.

The second major flaw is that the many of the pollution incidents involve open fluid storage, or poor chemical handling practices that are illegal in the UK. The Royal Academy of Engineering published a study of the risks involved with shale gas extraction in 2012. These pollution pathways and other risks were identified as areas that could be mitigated with proper regulation and design. As such they made a series of 10 recommendations to ensure that the process could be done in a low risk setting. This involved DECC, the HSE, and the Environment Agency (EA) and the BGS . It became evident at the launch that Medact were not aware of this, and it is not reflected in the report. The report also appears to incorrectly conflate hazard with risk.

Recently UKOOG, the representative body of the onshore oil and gas industry gave an update on the implementation of the 10 RAE recommendations, and found that 6 are in place and the rest will soon be completed. When questioned at the launch, this was dismissed without justification. Medact do not appear to have checked their findings with any of the myriad of available official sources to ensure that what they have presented is relevant science (see links below). The importance of the UK regulatory context seems to have been ignored.

To summarise, in the UK we have only non-hazardous chemicals permitted, pollution pathways identified and mitigated, and strong UK regulation that controls those concerns. The Medact report ignores all of this. Industry bodies have dismissed this report as unacceptable science.

Publicly available data from Public Health England suggests that health outcomes for people living near to existing and previous oil and gas sites are no worse than for the rest of the population. There is no evidence that those most exposed to hazards, namely rig workers, have experienced any negative health outcomes. These matters are regulated by COSHH, the HSE, in conjunction with employee unions. If the safety measures in place can protect the workforce in the immediate environs of drilling and well testing activities, there is no reason to suspect that the neighbouring public would be at any greater risk, as the Medact report suggests.

In addition the claims that there are cancer and birth defect risks are not clearly referenced. In view of over 2 million wells having been fracked, where are the lawsuits in the USA, one of the most litigious counties in the world? Many of the supposed authoritative reports have been criticised for poor methodology, incorrect analysis, and have been peer reviewed by activists.

There are many other serious failings of this report, and it is unacceptable that false data should be presented to the public by doctors, who will always be held to the highest level of accountability.

Shale gas extraction has been looked at by a large variety of competent organisations, and almost all have found it to be a low risk activity, provided it is done in a properly regulated fashion. It also fails to take account of the existing UK experience of onshore oil and gas.

Ken Wilkinson. 6th April 2015.

Comments from industry bodies.
1. UKOOG response
2. OESG response
3. Shale Gas Europe response
A small selection of reports that have found shale gas to be a low risk activity, if properly regulated.
1. PHE report 2014
2. RAE report 2012
3. Scottish Govt Independent report 2014
4. EASAC summary
6. Directors of North Atlantic Group of the European Geological Surveys

About me. I am an ex graduate oil rig engineer, working onshore and on land for 12 years. My speciality was wireline services. In 1990 I became a Physics teacher and recently retired. I am completely independent and have no financial interests in what I do. I have campaigned to remove false information about fracking from public view, as I do not like the public being misled. I got Breast Cancer UK to change their fracking information twice, and have forced Resident Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF) and Frack Free Somerset to withdraw their advertising, after Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complaints. I currently have a complaint against Frack Free Lancs in progress with the ASA. I am also the main contributor to
Ken Wilkinson April 2015.

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 April 2015
Ken Wilkinson
Retired oil engineer and teacher
Bristol, UK