Co-op report and the precautionary principle

The next piece to be added to our documents page will be the Tyndall Centre’s report on the risks and benefits of shale gas development,  commissioned by the Co-operative.  It’s a very full and detailed report with lots of useful information illustrated by helpful graphics.

Here are some extracts from the executive summary and key conclusions sections of the assessment.

“While shale gas extraction, at a global level, does not involve the high energy and water inputs at the scale of other unconventional fuels, such as oil derived from tar sands, it does pose significant potential risks to human health and the environment.”

“[T]he potential for hazardous chemicals to enter groundwater via the extraction process must be subject to more thorough research
prior to any expansion of the industry being considered”

“It is difficult to envisage any situation other than shale gas largely being used in addition to other fossil fuel reserves and adding a further carbon burden. This could lead to an additional 11ppmv of CO2 over and above expected levels without shale gas – a figure that could rise if more of the total shale gas resource were to be exploited than envisaged in the scenarios. This would be compounded if investment in shale gas were to delay the necessary investment in zero and very low carbon technologies.”

“Evidence from the US suggests shale gas extraction brings a significant risk of ground and surface water contamination and until the evidence base is developed a precautionary approach to development in the UK and Europe is the only responsible action. … An analysis of these substances suggests that many have toxic, carcinogenic or other hazardous properties”

“The risk of aquifer water supply contamination by the hazardous
chemicals involved in extraction is likely to be a significant source of local objections.”

“The proximity of such extraction will give rise to a range of local concerns, for example: drilling will require many months if not years of surface activity leading to potentially intrusive noise pollution; high levels of truck movements during the construction of a well-head will have a major impact on already busy roads; and the considerable land-use demands of shale gas extraction will put further pressure on already scarce land-use resources.”

The “precautionary” approach, referred to above, is the principle:

“that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.” (Wikipedia)

In other words, if a procedure appears likely to be dangerous, either to our health or our surroundings, we need to explore the risks in full before going ahead with it. It’s not only common sense, but also part of EU law.