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"Inadequate" evidence to determine whether shale oil and gas extraction would pose a risk to public health

Fracking protest - credit: PA

A report commissioned by the Scottish Government to help determine its position on fracking has found there is “inadequate” evidence to determine whether shale oil and gas extraction would pose a risk to public health.

The Scottish Government commissioned six reports into different effects of introducing onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOG) in Scotland. But although the health assessment was unable to state if there is a general association between UOG activities and health impacts, the studies found that fracking could cause airborne and waterborne hazards.  

The reports also warn there is a “gap in the regulations” relating to decommissioning and aftercare of onshore wells, and that fracking would make it harder for Scotland to meet its emissions targets.

But while environmental groups expressed concern, with Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland warning UOG posed a risk to both the environment and public heath, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which represents the industry, pointed to economic opportunities identified within the reports.

The economic report examined three possible economic scenarios, with onshore unconventional gas extraction generating anything from 470 to 3,100 new jobs, and generating between £100m-£4.6bn.

The Scottish Government will launch a public consultation in the New Year, alongside another consultation on the Scottish Government’s draft Energy Strategy and Climate Change Plan.

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse said: “Once the consultation closes and the results have been independently analysed and published we will make our recommendation on the future of Unconventional Oil and Gas and allow Parliament to vote on it.

“After which, the Scottish Government will come to a considered judgment on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.”

The reports warn that introducing fracking and other forms of unconventional gas extraction would make it harder to meet emissions targets, and that, left unregulated, the emissions footprint could be substantial.

Meanwhile the health assessment found there was sufficient evidence to determine that a number of airborne and waterborne environmental hazards would be likely to occur as a result of UOG operations.

It found that fluids used in fracking “occurred at levels that could pose a risk to UOG workers’ health”, and that there was some evidence that other UOG hazards occurred at levels that could pose a risk to the health of nearby residents.

But Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said the reports “clearly demonstrate” the case for lifting the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

He said: “The experts show that the Scottish economy could benefit by over £11bn including up to £6.5 billion of spending in Scotland, creating over 3000 much needed jobs from unconventional oil and gas development and meeting up to 18 years of current Scottish gas consumption.

“This excludes the additional and important economic benefits to the chemical industry in Scotland including Grangemouth. In addition, local communities could be expected to receive up to £1bn in community benefits. The risks for issues like seismicity are said to be low, there is “inadequate evidence” of any detrimental health impacts and in all cases the risks can be mitigated by good industry practice - much of which is already in place - with industry guidance already published - and the strong regulation.”

FoE Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said: “Fracking is bad for the climate, bad for public health and won't do much good for the economy. That's the damning verdict of the independent studies published by the Scottish Government today, echoing the concerns of communities across the country.

"The economic case for pursuing an unconventional gas industry in Scotland simply doesn't stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment. No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence and decided it’s a good idea.

"Support for fracking is at an all time low. People just don't want this dirty, dangerous industry. We are confident that when the Scottish people are given a chance to have their say in the forthcoming Government consultation, the answer will be a resounding 'no' to fracking.”

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