Historic innovations that have been adopted too hastily with grave unforeseen impacts provide cautionary examples for potential side effects of fracking, says report by government’s chief scientist Mark Walport
Fracking risk compared to thalidomide and asbestos in Walport report
Fracking carries potential risks on a par with those from thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos, warns a report produced by the government’s chief scientific adviser.
The flagship annual report by the UK’s chief scientist, Mark Walport, argues that history holds many examples of innovations that were adopted hastily and later had serious negative environmental and health impacts.
The controversial technique, which involves pumping chemicals, sand and water at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas within, has been strongly backed by the government with David Cameron saying the UK is “going all out for shale”.
But environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate water supplies, bring heavy lorry traffic to rural areas, displace investment in renewable energy and accelerate global warming.
The chief scientific adviser’s report appears to echo those fears. “History presents plenty of examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic — for instance involving asbestos, benzene, thalidomide, dioxins, lead in petrol, tobacco, many pesticides, mercury, chlorine and endocrine-disrupting compounds…” it says.
“In all these and many other cases, delayed recognition of adverse effects incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path.”
Thalidomide was one of the worst drug scandals in modern history, killing 80,000 babies and maiming 20,000 babies after it was taken by expectant mothers.
Fracking provides a potentially similar example today, the report warns: “… innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies — such as hydraulic fracturing — arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.”
The chapter, written by Prof Andrew Stirling of the University of Sussex, also argues that the UK and the world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way.
Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner, Louise Hutchins, said: “This is a naked-emperor moment for the government’s dash to frack. Ministers are being warned by their own chief scientist that we don’t know anywhere near enough about the potential side effects of shale drilling to trust this industry. The report is right to raise concerns about not just the potential environmental and health impact but also the economic costs of betting huge resources on an unproven industry. Ministers should listen to this appeal to reason and subject their shale push to a sobering reality check.”
(read the full article at The Guardian)
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