Fracking realities

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Your illuminating report on the fracking map for Scotland (18 December) highlights a number of major issues.

AMEC, the consultancy firm chosen by the UK government to assess the effects of fracking, is one that has done much work for oil companies such as BP and Shell.

BP and Shell are globally known, many would think, not for responsible management and regulation of the oil industry but rather for huge oil pollution in the USA and Africa and, in the former company, for ­lethal health and safety failures. Former BP staff are at the centre of the move to develop fracking.

The refrain from the UK ­government and advisors has been that shale-oil gas can be extracted because responsible management and effective ­regulation will apply. This is not supported in either case by the evidence available so far and we should be very wary of forgetting both the human and economic costs so ­recently incurred because of flawed ­financial
regulation.

Successive Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats have presided over the deregulatory and “better regulation” agendas. Labour ran down the funding of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for the workplace health and safety aspects of fracking in Scotland, and the coalition has cut and weakened the HSE even further as well as chopping staff and budgets in the English Environment Agency – the body that will have oversight of fracking pollution there.

Lest we forget too, the ­deregulatory push in the UK was begun by Margaret Thatcher and ­energetically continued by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, causing significant public health damage on the way.

The Scottish Government has not gone so far down the same path and appears to have done less damage to those who will have partial responsibility for approving or controlling ­fracking in Scotland.

It also has an energy policy that makes more sense and is in some, but certainly not all, ­respects less polluting than that of England.

If we want to protect public health and worker health and safety in Scotland, we should ask some very direct questions of the Westminster politician about its policies on fracking and get better answers than have hitherto been available so we can sort out the politicians’ rhetoric from the reality.

(Prof) Andrew
Watterson

Occupational and 
Environmental Health 
Research Group

University of Stirling

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