This was published on website of the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Logal government select committee on 4 June
Written evidence submitted by Dr David Lowry [PGF 214]
I wrote to you via email on Monday morning, May 21st, in advance of the oral testimony session you held with Ministers Perry and Raab this week, including a short memorandum on health hazards and environmental risks persistently overlooked by government ministers and their officials in respect of fracking, with the suggestion you might put the points to the ministers before you.
I have now had the opportunity to read the transcript of the hearing, and find the points I suggested were not in the event put to the ministers.
Minister Perry especially made several sweeping suggestions in praise of the extant planning process and quality of the regulatory advice and action the UK regulators deliver: for instance:
“there is a genuine belief among the Departments and the industry that we currently have excellent regulatory powers. We have three superb regulators involved in establishing a very sound basis for this industry.” - Minister Perry (Q.144)
She also asserted in respect of the UK regulatory regime: “the three regulators, in terms of the regulations, are very much fit for purpose.” (emphasis added)(Q.199)
and later described the existing regulators as :”very highly functioning regulators—HSE and EA, in particular..” (Q.206)
Minister Perry went on to assert:” What we have always set out to do is to have a sober, science-led process of exploration to understand if this resource exists, if it can be extracted safely…” (my emphasis)(Q.154)
and added: “At the moment, we are going through a science-led process of exploration to understand if the shale resources that we know are there in the three main formations can be extracted at a high enough flow rate to make it worthwhile in a way that absolutely respects local communities’ wishes and to make sure that we have regulation fit for purpose.” (my emphasis) (Q.187)
In her concluding remarks, Minister Perry asserted “..There has been an awful lot of misinformation put out in the public domain, often by groups that do not want us to use gas at all. There is a lot of ideology that is feeding into many of these plans. We have also arguably not given enough resource and help to local authorities to pick through what can be a very complicated landscape. Trying to help local decision-makers achieve that balance, make decisions based on the facts…” (Q.258)
There were, therefore, several missed opportunities to further probe Minister Perry when she made these documented assertions in respect of the high quality of the UK environmental regulators and the science-led nature of departmental understanding of risks of fracking.
Therefore I would invite you to publish this letter with the short memorandum I sent earlier so readers of the Committee’s final report, (included below for convenience) may see that ministerial assertion is not the same as demonstrable fact.
I personally remain unconvinced at the qualitity or objectivity of the advice that has been provided to British Government ministers on the safety of fracking and would encourage the committee to include a recommendation that ministers and their departmental advisors look rather more widely at peer-reviewed academic studies published in the United States, and indeed at their own heath advisor’s assessment of fracking’s health hazards, issue dover three years ago.
Ministerial advisors seem to have overlooked the importance of the ‘precautionary principle’ in policy formulation, and apparently have chosen instead to cherry pick information that underpins pre-determined policy decisions, which almost inevitably leads to poor policy.
I was really shocked at an article on fracking the energy minister Claire Perry wrote for The Sun published last Friday. In her article she asserted, inter alia:
" Because gas is so important for our economy we know that we will need it for decades to come. It also fits with our world-beating climate goals as it generates less CO2 than oil and coal.
That is why every estimate of our 2050 emissions reductions targets from the independent Climate Change Committee includes gas in our energy mix and why it is right to continue to look for gas that can be safely extracted from the potentially huge reserves hundreds of metres beneath our feet." (my emphasis)
She went on to write :"There are those who argue strongly against shale gas, using the most colourful and scaremongering language they can find and intimidating local communities and decision makers with lots of protestors from out of town..... we committed to support the development of onshore British shale gas and to deliver a clean safe and affordable energy supply for the country." (my emphasis)
NEW rules to speed up planning will be brought in to scupper anti-fracking protesters. The Government says “scaremongers” are delaying a shale gas revolution. Energy Minister Claire Perry said the North Sea had been a great British success story but the country needed to find new supplies of gas ...
I do not know if the minister wrote this article herself, or signed an article written by an advisor or departmental officials. Either way it is disturbing she could state such contentious things as I highlight in red and pass them off as facts, when they are demonstrably inaccurate, even according to Public Heath England's own report on the safety of fracking. I set out why this is demonstrably the case- not scaremongering as she asserts- in my note below, based on PHE and US academic research.
I would be really grateful if you could consider putting these points to the ministers when they appear before your committee this afternoon.
Dr David Lowry
Senior research fellow
Institute for Resource and Security Studies
[I am based in London].
Fracking's health hazards and environmental risks
A study published by independent academic researchers at the University of Missouri at the end of 2013 found greater hormone- disrupting (so-called ‘gender-bender’ chemicals) properties in water located near fracking than in areas without drilling.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility. (for full study see: http://medicine.missouri.edu/news/0214.php)
Other US-based scientists at Yale University have found 55 fracking pollutants linked to cancer, including 20 associated with leukaemia or lymphoma. “These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to unconventional oil and gas development could increase the risk of leukaemia,” the recent study concludes.
The pollutants linked to leukaemia include benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and several toxic types of hydrocarbons. More than 80 % of the 1,177 water pollutants and 143 air pollutants from the US fracking industry couldn’t be assessed for cancer risk because of a lack of data, the paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, states.
Moreover, research published in the US by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42% of readings surpass what the US government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state. (‘Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking’, April 9, 2015; www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2015/increased-levels-of-radon-in-pennsylvania-homes-correspond-to-onset-of-fracking.html)
In the UK, the heath watchdog, Public Health England, warned in a report published three years ago “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 … there is therefore the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.”
(‘Shale gas extraction: review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants,’ 30 October 2013; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/shale-gas-extraction-review-of-the-potential-public-health-impacts-of-exposures-to-chemical-and-radioactive-pollutants-draft-for-comment))
Interested parties should also consult the over 200-page Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking - a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking, produced by the Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org) and the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (www.concernedhealthny.org).