- Study by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, warns of health risks
- Almost 40 per cent of people living less than two thirds of a mile (1km) from a natural gas well reported upper respiratory symptoms
- Scientists surveyed 492 people with ground-fed water wells in southwestern Pennsylvania, where natural gas extraction activity is significant
- Experts claim there is little risk of health problems if fracking is conducted on a large scale in the UK as ‘gold standard’ regulations are in place
People living near fracking sites are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory and skin problems, experts have warned.
A major study has raised health problems connected with hydraulic fracturing, which some people hope will be a major component in the UK’s energy mix of the future.
Almost 40 per cent of people living less than two thirds of a mile (1km) from a natural gas well reported upper respiratory symptoms, compared to 18 per cent of people living over 1.5 miles (2km) away.
People living near natural gas wells used in hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory and skin problems, experts warn. Many people are opposed to the practice (stock image) which is big business in the US – and is set to be a major industry in the UK
Little is known about the environmental and public health impact of certain natural gas extraction techniques – including fracking – that occurs near residential areas in the US.
Yale University researchers surveyed 492 people in 180 households with ground-fed water wells in southwestern Pennsylvania, where natural gas extraction activity is significant.
There are 624 active natural gas wells in the survey area, 95 per cent of which produce gas via fracking, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The experts compared the proximity of gas wells to the frequency of self-reported skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms over the past year.
They found that the prevalence of skin and respiratory conditions were higher among residents living closer to natural gas wells, but they didn’t find a significant increase in grouped neurological, cardiovascular, or gastrointestinal symptoms among those living in homes closer to natural gas wells.
Almost 40 per cent of people living less than two thirds of a mile (1km) from a natural gas well (stock image) reported upper respiratory symptoms, compared to 18 per cent of people living over one-and-a-half miles (2km) away, according to the bleak Yale University report
The study did not look at the likely cause of the problem, but one expert told MailOnline that the problem may lie in the construction of the wells, as they are not strictly regulated in the US.
‘Our study suggests that natural gas drilling may increase the risk of health symptoms in people living near the wells,’ said the study’s senior author Meredith Stowe, associate research scientist at the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program.
‘We believe our findings support the need for further research into the health and environmental implications of this form of natural gas extraction.’
Dr Peter Rabinowitz, who is now at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, said: ‘The effect we found persisted in the analyses, even after adjusting for gender, age, educational level, smoking, and awareness of environmental risk factors.’
The experts compared the proximity of gas wells to the frequency of self-reported skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms over the past year. They found that the prevalence of skin and respiratory conditions (illustrated) were higher among residents living closer to natural gas wells
HEALTH EXPERTS CLAIM FRACKING IS UNLIKELY TO CAUSE CANCER
A health watchdog said last Noevmber that while fracking is unlikely to cause cancer,more research is needed into its long-term effects.
Public Health England (PHE) criticised a U.S. study, which claimed that residents living within half a mile of a site were slightly more likely to get cancer.
Scientists in Colorado used a computer model to predict that there would be an extra ten cases of cancer for those living within half a mile radius of a fracking drilling well.
The PHE dismissed the idea that people living near the sites will develop breathing difficulties and other medical problems, saying they ‘know enough’ to allay fears for now – although they admitted that very little research has been carried out into potential harms of the process.
Dr John Harrison, director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, insisted that as long as fracking was carried out properly, the potential risks to public health would be ‘low’.
He said: ‘The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions that are associated with shale gas extraction process are low if the operations are properly run and regulated.’
However he conceded that research into the long-term health implications had been ‘limited’ – and said they would need to continue to monitor evidence as it emerged.
While the study makes for bleak reading, Ken Cronin, CEO of United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) told MailOnline that if fracking goes ahead on a large scale in the UK, it would be highly unlikely that people living near sites would suffer respiratory and skin conditions linked to the industry.
‘I wouldn’t expect to see that in the UK,’ he said.
Mr Cronin explained there are three main risks when it comes to fracking: chemicals spilling where they are stored on the surface and liquid pumped up the vertical pipe and lateral pipe further down, passing through into the aquifer – an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock.
However, he claims there are ‘gold standard’ regulations in place to stop this from happening that are much stricter than those in place in the US.
‘The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) oversees the construction of wells and they have the strictest regulations in the world. All the designs have to be approved by the HSE then an independent well examiner,’ he said.
Mr Cronin explained that there three layers of casing around the pipes used for fracking that are tested multiple times and send continuous streams of data proving their integrity to the HSE, unlike in the US where some regulations are ‘almost non-existent’.
Scientists have previously proved that it is impossible for water and chemicals used to frack some 948ft (300 metres) below ground level to travel upwards into the aquifer – where it could mix with drinking water, while studies by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, among others, have said that with proper regulation, there is little risk of contamination to drinking water.
Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, told MailOnline: ‘This study shows an unproven possibility that shale boreholes could produce self-reported health problems.
‘With a small sample number of people and long term consumption of groundwater from local wells, it’s possible that these observed correlations could have other causes, such as prior contamination of groundwater. Nevertheless, it’s an observation of poor health effects which needs to be checked with a larger and more systematic investigation.’
He said that a recent report that he was involved in noted emerging evidence on health effects, but such evidence lacked a ‘good measure of what health was like before shale drilling operations started.
‘In Britain, we should be able to get some measure of that. But, much more investigation of the health information from the US would be very sensible before starting campaigns of similar drilling here.
Shale gas has been hailed a possible ingredient in the UK’s future energy mix (a map of reserves is pictured), but new health scares could put a spanner in the works – at least in terms of public perception