Wednesday, 29 October 2014


On Monday this week, the independent peer Lord Smith of Finsbury - who use to be Chris Smith, Labour MP for Islington South & Finsbury until 2005 - was interviewed on BBC TV’s The Daily Politics lunchtime programme on his new role as chairperson of a so-called ”independent “ inquiry into fracking, ( which will be funded by the fracking industry.

Most recently Lord Smith has been the chairman of the environment regulator, the Environment Agency, for  5 years until he retired at the end  June  this year. Earlier he held the post of Culture Secretary for four years from 1997 in Tony Blair’s first New Labour administration. In opposition from 1992-94 he was shadow environment secretary, as well as shadowing the heritage, pensions and health portfolios to the 1997 general election.

He told the Daily Politics presenter, Jo Coburn, who asked would he publish a report that was critical of fracking, despite  the provenance of his inquiry’s funding,:” If that is what the evidence points to, that is what we will say.” A week ago he told the GuardianWe will assess the existing evidence, ask for new contributions and lead a national conversation around this vitally important issue.” (Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force, 21 October,

Just before he left office at the Environment Agency, I wrote to Lord Smith about his oft repeated views in support of fracking eg in May 2012 he said in a in a lecture to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce that a "useful addition" to the UK's "energy mix" if certain requirements were met. (“Environment Agency head Lord Smith supports fracking expansion”, BBC on line, 8 May 2012

National anti-fracking group Fracked Off were unimpressed (

I specifically raised with Lord Smith  the concerns over radon risks from fracking, as extensively aired in the US, but barely at all in the UK, and the health hazards posed by endocrine disrupter chemicals - so called ‘gender-bender’ chemical additives-  used in fracking fluids.

In his letter of response dated 8 July, Lord Smith, confirmed the Environment Agency was “aware of the use of endocrine disrupters in some parts of the USA” stressing “the way we will regulate shale gas fracking in England will reduce the risk from endocrine disrupters by appropriate management of chemicals and the treatment and disposal of flow  back fluid.” Note he did not say eliminate, but only “reduce the risk” of these hazardous chemicals.

On radon gas risks, he merely passed the buck to Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, two other regulatory quango, selectively citing soothing reassurances from HPE’s recent report on the Review of the potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction Process, published in June 2014

PHE said, inter alia, it considered it “unlikely” that shale gas extraction and related activities ”would lead to significant exposure form outdoor radon or indoor levels in nearby homes.”

Lord Smith offered me the chance to discuss the matter further with the EA’s onshore oil and  gas team at:, which I certainly will do

Following my correspondence with Lord Smith, six weeks ago I took up the cudgels with  new Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, a former oils & gas industry executive. Following her appearance before the Environment Select committee, writing:

I listened very carefully to your testimony before the Efra  select committee on 10 September on environmental impacts and implications of hydraulic fracturing. (

There are a number of environmental health impacts neither committee members nor yourself  raised or addressed (although Dr Leinster mentioned radioactivity briefly in passing).  I have set out some details below, along with some supporting articles. This should help Defra develop environmental protection policy re.fracking through being evidence-led, as you affirmed is your position to the select committee.

I would be very interested to know your views as the new SOS - not your officials' views, as they have been in post for a while -  on these matters.

On 13 August this year, a team of experienced research scientists presented the fruit of new research on fracking hazards to the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Dr William Stringfellow, an environmental engineer at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported his research team – jointly with the University of the Pacific - had scoured databases and reports to compile a list of substances commonly used in fracking, including gelling agents to thicken the fluids, biocides to keep microbes from growing, sand to prop open tiny cracks in the rocks and compounds to prevent pipe corrosion.

that most fracking compounds will require treatment before being released to the environment, and also  identified eight substances, including biocides, as being particularly toxic to mammals.

Also, late last year, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they  had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking. Their research paper, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, published in the journal Endocrinology.( Volume 155 Issue 3 - March 2014, found higher levels of hormone-disrupting ('gender-bender) activity in water located near fracking wells 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.

Dr Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the MU School of Medicine, put it starkly: ”More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function. With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."

In addition, there is the radiation risk from radon gas released during fracking.

One conclusion in the report published in March this year by the public health watchdog, Public Health England, in their  Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction, states:"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."
Radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Moreover, Professor, James W. Ring, Winslow Professor of Physics Emeritus, Hamilton College in New York State stresses:
"The radon and natural gas coming from the shale mix together and travel together as the gas is piped to customers. This is a serious health hazard, as radon - being a gas - is breathed into the lungs and lodges there to decay, doing damage to the lungʼs tissue and eventually leading to lung cancer."

Hence there is undoubtedly a risk of radon gas being pumped into citizens' homes as part of the shale gas stream. Unless the gas is stored for up to a month to allow the radon's radioactivity to naturally reduce, this is potentially very dangerous.( a half-life of 3.8 days. Using the general rule of thumb of 10 half-lives to decay to 1/1000 of original concentration, that would be 38 days, or roughly one month, depending on how radioactive it was to start.)
The Environment  Secretary has still not replied to my letter, despite a polite reminder, but she did find time last Sunday (26 October) to be interviewed on The Sunday Politics show, during which she again cheer-leaded for fracking. I am not encouraged.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Why does Farage back Brussels over new nuclear power plants?

Overlooked in the political frenzy over the success of UKIP in the two by-election results is Nigel Farage’s curious backing for Brussels’ support for massive multi-billion pound subsidies for new nuclear power plants in Britain (
In fact the costs of this giant twin reactor project have continued to escalate as planning  has gone ahead by the coalition, with the full support of Labour’s leadership (if not its membership)
Back in 2006, the current Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey wrote on his blog, when he was a mere  opposition MP launching the Liberal Democrat energy policy, Say No to Nuclear, in which he asserted (correctly) “'a new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and consumers tens of billions of pounds.”
The reference plant for the mega nuclear station at Hinkley Point C is the French-designed Olkiluoto plant in Finland, which started construction in May 2005 (with an original promised completion date in 2009), and for which the construction costs have doubled to at least €6.4 billion, and completion delayed to 2016. ( A similarly designed plant under construction at Flamanville  in France is suffering a four year delay with costs rising from €3.3 billion to €8.5 billion)
The initial costs for the twin UK plant has risen from under £10 bn when first proposed, then to £14bn, and increased to £16bn several months ago, when the so-called strike price of £92.50 per Mwh of electricity, double the present wholesale price, index-linked and guaranteed against French state-owned Électricité de France (EDF) loss for 35 years, which will comprise a  massive taxpayer and electricity bill ayer subsidy, inflating electricity bills for four decades to come. 
(Incidentally, Mr Farage should note, EDF simultaneously agreed a price of £38 /Mwh for its French customers) 
The new decision by the European Commision on 8 October to flaut its own rules on states aid, reverse its initial opposition to the massive subsidies requested by the coalition government, and allow a further taxpayer subsidises increase for Hinkley C to an eye-watering £34 bn, thus beggars belief.
When asked about the price increase by £18bn to £34bn, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters in Brussels  his service had worked with these numbers in its exchanges with British authorities for a year, and he had “no explanation for the lower figures.”
Surely the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, will want to know why this spectacular price escalation – and future taxpayer obligation - has happened
But bizarrely, Tom Greatrex MP, Labour's Shadow energy minister, welcomed the Commission decision, telling Business Green web site (8 Oct.)"The Commission's decision emphasises the delivery of value for the consumer, and serves as a reminder to the Government that transparency and accountability are important principles." (
Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten that the Coalition Agreement said in May 2010 that new nuclear power stations would be permitted only “provided that they receive no public subsidy.”
So much for honesty in politics!