One new development in the safety and benefit of a major project is the computer modelled health or environment impact assessment. This is usually funded by the developer and the details of the calculations are often not disclosed. At a recent consultation event on fracking the HIA expert repeatedly reassured the ever increasingly disbelieving audience of the complete safety and sometimes benefit of fracking within half a mile of their village. This article by two professors at Stirling University describes how the process can be deeply flawed. We need a different approach, full transparency and, many would say, a move away from the laptop and into the field to see what actually is there and then observe it to see if it is harmed.
UGE = Unconventional Gas Extraction which includes Fracking, Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification.
The one key defense of the UK UGE proposals by government and industry has been a claim that industry will surpass existing best practice, in particular, improving on practice in the United States and that regulation and enforcement will be effective. Neither claim stands up to close scrutiny. Multinational industry practice has been flawed, and the existing regulatory structure in the UK for UGE is seriously fragmented, deficient in scope, and lacks regulatory expertise and capacity. Moreover, the assessment of UGE as a low-risk activity is unsupported by evidence and calls for the application of the precautionary principle,
Delayed recognition of adverse effects due to the some of the list of substances including asbestos, tobacco, mercury, endocrine disruptors, benzene incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path. . . Innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies – such as hydraulic fracturing – arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.
A key battle ground in the future development of UGE in the UK will be the regulatory complex that governs these technologies and processes. PHIA will be at the center of such contests between public and private interests. It is therefore vital that such assessments are independent, robust, enable equitable participation by all stakeholders, including local communities, and above all, are guided by the precautionary principle.