Warning: noise from fracking can seriously damage your health
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.
Research has shown that fracking can be connected to a number of public health issues