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Letters: Safety of fracking is far from assured

These letters appear in the Monday 18th November edition of the Independent

You quote the Director of Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards that produced the fracking report (1 November), saying: “The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with the shale gas extraction process are low if operations are properly run and regulated.”  The minister responsible for fracking in England states: “The UK has the most robust regulatory regime in the world for shale gas and companies will only be granted permission to frack for shale if their operations are safe.” Low risk is of course not the same as safe.

There are major questions too about how a government committed to a deregulatory and reduced regulatory agenda, along with chopping budgets – and the resulting major job losses in agencies that have oversight of environmental pollution – will be capable of guaranteeing that fracking companies operate safely.

Also extraordinary is the minister’s unsubstantiated statement that the UK has the most robust regulatory regime for fracking. In other countries the exact chemicals used in fracking have been covered by commercial confidentiality and are not disclosed fully. So how can their risks be fully assessed and cleared for UK use?

The draft review itself does not provide information indicating it is a systematic review and provides minimal information about its method, rigour and results. Public health practitioners look for high-quality systematic reviews before accepting any conclusion about a lack of public health risk.

The review also notes many gaps and specifically excludes consideration of occupational health and safety and climate change. This is a very odd way of assessing public health threats and could for example lead to the impression that climate change does not impact on public health: something strongly refuted by those working in the field.

All in all, the report raises as many questions as it attempts to answer and most certainly does not show that fracking is safe, as the UK Government tries to assert.

Professor Andrew Watterson

Director of the Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research

University of Stirling

Impact of criminal law on the NHS

Wilful neglect of patients under NHS care must be prosecuted (report, 16 November), but what about care failings when the system is at complete overstretch? When does fewer nurses on a ward become a criminal act? Reactionary politics on healthcare or welfare may grab the headlines, but services can’t be threatened beyond their capacity into working even harder as a fix for funding or staffing gaps.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln


Why should everyone be allowed to vote?

You have mis-represented what I said regarding universal suffrage (News in brief, 14 November). I said more electoral power should be given to “wealth creators”, not simply “the wealthy”. As I wrote in the original piece:

“Is the system fair when a shopkeeper pays rates on his house and his business, not to mention a heavy VAT and income tax bill, and gets one vote? Some of his neighbours have contributed nothing to the national exchequer at all, and maybe never will, and they get one vote too”.

Godfrey Bloom MEP, (Yorkshire and the Humber)


Here’s a good idea. When MEP Godfrey Bloom (who wants to strip the vote from the unemployed) stands for re-election, all his constituents, employed or not, can vote against him. Thus he would join the ranks of those he seems to despise. This would not stop him spouting drivel, but at least he would no longer be doing it at our expense.

William Roberts, Bristol


Nothing wrong with eating horsemeat

I see that Princess Anne is urging Britons to consider eating horsemeat (report, 15 November).

Well, during the Second World War, we ate whatever we could get – horsemeat, whalemeat, etc – and a couple of times we may have suspected that a meal described as, say, “rabbit meat” could have been something else. However, as long as it was tasty (and horsemeat was) we enjoyed it!

Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff


The idea that slaughtering horses for the UK dining table would somehow reduce the suffering of these animals is fanciful. What would happen is that horses would become a commercial product – just like pigs, cattle, poultry and sheep. Yet another livestock animal to be bred, fattened and slaughtered for the pot.

Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent


Icebergs and archimedes

Your caption accompanying the picture of an iceberg separating from Pine Island Glacier in the Antarctic on  16 November claims:  “If it melts, it would increase global sea levels.”

Archimedes would weep! The ancient Greek philosopher recognised that a floating body displaces its own weight of water.

Thus once floating, an iceberg is already causing a sea level rise proportionate to its weight. The same notion applies to that portion of a glacier or ice-shelf which is wholly supported by the sea.

To minimise sea-level rise, we need to take steps to slow down movement or melting of ice still supported on land – Greenland and the Antarctic continent being of chief importance here.

Roger Knight, Swansea