Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Risks to the public from shale-gas drilling are expected to be low as long as operations are well- regulated, a U.K. government-backed body said in a draft report.
“Public Health England anticipates a low risk to public health from direct releases of chemicals and radioactive material if shale gas extraction is properly operated and regulated,” it said, seeking comments for the final report.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has proposed the world’s most generous tax system to encourage drilling of U.K. shale deposits as it seeks to cut dependence on imports, boost growth and cut consumers’ energy costs. The plans are opposed by those concerned that the hydraulic fracturing operations will contaminate water supplies, and increase traffic and noise.
Fracking blasts water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to break open shale rock and release trapped fuel.
“Good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of exploratory drilling, gas capture as well as the use and storage of fracking fluid is essential to minimize the risks to the environment and health,” said John Harrison, director of PHE’s centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards. The body is a unit of the U.K. government Department of Health.
The draft noted that while there’s a lack of peer-reviewed research into the industry, well-publicized problems in the U.S. appear to be a result of inadequate operations and regulation. Such problems may not be replicated in the U.K. because of the different conditions, particularly the regulatory environment.
“Most evidence suggests that contamination of groundwater as a result of borehole leakage is an area of concern, but that contamination of groundwater from the underground fracking process itself is unlikely,” according to the draft. “However, other impacts such as spills and accidents above ground, emissions to air etc. are also potentially significant.”
The report didn’t cover concerns over water extraction or sustainability, noise, traffic or visual impact from fracking.
“Low risk is not the same as no risk,” Helen Rimmer, energy campaigner in Friends of the Earth, said in by e-mail. “Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the U.S. There’s no guaranteed it won’t happen here - especially given gaping holes in regulations.”
The U.K. said in June that fields in northern England held as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet demand for almost 50 years. Protesters in July and August held up work at Cuadrilla Resources Ltd.’s site in southern England.
“The U.K. 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,” Energy Minister Michael Fallon said today in a statement.
--Editors: Tony Barrett, Randall Hackley