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« Settled science bites | Main | Fun with Flannery »

A clean bill of health for shale?

Environmentalists like to claim that unconventional gas developments are going to cause us all to die of cancer or asthma. It's fair to say that few of these claims are quite as bonkers as Friends of the Earth saying that the sand used in fracks is a dangerous carcinogen. However, while the other claims are not quite that absurd, they are not exactly grounded in good science.

A paper published today in a journal called Science of the Total Environment describes a review of the evidence for actual health impacts from unconventional gas and conclude there is little evidence of adverse health effects that you would want to describe as "firm". Of the 1000 articles the authors reviewed, fewer than 100 were considered worthy of further attention based on the quality of evidence presented. Only 7 could be considered "highly relevant". Health impacts were mostly "inferred rather than evidenced".

So you can understand why they would conclude:

Current scientific evidence for [unconventional natural gas development] that demonstrates associations between adverse health outcomes directly with environmental health hazards resulting from UNGD activities generally lacks methodological rigour. 

But I think you could guess that anyway.



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Reader Comments (96)

We at BH Towers don't do guessing. We like scientific evidence that has methodological rigour. Definitely evidenced and not inferred.

Feb 4, 2016 at 9:17 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Clean bill of health? Hmmm

While some environmental health research has been conducted with regard to UNGD, it is clear that there is a lack of highly relevant evidence of direct health outcomes caused by the activities of UNGD. However, it should be noted that absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. The literature reviewed in this paper, as well as a persistent and substantial public response, continues to suggest concern.
More importantly, while evidence of the environmental cause of adverse health impact was lacking, several scholars and experts voiced concerns about the potential for adverse health outcomes. These concerns were based on credible evidence of detrimental environmental impact and strongly suggest that the lack of evidence of health impact does not dismiss claims of health impact. The available evidence, or lack thereof, is not sufficient cause to rule in or rule out significant or specific, future, or cumulative health impacts of UNGD activities.

So, while the adverse health impacts are a known unknown, it seems to be smelly

Studies in shale gas areas noted resident complaints of frequent odour events, some of which include odours of unidentified gas, rotten eggs, burnt butter, sulfur, sickly sweet smells, chemical-like smells, and propane (Steinzor et al., 2013, Subra, 2009 and Subra, 2010). The study by Steinzor et al. (2012) noted that 81% of respondents reported noxious odours either sometimes or constantly, while 18% reported odours every day.


Feb 4, 2016 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

I wonder if any coalmine would get planning permission these days. Nobody wants anything near them and yet fights to have some of these places kept open a few years later. I hesitate to add as non PC, that the only exception to this would be a Traveller's site.

Feb 4, 2016 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterLesley

Phil Clarke,
You may be inadvertently making the same error as the Gasland film made deliberately.
Remember they had burning taps? It turned out that the taps burnt anyway. They always had, even before the fracking.
The reason was that the fracking was taking place in a location where gas existed. Where else?
It's no surprise that odours are detected in fracking locations.

However, there is another important point to consider about odours from fracking. Methane is odourless.
It's even possible that the detected odours were only detected as they were expected to be detected.
They certainly weren't due to natural gas escaping, after all.

Feb 4, 2016 at 9:56 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Well, in the 70 odd years fracking has been undertaken globally, & the 50 odd years we've had fracking in the UK, I have heard of no evidence whatsoever to support such silly anecdotal claims! Phil, get your head out of the Grauniad or wherever you have it put, & get a life! The ONLY new technology here is horizontal drilling, full stop!

Feb 4, 2016 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

M Courtney

Yes, and the recent heavy rainfall was 'most likely down to someone installing a new rain gauge in a really wet place.'

You guys crack me up.

Participants were asked to describe the suspected source of the
odors. Nearly all responses related odors to gas facilities and
events, including drilling; gas wells; well pads; fracturing;
compressor stations; condensate tanks; drinking contaminated
water; flaring; waste pits; retention ponds; diesel engines; truck
traffic; pipelines and pipeline stations; spills and leaks; subsurface
events; seismic testing; and blue-colored particles in air (possibly a
sign of catalytic compounds or particulate matter).

Airbourne blue particles, yeah we've always had those .... LOL

Feb 4, 2016 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Have you noticed the stench of neutrons around nuclear stations?

Feb 4, 2016 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

It may have escaped peoples notice, but the most powerful weapon, & most powerful too, on the planet, is the Human mind. What the mind of man can conceive, man can achieve! However, it is also very easily manipulated by auto-suggestion, & people can be made to think in a particular way by such methods, the Emperor's new clothes is just one such example! People, if told symptoms of gas fracking are this, that, or the other, will undoubtedly display such symptoms, whether they actually have them or not! As to the gas being in the water in the Gasland film, the makers didn't mention that the gas was recorded as being in the water back in the 1930s, rather conveniently for them to suit their argument, nothing like a good old fashioned bit of manipulation I say!

Feb 4, 2016 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Lesley: I wonder if any coalmine would get planning permission these days.

Miller Argent encountered no problems at all in getting permission for an open cast coal mine just 36m from the nearest homes at Fros-y-fan in 2007….

But then they had a friend in high places.

Feb 4, 2016 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

@Phil Clarke

...The study by Steinzor et al. (2012) noted that 81% of respondents reported noxious odours either sometimes or constantly, while 18% reported odours every day.

That would be the protesters, then....

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Feb 4, 2016 at 9:33 AM | Phil Clarke

Phil - even the BBC says fracking is fine... (2013)

"Fracking confusion: How UK has been 'fracked' for decades

Protests by environmental campaigners have increased awareness of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", but the process has been used in the UK's oil and gas industries for decades.

But 160 miles (260km) north, in the Nottinghamshire village of Beckingham, 71-year-old John Foster walks his dog next to fields which have been fracked for oil and gas for decades.

"I've been here since 1969 and at one time there were nodding donkeys [machines used to lift oil out of a well] dotted all over the place," he said.

But he and his neighbours agree the oil and gas extraction has not affected them."

OK? It's a total storm in a teacup, and I would far rather have a fracked well in the field across the road from us that a turbine. (And on that note, we've stopped more wind turbines in the East Mendips, with 4 at the Torr Quarry near us rejected on appeal. YAY!)

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Phil Clarke

You're aren't a Sustainability Consultant by any chance?

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Phil Clarke
You live in a strange world.
All human activity is smelly. I live in rural France now so get rural smells for instance cowsh*t and silage, you'll be familiar with the former? We also get country sounds cocks crowing at dawn, cows being fed, sheep bleating. In the East Midlands I lived near the now defunct British Celanese, a waste incinerator and various factories as well as working farms (now houses and business parks) all with their own individual smells. In town of an evening there was the mixed odours of carry out food establishments. So I find it hard to believe that fracking is taking place in a previously odour free environment.

With regard to rain gauges you deliberately miss the point about it being new so it will be beating records both high and low for a number of decades yet. So a high record during a wet winter shouldn't be a surprise especially as was pointed out it is in an area well known for high rainfall, just as a low record during a drought shouldn't be a surprise either. The fact that digital records only back about 100 years then records in that data-set can be expected. In the undigitised record there's The Great Tyne Floods Of 1771 & 1815

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

I remember when, at one point in my working life I spent a lot of time on the road, particularly the run north of B'ham and on to Leeds via the M1. It was quite dramatic how the air changed as one went past Sheffield and on to Barnsley etc. You could nearly taste the smell of heavy industry and coal mines, even with the windows closed. It was just as if a curtain had come down across the motorway. And I'm still here to tell the tale.

Of course, much of that industry has closed down now, and it is the ambition of the Phil Clarkes of this world to close down the rest.

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:33 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

I too am very familiar with countryside smells, the British Celanes plant near Spondon, Derby and I lived my early life near Sheffield. The major smell I recall in Sheffield came from the brewery (Stones I recall).

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:48 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Studies in shale gas areas noted resident complaints of frequent odour events, some of which include odours of unidentified gas, rotten eggs, burnt butter, sulfur, sickly sweet smells, chemical-like smells, and propane (Steinzor et al., 2013, Subra, 2009 and Subra, 2010). The study by Steinzor et al. (2012) noted that 81% of respondents reported noxious odours either sometimes or constantly, while 18% reported odours every day.
What's your point, Phil? Fifty years ago I lived downwind from Grangemouth. Interesting collection of aromas we used to get from there. I'm still alive. Falkirk is still thriving. Perhaps we've all just become a bit more precious and fastidious.

Yeuugh, indeed. But that's my opinion on your comment.

Feb 4, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Alan, bearing in mind where you think Phil sticks his head:

"Phil, get your head out of the Grauniad or wherever you have it put"

There is probably a simple explanation of why Phil associates Fracking with "frequent odour events".

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

...What's your point, Phil?...

His point is that his religious belief that all fossil fuel is deeply evil is becoming difficult to uphold, and he is having to dredge the bottom of the barrel for reasons to reject it....

Actually, there has always been a polarised opinion on 'climate change'. WHATEVER one side states is immediately rejected by the other - even if there is some sense in it. I recall the time at a conference when a speaker asked the audience whether, if by some magical means, the climate change effects of air travel could be completely eradicated, they would then accept the technology, and was given a resounding NO!...

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Phil Clarke - do you have any qualifications or professional skills relevant to the subjects you comment on?

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

"Airbourne blue particles, yeah we've always had those .... LOL"

For once, Phil is right:

Do we underestimate him? I await with interest.

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Show us the bodies, I keep asking, but acivists never give a proper answer.

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:43 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The ONLY new technology here is horizontal drilling, full stop!

It was new in the North Sea in the eighties.

Feb 4, 2016 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

9:33 AM | Phil Clarke

I know several Labradors and Golden Retrievers that have been accused of far worse.

Found anything useful in The Watchtower archives yet?

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Phil Clarke, is climatrollogy the latest form of Non Violent Direct Action?

Does it pay well?

Rehashing scare stories to spread panic amongst the gullible, just leads to utter contempt.

Perhaps we ought to examine how many people die every day through lack of water power and medical aid, denied to them by the Green Blob.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie


I was born in Burton-on-Trent and it was years into my childhood before I realised that not every conurbation smelled of hot malt and Marmite. A bit disappointing, really.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:12 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

SandyS - 35 years is not new and the record was also broken at another location.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

A clean bill of health?The last para in the report says:

While some authors are adamant about the potential health harm, it remains difficult to credibly assess the extent of the risk posed to the public, and implications for government agencies and the resource companies, while this gap in scientific knowledge remains. Future work needs to be focussed on research that includes baseline monitoring and prospective studies to summarise, diagnose, and predict what environmental health impacts of UNGD might be.
So to the Bishop and his pals, not knowing the extent of a risk means a clean bill of health. You have real trouble understanding what you read.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

@ Raff:

[…] resource companies, while this gap in scientific knowledge remains.
Means, Nothing to see here.

[F]uture work needs to be focussed on research that [...]
Means: We need more money.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJan Stunnenberg


you very obviously don't have a clue about risk analysis yourself - do you?

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:40 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Don't worry about asthma. That's ancient history. I know because my GP told me, 40 years ago, that they would have a cure within 5 years. And we're always being told to trust doctors.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete Austin

Less generously than the Bish, I would actually summarise the paper mainly as a plea for funding based on ignorance. This is symptomatic of the problem with much funding for environmental 'causes'. It translates as "Something bad might happen. We must study it with money."

Subsequently finding no problem is, of course, guaranteed to produce no further funding. So guess what?.. Such studies will frequently produce the answer: "Yes, its probably bad, and could be terrible". That's how we ended up with so many people being funded and trained in the dark arts of global warming alarmism.

Policy makers need to bite the bullet a little harder. There is a virtually infinite number of potential problems and bad things that might happen. There is a far smaller number of good things that might happen and potential solutions to pre-existing known real problems. These good things are harder to find, but the searches are more deserving and potentially far more rewarding in the long term.

Not only is it bad for the nation's economy to throw scarce resources at people just looking for problems, it is bad for the nation's psychology.

Feb 4, 2016 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Belly button fluff COULD be carcinogenic.More research funding is required.

If vegetarians produce more methane per calorie consumed, than omnivores, should we cull veggies, to reduce natural gas production particularly in domestic environments?

Feb 4, 2016 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

But it is a pointless activity .
It requires massive bank credit subsidy to justify its costs.
Without the car / credit hydra oil would be £5 ~a barrel.

Let observe how credit drives oil consumption in the Irish petri dish.

lrish central bank data .
1 to 5 year credit (car loans) reached a Nadir in May 2013
Car purchases began to recover in 2014.

See chart 2 in the November 2015 edition of money and credit .

And now car new car purchases.

Feb 4, 2016 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

To Raff & others concerned about risk, note the UK figures for the number of deaths (~28 pa) and serious injuries (~350,000 pa) associated with using electricty.

350,000 serious injuries - should we ban it? Immediately?

Deaths, Injuries and Fires

1. Low voltage electrocutions and fatal electrical burns in GB from low voltage electricity supplies (2010 data)(i)

Total: 28
Work related electrocutions: six
Home or leisure electrocutions: 22
Northern Ireland – Average of 1 electrical fatality per year (ii)

2. Electric shocks (iii):

People receiving a mains voltage electric shock per year (15+): 2.5 million*
Of whom received a serious injury: 350,000**

Now that this info has been brought to your attention, will you continue to use it, and, subject your families to such danger?

Feb 4, 2016 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

The search for ever increasing and more costly capex alternatives to easy oil ,be it tight oil , nat gas , shale gas , nuclear or whatever is a consequence of bank credit hyperinflation.
The cars produced as a result essentially eat the oil , forcing ever more complex and costly and absurd alternative energy projects , putting pointless work between you and the good life.

Was it not better to cuddle up to Felicity Kendle ?
She was perhaps too skinny to keep you warm but.......

Feb 4, 2016 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

So we see the climate obsessed demonstrating their thinking skills on fracking and proving quite clearly they really are operating at a deficit.

Feb 4, 2016 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

It is the terrible toll from indoor cooking over fires that is horrific.With decent gas or electrical supplies, this could all be banished, but the Green Blob object. At least the victims won't live long enough to see their grandchildren flourish under better conditions.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The ONLY new technology here is horizontal drilling, full stop!

It was new in the North Sea in the eighties.
Feb 4, 2016 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

I wasn't aware that horizontal drilling was done in the UK in the 80s, & I appreciate you pointing that out. Still, the 80s was relatively recent. I was aware that in the North Sea they started to used diagonal drilling with multiple drill heads.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

"Phil Clarke - do you have any qualifications or professional skills relevant to the subjects you comment on?"

So Phil's lack of response means: "No".

Fair enough.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

If I may make an analogy: it is claimed that mercury in fish is toxic, and yet every study ever concludes that the more fish you eat the better for your health (esp heart). So, however toxic it is, the benefits of eating the fish outweigh this.
Rotten egg smell is sulphur which can be in gases coming from the ground. However, humans are very very sensitive to this smell, so just smelling it does not mean you are in danger.
Yes, all industries pollute a little, but without industry we are back in medieval times where life expectancy was very short, half the children died, and, more importantly, there were no iphones or internet. People who want all their modern stuff but want to ban oil and coal...well.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCraig Loehle

I also suffer from muckspreading on the field next door which seems to happen rather more than I feel is necessary. Happily HS2 will cut right through it and maybe put an end to our suffering.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

NBY - Still beating your wife?

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

For a while there was a scare about EM radiation from pylons. All sorts of things were claimed for it from dementia to leukaemia, all of which turned out to be abject nonsense. Folk just delude themselves.

Feb 4, 2016 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

JamesG, 3:50pm:

Nowadays, the amount on muck spread on a particular field is determined by how much can be spread to dispose of it without breaking EU nitrate regulations, rather than what is actually necessary for fertilizer application.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Phil Clarke @ 15:32 NBY - Still beating your wife?

You're making this too easy, Phil. "When did you stop beating your wife?" is the very old and hackneyed example used to illustrate the concept of presupposition. It presupposes the truth of the sentence "You used to beat your wife." and so (assuming your innocence) you cannot answer the question with a temporal expression, and must rather object to the presupposition instead. NBY's question contains only the presuppostion that there are some subjects that you comment on. I assume you're not keen on disagreeing with that.

-- Slop

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDr Slop

Phil Clarke has done a very good job, most of the posts have been directed at him sadly.

I am not really concerned with his objections to fracking because there are more important issues.
With the closing of Fiddler's Ferry we really are up silage creek without a paddle.
We have a total idiot for a Prime Minister right now (it does seem to have become a requirement for the job lately) but he has managed to make one right decision - we are going for shale gas. Of course Dave needs to make some more correct decisions or it will not be of any use, under the circumstances I do not really care what it smells like or what uninformed people think about it; this country needs shale gas.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:24 PM | Registered CommenterDung

JamesG, it is the Green Blob spreading their own fabricated muck, that is condemning people to an early death.

Why aren't the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth eager to publicise the number of people their policies kill every year? Just because they live in the UK, doesn't remove their responibility for deaths in the developing world. Nobody needs to make anything up.

It is interesting to note that Phil Clarke uses this blog , but fails to publicise Green Blob Genocide, which continues every day.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Joe Public, interesting figures, surprisingly high too. The 350,000 is extrapolated from a representative sample of 4032 people, so about 30 in that sample were injured. Seems high, but then 220v is indeed dangerous. But interesting though that may be, the report said the risks of fracking are essentially unknown. The Bishop interprets that as there being no risk (although he does allow for a question mark), which is clearly a misinterpretation.

Craig, a friend of mine who is into body building used to eat a lot of tuna - until he was diagnosed with mercury poisoning.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Dr Slop. NBY presupposed the answer to his question (Silence = No).

If he/she doesn't answer in 2.5 hrs then I am going to assume he engages in domestic violence.

HTH. and LOL.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

It isn't relevant to call PC out for qualifications in this forum as long as he is quoting from checkable sources. What you write here constitutes your authority unless you are providing specialist knowledge, in which case you might support the case by telling how you came by it.

Feb 4, 2016 at 4:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

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