British Medical Journal criticises safety of fracking

The world renowned British Medical Journal(BMJ) has strongly criticised false assurances of safety given by the recent Public Health of England report which opined that whilst unconventional shale gas extraction posed a risk to public human health, it would not pose a health threat to humans on the European side of the Atlantic.


The BMJ article, penned by Adam Law (Cornell Medical College), Jake Hays (PSE Health Energy), Seth B Shonkeff (PSE Health Energy) and Madelon Finkel (Cornell Medical College), draw attention to the fact that whilst the PHE Report acknowledges a real risk to public health, as shown by existing scientific research, the claim made by the report that the health risks will not exist for citizens of the UK and Ireland are theoretical at best.

“To the extent that they are technically and economically feasible, risk reduction technologies that mitigate adverse health outcomes should be deployed. However reviewing the public health aspects of the development of the shale gas industry requires more than merely gesturing to technological improvements that lack empirical data on their effectiveness in the real world. The optimism that fail-safe engineering solutions can ensure safe shale gas development may result more from a triumph of marketing than a demonstration of experience.”

oil fracturing drilling rig at dusk
oil fracturing drilling rig at dusk

The BMJ continues: “The [PHE] review appropriately acknowledges differences in geology and regulation between the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet in a leap of faith unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, its authors suggest that many of the environmental and public health problems experienced in the US would probably not apply to the UK. Unfortunately the conclusion that shale gas operations present a low risk to public health is not substantiated by literature.”

“Furthermore, the [PHE] report incorrectly assumes that many of the reported problems experienced in the US are the result of a poor regulatory environment. This position ignores many of the inherent risks of the industry that no amount of regulation can sufficiently remedy, such as well casing, cement failures, and accidental spillage of waste water. There is no reason to believe that these problems would be different in the UK, and the report provides little evidence to the contrary, despite repeated assertions that regulations will ensure safe development of shale gas extraction.”

The BMJ also draws attention to the fact that unconventional shale gas extraction, on this side of the atlantic, will be taking place in more densely populated areas, than usually seen in the US.

In conclusion the BMJ state that: “Rigorous, quantitative epidemiological research, is needed to assess the risks to public health, and data are just starting to emerge.”

To read the BMJ article in full, click here.