Friday, 15 November 2013

Fracking and radon: an update

I sent this letter to the Daily Telegraph on the 10th November, As it seems they are not now going to publish it, I have posted it here.

I am not surprised, but am concerned, that the energy minister Michael Fallon is pushing ahead with the fracking of shale gas, (“Fracking 'is safe... and it's coming soon',” 9 Nov.)
In your report you acknowledge the recent publication of a review of health and safety associated with fracking by the Government’s official advisor, Public Health England (PHE), but misleadingly assert it concluded “fracking did not pose a serious medical risk.”
The report is much more nuanced than that. The clue is in the title: ‘Review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction.’
PHE’s report points out that exposure to naturally occurring radiation comprises 84% of the annual average dose, and exposure to radon is the most significant source, contributing approximately 50% of the dose.
It specifically stresses: “If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point, with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay the half-life of radon is 3.8 days.” And ends stating “No data are yet available on radon concentrations of shale gas from  the UK at the wellhead.”
Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at PHE, said when the report was launched: "The report makes a number of recommendations, including the need for environmental monitoring to provide a baseline ahead of shale gas extraction, so that any risks from the operation can be appropriately assessed."
In light of these serious uncertainties, how can Mr Fallon give the public a reassurance that fracking will be environmentally safe and he will be “trying to win wider acceptance for fracking”?

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