UK fracking policy based on “outdated” reports but Scottish review is “model for the world” – academics

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A new report has praised the Scottish government’s review of fracking while criticising the UK government’s approach to the issue.

Two academics from the University of Stirling, described the Scottish review as:

“the first truly national assessment of the public health and related implications of Unconventional Oil and Gas Exploration”

Writing in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, they said:

“Rarely have governments brought together relatively detailed assessments of direct and indirect public health risks associated with fracking and weighed these against potential benefits to inform a national debate on whether to pursue this energy route.

“The Scottish government has now done so in a wide-ranging consultation underpinned by a variety of reports on unconventional gas extraction including fracking.”

Following the review, the Scottish Government announced in October 2017 it would not support the development of unconventional gas and oil developments, including fracking. The decision was backed three weeks later by the Scottish parliament. A strategic environment assessment of the new policy is now underway.

The UK’s largest shale licence holder, INEOS Upstream, has won the right to challenge the Scottish Government’s decision in the courts. INEOS said it believed there were very serious errors within the decision-making process, including a failure to adhere to proper statutory process and a misuse of Ministerial power.

But the authors of the report, published yesterday, said the Scottish government review of fracking might provide a model for other governments to use elsewhere in the world.

Professor Andrew Watterson, of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr William Dinan, of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, compared the Scottish Government’s approach with 13 other assessments carried out by governments in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and UK.

They praised the Scottish review process for the high level of public engagement. There were more than 60,000 responses to a public consultation. They also commended the time spent on the review and the resources made available to collect a wide range of information.

In contrast, they described the Royal Society review of fracking, carried out in 2013 for the UK government, as “somewhat dated”, with its authors lacking expertise in public health and scrutinising industry practice.

They also criticised the Public Health England report (2014) for its limited scope and for focusing on theoretical best practices and regulations, rather than what actually happened.

Both these reports have been used repeatedly by UK ministers and the industry as evidence that fracking could be carried out safely.

The Stirling authors said:

“Given ongoing protests, planning objections and legal appeals in parts of England where fracking is proposed it is clear that effective public engagement is lacking and there is no ‘social license’ to frack”.

They concluded:

“Informing policy and decision making with the latest evidence is clearly a significant issue. We believe that lessons can be drawn from the Scottish case on how to meet these challenges”

The Scottish energy academic, Professor Peter Strachan, said of the Stirling study:

“What I found particularly revealing is that the UK case for fracking is based entirely on outdated reports and arguments.”

Campaigners against fracking in England have called on Public Health England to update its report. At the time of writing, a 38 Degrees petition had collected more than 6,000 signatures. The promoter of the petition said:

“The report was narrow in its contents and missed out some significant health evidence that indicated hydraulic fracturing impacted upon public health.

“Since that report, hundreds of other health reports have been published with critical evidence that now needs to be taken into account before any shale activity should proceed within the UK.”

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