On Monday this week, the independent peer Lord Smith of Finsbury - who use to be Chris Smith, Labour MP for Islington South & Finsbury until 2005 - was interviewed on BBC TV’s The Daily Politics lunchtime programme on his new role as chairperson of a so-called ”independent “ inquiry into fracking, (http://www.shaletaskforce.uk/) which will be funded by the fracking industry.
Most recently Lord Smith has been the chairman of the environment regulator, the Environment Agency, for 5 years until he retired at the end June this year. Earlier he held the post of Culture Secretary for four years from 1997 in Tony Blair’s first New Labour administration. In opposition from 1992-94 he was shadow environment secretary, as well as shadowing the heritage, pensions and health portfolios to the 1997 general election.
He told the Daily Politics presenter, Jo Coburn, who asked would he publish a report that was critical of fracking, despite the provenance of his inquiry’s funding,:” If that is what the evidence points to, that is what we will say.” A week ago he told the Guardian “We will assess the existing evidence, ask for new contributions and lead a national conversation around this vitally important issue.” (Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force, 21 October, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/21/former-environment-agency-head-to-lead-industry-funded-fracking-task-force
Just before he left office at the Environment Agency, I wrote to Lord Smith about his oft repeated views in support of fracking eg in May 2012 he said in a in a lecture to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce that a "useful addition" to the UK's "energy mix" if certain requirements were met. (“Environment Agency head Lord Smith supports fracking expansion”, BBC on line, 8 May 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17987356
I listened very carefully to your testimony before the Efra select committee on 10 September on environmental impacts and implications of hydraulic fracturing. (http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15996)
There are a number of environmental health impacts neither committee members nor yourself raised or addressed (although Dr Leinster mentioned radioactivity briefly in passing). I have set out some details below, along with some supporting articles. This should help Defra develop environmental protection policy re.fracking through being evidence-led, as you affirmed is your position to the select committee.
I would be very interested to know your views as the new SOS - not your officials' views, as they have been in post for a while - on these matters.
On 13 August this year, a team of experienced research scientists presented the fruit of new research on fracking hazards to the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Dr William Stringfellow, an environmental engineer at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported his research team – jointly with the University of the Pacific - had scoured databases and reports to compile a list of substances commonly used in fracking, including gelling agents to thicken the fluids, biocides to keep microbes from growing, sand to prop open tiny cracks in the rocks and compounds to prevent pipe corrosion.
His team found (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-08/acs-anl071614.php)
that most fracking compounds will require treatment before being released to the environment, and also identified eight substances, including biocides, as being particularly toxic to mammals.
Also, late last year, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking. Their research paper, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, published in the journal Endocrinology.( Volume 155 Issue 3 - March 2014 http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/en.2013-1697), found higher levels of hormone-disrupting ('gender-bender) activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body's endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility.
Dr Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the MU School of Medicine, put it starkly: ”More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function. With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."
In addition, there is the radiation risk from radon gas released during fracking.
One conclusion in the report published in March this year by the public health watchdog, Public Health England, in their Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction, states:"If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay ... there is therefore, the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale."Radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Moreover, Professor, James W. Ring, Winslow Professor of Physics Emeritus, Hamilton College in New York State stresses:"The radon and natural gas coming from the shale mix together and travel together as the gas is piped to customers. This is a serious health hazard, as radon - being a gas - is breathed into the lungs and lodges there to decay, doing damage to the lungʼs tissue and eventually leading to lung cancer."
Hence there is undoubtedly a risk of radon gas being pumped into citizens' homes as part of the shale gas stream. Unless the gas is stored for up to a month to allow the radon's radioactivity to naturally reduce, this is potentially very dangerous.( a half-life of 3.8 days. Using the general rule of thumb of 10 half-lives to decay to 1/1000 of original concentration, that would be 38 days, or roughly one month, depending on how radioactive it was to start.)The Environment Secretary has still not replied to my letter, despite a polite reminder, but she did find time last Sunday (26 October) to be interviewed on The Sunday Politics show, during which she again cheer-leaded for fracking. I am not encouraged.