Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Fracking and health

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2397 (Published 05 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2397

Rapid Response:

Re: Fracking and health

I am concerned that Medact seem to continue to misrepresent the well established safe practice of hydraulic fracturing. In 2015 they cited clear links between hydraulic fracturing (HF) and health concerns. After many complaints (one from me) they updated their conclusions in 2016 to state 'based on current evidence it is not possible to conclude that there is a strong association between shale gas related pollution and negative local health effects'. (See 'Key points' https://www.medact.org/2016/resources/reports/shale-gas-production-in-en...)

The situation is under constant review by Public Health England. They are a statutory consultee for any frack application. They have consistently stated 'PHE has reviewed the literature on the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction. We conclude that the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health in the vicinity of shale gas extraction sites will be low if shale gas extraction is properly run and regulated' https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa... The Medact statement that 'some evidence shows that it increases the risk of negative health and environmental outcomes, including increased risk of cancer, adverse birth outcomes, respiratory disease, and mental wellbeing' is not supported by credible evidence. The studies that support these have all been rejected as bad science by PHE.

In any case the chemicals that are cited in the US based studies are not permitted in the UK anyway. Only 'non hazardous chemicals' are permitted by the regulator, the Environment Agency. This is to comply with UK and EU law. Fugitive emissions are similarly not permitted. As such any (flawed) US studies have no relevance in the UK.

The argument about climate change is not relevant for the BMJ. In fact the Climate Change committee have stated that HF gas is acceptable as long as it displaces imports. Imported gas would have a higher GHG footprint than locally produced well regulated shale gas. The combination of renewables and gas is the reason that the UK (and the US) have dramatically decreased GHG emissions.

Similarly the fact that INEOS is taking the Scottish Government to court is an indication of the poor decision made. After a full scientific review, the expert advice given was that shale gas extraction was low risk. The decision was made for SNP political reasons, rather than technical ones. I am sure that the BMJ would advocate that evidence based science should dictate medical decision making. In fact the SNP have retracted from this position and have declared that there is no ban when the matter got to the courtroom. https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/snp-accused-of-misleading-voters-...

Competing interests: No competing interests

08 June 2018
Kenneth Wilkinson
Retired Engineer and teacher
None
Bristol