Warn­ing: noise from frack­ing can se­ri­ously dam­age your health

The Herald on Sunday - - NEWS - BY ROB ED­WARDS

THE noise pro­duced by frack­ing could cause sleep de­pri­va­tion, stress and heart dis­ease in sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to a study by pub­lic health ex­perts. En­ergy com­pa­nies want to frack for un­der­ground shale gas across cen­tral Scot­land. But their plans have been stymied by a mora­to­rium im­posed by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment for the last two years. This week Scot­tish min­is­ters are ex­pected to launch a long-awaited pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion into frack­ing, with a de­ci­sion due on its future be­fore the end of the year.

The study, by uni­ver­si­ties and re­search in­sti­tutes across the US, found noise lev­els from US frack­ing op­er­a­tions were high enough to dis­turb sleep and could also in­crease blood pres­sure, hy­per­ten­sion and heart dis­ease.

Re­searchers pointed out noise pol­lu­tion was a well-doc­u­mented pub­lic health hazard, linked to de­pres­sion, di­a­betes and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in chil­dren. “Poli­cies and mit­i­ga­tion tech­niques that limit hu­man ex­po­sure to noise from oil and gas op­er­a­tions should be considered to re­duce health risks,” they con­cluded.

Seth Shonkoff, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the PSE Healthy En­ergy re­search in­sti­tute in Oak­land, California, sug­gested that there could be in­ter­ac­tions be­tween noise and air pol­lu­tion. “Oil and gas op­er­a­tions pro­duce a com­plex sym­phony of noise types, in­clud­ing in­ter­mit­tent and con­tin­u­ous sounds and vary­ing in­ten­si­ties,” he said.

Drilling hor­i­zon­tal frack­ing wells makes a con­tin­ual loud noise for up to five weeks while gas com­pres­sor sta­tions pro­duce a low rum­ble, he said.

Pro­fes­sor An­drew Wat­ter­son, an en­vi­ron­men­tal health ex­pert from the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling, warned that noise risks were of­ten ne­glected or down­played. “The noise from large scale frack­ing, with mul­ti­ple wells in highly pop­u­lated ar­eas as pro­posed in Scot­land’s cen­tral belt, presents sig­nif­i­cant and se­ri­ous threats to the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of com­mu­ni­ties,” he said.

“The ef­fects of noise across the whole frack­ing life cy­cle – from trans­port in con­struc­tion and well op­er­a­tion, ma­chin­ery in pro­duc­tion and de­com­mis­sion­ing – must be taken far more se­ri­ously than has hith­erto been the case in the UK.”

Mary Church, of Friends of the Earth Scot­land, ar­gued many peo­ple in the cen­tral belt would be im­pacted by noise if frack­ing went ahead: “From cli­mate change and wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion to noise pol­lu­tion and lower house prices, frack­ing comes with risks that far out­weigh any pos­si­ble eco­nomic gains.”

She wel­comed the forth­com­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. “Given the damn­ing ev­i­dence from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s own re­search and mas­sive pub­lic op­po­si­tion, there can only be one log­i­cal out­come from this con­sul­ta­tion: Scot­land must ban frack­ing for good.”

Church pointed out that frack­ing was also sub­ject to a mora­to­rium or a ban in Wales, North­ern Ire­land, the Nether­lands, Den­mark, Ger­many, France, Bul­garia and the Czech Re­pub­lic, as well as in re­gions of Spain, Bel­gium, Canada, Aus­tralia and the US.

Labour’s en­vi­ron­ment spokes­woman, Clau­dia Beamish MSP, is cur­rently con­sult­ing on a draft mem­ber’s bill in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to ban frack­ing. “The cli­mate sci­ence and ev­i­dence is clear – the last thing we need is an­other fos­sil fuel. We need to ful­fil Scot­land’s re­new­ables po­ten­tial and we can’t do that if we al­low frack­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

One of the main com­pa­nies keen to frack cen­tral Scot­land is Swiss-based petro­chem­i­cal gi­ant, Ineos, which op­er­ates plant at Grange­mouth. It ar­gued that frack­ing was safe and would bring ma­jor fi­nan­cial and so­ci­etal ben­e­fits.

“Noise is a fea­ture of any con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity and the im­pacts and mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures are as­sessed within the plan­ning sys­tem,” said the com­pany’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, Richard Long­den.

“We hope the Scot­tish pub­lic will see past the nar­row views of a vo­cal mi­nor­ity and that politi­cians will think about the eco­nomic prospects for Scot­land as a whole in com­ing to a considered rather than tribal de­ci­sion.”

UK On­shore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), which rep­re­sents the frack­ing in­dus­try, pointed out that op­er­a­tors were sub­ject to noise lim­its and pre­pared plans to man­age noise. “We hope that the launch of this con­sul­ta­tion can lead to a rea­soned de­bate across a wider au­di­ence about the future of the on­shore oil and gas in­dus­try in Scot­land,” said a UKOOG spokesman.

Stud­ies done for the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment clearly demon­strated the case for lift­ing the mora­to­rium on un­con­ven­tional oil and gas de­vel­op­ment in Scot­land, he ar­gued. “As an in­dus­try based on over 50 years of ex­pe­ri­ence both on­shore and off­shore, we are con­fi­dent that hy­draulic frac­tur­ing can be done safely and en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tively within the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment in Scot­land.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment stressed that frack­ing could not cur­rently take place be­cause of its mora­to­rium. It had taken “a cau­tious and ev­i­dence-led ap­proach” and pub­lished a com­pre­hen­sive set of in­de­pen­dent re­search re­ports.

A gov­ern­ment spokesman con­firmed that it would “im­mi­nently” in­vite con­tri­bu­tions to a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on frack­ing. “Once the con­sul­ta­tion re­sults have been an­a­lysed, Scot­tish min­is­ters will then make their rec­om­men­da­tion and put that to a vote in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment later this year,” he said.

THIS week the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to launch its long-awaited pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on frack­ing. It has been a painful process get­ting to this point. When Scot­tish min­is­ters de­clared a tem­po­rary mora­to­rium on frack­ing for un­der­ground shale gas exactly two years ago, it seemed like a rad­i­cal move.

But since then other po­lit­i­cal par­ties have been bid­ding to sound more anti-frack­ing than the SNP. Ev­i­dence of the health and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks – such as the study on noise pol­lu­tion we re­port to­day – has mounted. That has put min­is­ters in the dif­fi­cult position of hav­ing to de­fend the mora­to­rium, while not be­ing able to rule out a green light for the in­dus­try in the longer term.

Part of the prob­lem is that some min­is­ters like the money they think a new on­shore gas in­dus­try could bring. Oth­ers think it’s a po­ten­tial pol­lu­tion night­mare. Now, at last, they have promised to make a de­ci­sion. With min­is­ters split and heavy­weight com­pa­nies push­ing to frack, it’s not easy to pre­dict the out­come.

But one thing is clear. One of the world’s pri­mary threats is the chaos caused by cli­mate change, which min­is­ters are com­mit­ted to tack­ling. Ex­perts they com­mis­sioned have warned that en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion is not strong enough to pre­vent frack­ing caus­ing cli­mate pol­lu­tion.

As such it seems dif­fi­cult to jus­tify open­ing up a new fos­sil-fuel fron­tier by frack­ing, par­tic­u­larly when the coun­try is try­ing to de­car­bonise its en­ergy sup­ply. Sci­ence is not on the side of frack­ing in Scot­land, and in an age of “al­ter­na­tive facts” the truth should be heeded.

Pho­to­graph: David McNew/Getty

Re­search has shown that frack­ing can be con­nected to a num­ber of pub­lic health is­sues

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