Risks of fracking are ‘very low’

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HEALTH chiefs say the risks posed by fracking for shale gas are low despite concerns raised by campaigners against the controversial practice.

Wigan borough is in the latest geographical area being investigated by gas companies.

It has split opinion due to reported links to earth tremors and other environmental risks although its economic benefits have been heralded as capable of reviving the UK’s ailing energy market.

Now a study by Public Health England (PHE), an agency of the Department of Health has concluded that “potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated”.

It focused on the risks of emissions of the chemicals used in fracking and radioactive material released with the gas.

Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - is the process of pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into underground rock to release valuable deposits of shale gas.

Cuadrilla, the company that has been running fracking tests in the Blackpool area in recent years, holds a licence that covers areas in the north of the borough including Standish, Appley Bridge and Wrightington.

While Dart Energy has rights to an L-shaped area between Ashton, Golborne and Newton-le-Willows.

And iGas has a licence that covers 300sq miles including areas to the south and east of Ashton and Leigh just north of the M62 corridor.

According to the PHE study, American experience points to surface spills of chemicals being the most likely to affect water sources.

However, it points out that 99% of drinking water in England comes from heavily-regulated water companies so the risk is “considered minimal”. The remainder who get their water from private wells are “particularly vulnerable” - but “high quality well integrity” should protect water sources.

Another risk examined is from the chemicals used in the fracking process.

An American study found 75% of them could affect skin, eyes and breathing while 25 per cent are carcinogenic.

For that reason, the PHE study calls for full disclosure of the chemicals used.