As the Scottish Government effectively bans fracking, NFLA highlights the real radiation dangers of the fracking and wastewater processes As the Scottish Government makes a historic decision to ban fracking in Scotland (1), the NFLA publishes today two presentations on the radiation dangers of both the fracking process and the storage of wastewater from fracking.
Yesterday, Scottish Energy Minister (with broad support from most of the political parties in the Parliament) Paul Wheelhouse, announced the Scottish Government is maintaining its moratorium on the fracking process in Scotland for an indefinite period. NFLA broadly welcomes this decision. It was one of many organisations who responded to a summer Scottish Government consultation on fracking. The overwhelming public opinion to ban fracking from consultation responses was a factor in the Scottish Government’s decision. The Welsh and Northern Ireland Government’s also have moratoriums on fracking, as does the Republic of Ireland Government, where a private members bill banning the process is going through the Dail. Only in England is the fracking process moving forward with support from the UK Government, and fracking is close to taking place at sites in Lancashire and North Yorkshire.
NFLA’s submission to the Scottish Government argued support for fracking would divert valuable time and resources from the more sustainable, clean low carbon renewable sources of energy. NFLA also had real environmental concerns over low level radioactive materials brought to the surface from the fracking process, potential health concerns, wider issues over environmental damage and the excessive amounts of road transportation within the fracking process. (2)
At the NFLA’s recent special seminar on the radioactive dangers of fracking, it heard further information of concern from Dr Ian Fairlie and John Busby. (3)
Dr Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, noted that there are three aspects of fracking which are of concern in bringing radioactivity into the environment:
- The fracking gas wells will bring up radioactive gases, liquids and soils to the surface;
- Radioactive wastes are generated in produced waters, sludges and pipeline scales;
- Methane gas created from the fracking process is contaminated with radon gas, and it is impossible to separate it out from the methane.
Bringing to the surface such naturally occurring radioactive material by fracking is of real concern as
they have long decay change and contain traces of radon-222, radium-226 and polonium 210, the latter known famously from the Alexander Litvinenko case. These materials are among the most radio-toxic substances existing, causing lung and bone cancers, and special attention must be taken to ensure humans are not exposed to such materials.
In his presentation, Dr Fairlie noted the very high levels of radioactivity in fracked oil and gas wells as published by the IAEA with particular concerns on the levels in scale and sludge in pipework, and in produced wastewater.
Dr Fairlie encouraged Councils and concerned groups to:
- Demand data on radium levels in discharge waters, sludges and pipework;
- Demand data on radon gas concentrations in methane, and produced water;
- Demand baseline studies before any drilling takes place.
NFLA plans to inform its member Councils of such information and the presentation will go on the NFLA website.
Also speaking at the NFLA seminar was independent engineering consultant John Busby. He is particularly concerned with what risks could occur from the wastewater part of the fracking process. Busby suggests that treating such water is highly problematical. There are also serious environmental safety matters to overcome and it could require a high level of regulation to deal with it safely.
- Water use from the fracking process is extensive and difficult for an UK facility to treat.
- The wastewater from the fracking process will be a real barrier to it taking place in the UK.
- It will be extremely difficult for an effective regulation of the process, and, if it is able to make it effective, then fracking is likely to be an uneconomic energy generation process.
- For fracking to be economic it will need thousands of wells to be built, leading to large protests at all affected sites across England.
- Any direct and additional UK Government support will only intensify such protests.
- Fracking as such remains an unlikely pursuit in any large quantity in the UK. NFLA SC Chair,
Councillor David Blackburn commented:
This seminar and the presentations from Dr Fairlie and John Busby have highlighted to me the real radiation dangers that exist in the fracking process. NFLA does not see fracking as a realisable energy source when it is clear that various forms of renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency measures can be much more effective, safe and low carbon. I welcome the Scottish Government banning the process, following on from the Republic of Ireland Government, and NFLA calls on the Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments to follow suit. The UK Government should also reconsider its policy in this area. Fracking is a real potential radiation risk, and sites in Lancashire and North Yorkshire should be reconsidered in the light of such research.
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(2) NFLA Policy Briefing 161, 25th May 2017 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wpcontent/2017/06/A274_NB161_Scottish_fracking_response.pdf
(3) The presentations from the NFLA Steering Committee seminar on the radiation dangers of fracking by Dr Ian Fairlie and John Busby will be on the home page of the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info and at https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/presentations/nfla-steering-committee-special-autumn-seminar-fracking-and-radiation-issues-what-are-the-risks/