1. ITV Report

Health experts say risk from fracking is low

The risks to people's health from fracking are low as long as the process is "properly run and regulated", health officials have said.

Public Health England (PHE) - an agency of the Department of Health - published a report saying the risks from air pollutants, radon and contamination of ground water and drinking water were low provided safeguards were in place.

The report - described as an "initial review" - is based on research mostly from the US.

Officials admitted this could not easily be translated to the UK, where no studies have taken place, but said the evidence suggests overall risks are minimal. Fracking - also known as hydraulic fracturing - is also expected to be safer in the UK than the US, they said.

Evidence from the US contained in the report shows emissions from fracking are a "significant source" of many air pollutants. Fracking sites also contribute to higher levels of ozone.

A review from the European Commission concluded that the "potential risks to human health and the environment from releases to the air across all phases of development was high".

The report said the US has now put in place new regulations to cut these emissions - and argued similar controls must be introduced into the UK.

Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock.

Wells are bored into the rock and a blend of chemicals, water and sand is pumped at high pressure to split the rock which releases the gas.

One US study in today's report suggests a higher risk of cancer for people living near fracking sites, but PHE experts said it was a poor quality study. No other studies on cancer risk have been carried out.

The report also concluded it was "unlikely" that fracking would lead to a significant increase in people's exposure to the naturally occurring radioactive gas radon.

Furthermore, it was "unlikely" that groundwater would become contaminated by fracking because of the depth at which it occurs.

The experts said controls were needed over how chemically contaminated water, which is an essential requirement for fracking, is stored and disposed of.

Evidence suggests poor storage of this "flowback" water could lead to accidents and the release of methane and other chemicals into water.

In conclusion, the report said problems encountered in the US "appear to have been due to operational failures and inadequacies in the regulatory environment".

Dr John Harrison, director of PHE's centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards, said: "The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with the shale gas extraction process are low if operations are properly run and regulated.

"Where potential risks have been identified in other countries, the reported problems are typically due to operational failure.

"Good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of exploratory drilling, gas capture as well as the use and storage of fracking fluid is essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health.

"PHE will work with regulators to ensure appropriate assessment of risk from all aspects of shale gas extraction."

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at PHE, said: "The report makes a number of recommendations, including the need for environmental monitoring to provide a baseline ahead of shale gas extraction, so that any risks from the operation can be appropriately assessed.

"Effective environmental monitoring in the vicinity of the extraction sites is also required during the development, production and post-production of shale gas wells.

"In due course it will also be important to assess the broader public health impacts such as increased traffic, the impact of new infrastructure on the community and the effect of workers moving to fracking areas."

The review looked only at the immediate health impacts of fracking and not other issues, such as climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, water resources, or how noise, odours and fracking sites would affect local people.