Medact fracking report criticised by SME trade body
- No evidence workers have ill health
- No evidence local populations have ill health
Representing SMEs in the supply chain that supports onshore oil and gas, the Onshore Energy Services Group has criticised a report from campaigners at Medact, insisting that workers are the population group most at risk of exposure to potentially harmful substances, but notes it can find no evidence of chronic poor health amongst workers in the sector.
Responding to the report, Lee Petts, chief executive, said: “The UK has a proud tradition of safely exploring for and then exploiting oil and gas onshore that dates back over 70 years, including in Lancashire. For instance, D’Arcy Exploration Company drilled a well at Scarisbrick in 1938 – a well that has long since been plugged and abandoned.
“These activities of drilling boreholes, constructing wells and testing for the presence and flow of oil and gas have been carried out without incident at thousands of locations across the UK since, including 19 just in 2014, but the debate about shale gas has suddenly thrust them into the spotlight.
“It has been suggested by this report from Medact that exploratory drilling and well testing poses a danger to public health, but SMEs in the supply chain – who perform most of the work and are where much of the true subject matter expertise exists – strongly disagree.”
A report by Public Health England, published in 2014, concluded that ‘the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction will be low if the operations are properly run and regulated. In order to ensure this, regulation needs to be strongly and robustly applied.’
Workers are the most exposed risk group, but there is no evidence of adverse health impacts
The men and women that are directly involved in the processes of drilling boreholes, constructing and completing wells, and then performing the associated well testing operations, are at the greatest risk of exposure to potentially harmful substances because of their immediate proximity.
But, according to the OESG, it has found no evidence of adverse health impacts amongst this worker population, and believes that is because of the stringent regulatory controls that are designed to protect them, including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health or COSHH regulations.
It says that if those safety measures can protect the workforce in the immediate environs of drilling and well testing activities, there is no reason to suspect that the neighbouring public would be at any greater risk, as the Medact report suggests.
No evidence of ill-health near existing conventional oil and gas wells
The processes of drilling and completing wells that target oil and gas in conventional reservoirs are no different to those used to access shale gas.
The same techniques are employed, using the same equipment and additives. The same extractive wastes are encountered, and fluids are pumped in to clean debris from the well bore and to stimulate the flow of hydrocarbons.
Given these similarities, it would seem logical to expect evidence of ill-health in populations leaving near conventional oil and gas sites if, as is suggested, these activities are a source of harm. But according to online data supplied by Public Health England, and reviewed by the OESG, there is no such evidence.
“We took a sample of existing oil and gas sites across England and reviewed the PHE data for these locations. The sites we selected included some that were drilled decades ago, when regulations were less robust and the techniques employed were not as advanced, as well as more recent wells.
“Public health in and around these locations was not significantly different to the rest of England on any of the health measures reported by PHE.”
Whilst much is made of the higher fluid volumes and pumping pressures used to hydraulically fracture shale rock, the Medact report is unable to show how this translates into a greater public health risk.
Evidence, not emotion needed
Shale gas is quite clearly an emotive topic, but the OESG says it’s important not to allow emotion to cloud decision-making and dictate the future of a promising new industry that could bring jobs and investment, create more opportunity for young people, and substitute for expensive foreign imports of gas.
“The future of Britain’s onshore oil and gas industry must be decided based on the evidence and not emotion.
“In some parts of the country, drilling for onshore oil and gas hasn’t been seen for decades and so to the people living there, it seems new and unknown. It’s natural to be apprehensive about things we don’t understand.
“But it’s not new, and reports like this from Medact serve only to amplify fears unnecessarily,” concluded Petts.