A review of the public health impacts of unconventional natural gas development
The public health impact of hydraulic fracturing remains a high profile and controversial issue. While there has been a recent surge of published papers, it remains an under-researched area despite being possibly the most substantive change in energy production since the advent of the fossil fuel economy. We review the evidence of effects in five public health domains with a particular focus on the UK: exposure, health, socio-economic, climate change and seismicity. While the latter would seem not to be of significance for the UK, we conclude that serious gaps in our understanding of the other potential impacts persist together with some concerning signals in the literature and legitimate uncertainties derived from first principles. There is a fundamental requirement for high-quality epidemiological research incorporating real exposure measures, improved understanding of methane leakage throughout the process, and a rigorous analysis of the UK social and economic impacts. In the absence of such intelligence, we consider it prudent to incentivise further research and delay any proposed developments in the UK. Recognising the political realities of the planning and permitting process, we make a series of recommendations to protect public health in the event of hydraulic fracturing being approved in the UK.