Fracking is harmful to health, Scottish Government report says

Workers could be at risk from breathing in dangerous crystalline silica during fracking operations, one report found, a health risk that could also affect those living near to fracking sites

Rachael Pells
Tuesday 08 November 2016 18:22 GMT
A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Pennsylvania
A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Pennsylvania (Reuters)

A series of new reports published by the Scottish Government have revealed damning evidence of the impacts of shale gas fracking in Scotland.

The government is currently in talks over whether to allow the controversial oil and gas extraction technique to begin in Scotland, having announced a moratorium last year.

An investigation into the potential health effects of fracking found there was “sufficient” evidence to suggest that a number of “air and water-born environmental hazards” would be likely to occur should the operations go ahead.

Workers could also be at risk from breathing in dangerous crystalline silica during operations, the report found, a risk to health that could also affect those living near to fracking sites.

However, the report – one of six to be published – found that there was “inadequate” data to determine whether the development of shale oil and gas or coal bed methane would pose a risk to public health overall.

In his statement to the Scottish Parliament following the publication of the reports on Tuesday, Energy and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse emphasised the importance of remembering that shale gas and coalbed methane resources are located in the most densely populated part of country.

He told MSPs that a “precautionary, evidence-based approach” would continue.

A public consultation will be launched in January – at the same time as the government’s climate change plan - before any decision is made.

Analysing the impact fracking could have on climate change, experts from the Committee on Climate Change concluded that developing unconventional oil and gas (UOG) would make it harder for the country to meet environmental targets.

Left entirely unregulated, the emissions footprint of unconventional oil and gas production could be substantial,” the report warned.

On the economy, researchers reported it was “unclear” if the fracking industry was “commericially viable”, with current low oil prices providing a “challenging” financial climate.

The industry would bring 1,400 direct and indirect jobs to Scotland, contributing an average of 0.1 per cent GDP and a direct spend of £2.2bn up to the year 2026.

Increases in traffic could also result in more noise and emissions in the affected areas.

The Scottish Parliament voted to support an outright ban on fracking earlier this year after SNP members abstained.

Last week, the British Government was accused of ignoring its own climate change experts in order to allow the “fracking floodgates to open across the country”.

Speaking on the publication of the reports, Mr Wheelhouse said Scotland would not tackle the debate with the same “gung-ho approach of UK Ministers”, and that the Scottish consultation would give “everyone who has an interest” an opportunity to express their views.

Friends of the Earth 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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