Fracking: Ministers urged to probe health impact

Anti fracking protesters

By Reporter

The Scottish Government is being urged to probe the full health impact of “fracking” before any formal applications come before local councils.

The fracking issue has moved up the agenda in Scotland following the decision by chemicals giant Ineos to acquire the rights to explore fracking for shale gas in a 127 square mile area around Grangemouth and the Firth of Forth.

The company operates the Grangemouth oil refinery and chemicals plant, and is currently building a £300m docking and storage facility to handle shale gas tankers that will bring US-derived product into the UK and European market.

Angus MacDonald MSP

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald has written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney, urging him to commission a study into the health impact of fracking prior to any applications being made to explore or exploit shale gas in Scotland.

He also wants the study’s remit to extend to coal-bed methane extraction in Airth, where a public inquiry into Dart Energy’s plan to extract gas was recently completed. Dart’s application was called in for examination by Scottish Government Ministers last October and a decision is due in 2015.

Although Dart – who plan to explore at up to 14 sites in the Airth and Falkirk area – are not proposing to use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technqiues, their plan attracted considerable opposition because of similar health and environmental concerns.

Gas drilling and coal, southwest, Pa., Nov. 2010 084
A US fracking well

“The Government must take all steps necessary to fully investigae any possible health and environmental impacts prior to any application for fracking becing considered by local planning authorities,” commented MacDonald, who intends to press further when the Scottish Parliament resumes business next week.

“The public must be given ‘peace of mind’ on this issue, given the experiences and concerns in other parts of the globe, and a full public health impact study will go some way to addressing that.”

As reported this week, a recent “study of studies” in the US – covering 400 pieces of peer-reviewed research – found that 96 per cent of them drew conclusions on adverse health impact. Many communities in the US appear to experience higher incidences of cancers and respiratory ailments which may be linked to local fracking activities.

Fracking is a very aggressive means of extracting oil and gas from deep underground, using horizontal drilling techniques. The process involves the high pressure pumping of water and chemicals in order to exploit fissures which in turn release oil and gas that has been trapped within shale.

Massive exploitation in the US has had a huge impact on domestic energy prices, reducing American dependence on foreign energy sources. The current slump in oil prices to around $60 a barrel is the result of a concerted effort by the OPEC countries – and particularly the Gulf States –  to drive down margins and make US shale less competitive.

The UK Government, which maintains the right to license exploration, is keen to emulate the US model in the belief that shale gas might have a similar impact on supply and prices. However, the actual amount of economically viable UK shale gas remains unknown, and there is growing opposition to the various licensing applications being made.

The Scottish Government is the ultimate planning authority in Scotland even though it does not enjoy exploration licensing powers.