Critique of ‘Is Fracking safe’ by Tim Thornton.

‘Public Health’ chapter

Quotes from the page in black. My comments in red italics. (KW)


December 4, 2014 – ‘Benzene, a naturally occurring component of crude oil and natural gas, is a known carcinogen’

Irrelevant. This is largely a matter for oil rather than shale gas. There are miniscule amounts of benzene in shale gas, the same amount as in the gas that most people cook with everyday. You get a dose of benzene when you visit a petrol station, or stand by a road. What issue is this anyway when the wells are required to not leak into the environment.


November 11, 2014 – University of Wisconsin toxicologist Crispin Pierce documented that super-fine dust drifts from facilities that process silica sand for fracking operations…etc

Irrelevant.  The use of silica (or sand as most know it) is vast, building/glass etc etc. Its usage and risks are well understood, and it is controlled by the HSE.


February 25, 2014 – ‘A year-long investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that fracking jobs are deadly, with high fatality rates and high rates of serious injury’.

July 14, 2014 – ‘As part of an analysis of safety and research needs associated with drilling and fracking, researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and the College of Health Sciences at the University of Wyoming documented high injury and on-the-job mortality rates among gas and oilfield workers. The occupational fatality rate was 2.5 times higher than that of the construction industry and seven times higher than that of general industry’.

‘Within just one year in Texas, 65 oil and gas workers died, 79 lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns and 675 broke bones’.

‘Extensive exposure to harmful chemicals and an excess of fatalities in the industry. Deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry are 2.5 times that of other construction work and 7 times that in other industries’.

+ many other references to poor regulation and high injury rates.

IrrelevantThe injury and death rate is a matter of public record in the UK offshore in the North Sea. The really dangerous industries are farming and fishing. The statistics and health impacts on the workers are investigated fully as can be seen below. The main issue is helicopters. The HSE, and DECC regulate this, the same as will be the case with shale gas. Land drilling is a lot less risky than the North Sea.

Quote ‘the offshore oil and gas industry continues to perform better than many less hazardous industrial sectors’.

This link shows 4 years with no fatalities, and a downward trend in accidents.


The idea that chemical poisoning would be covered up is ridiculous. Any attempt to do that would be a criminal act. Workers are encouraged to report hazardous problems so that safety can improve.

The farming statistics are around 12 deaths per year. Construction and manufacturing are also high as can be seen here. An average of 33 deaths annually  over a 5 year period in the construction, agriculture and forestry.


Hydrofluoric acid….’It is used ‘because it works’ but with no regard for workers safety nor others who may come across it as a secret ingredient’.

This is totally incorrect! It is hazardous, and that is why it is treated carefully, if it is permitted for use. These people are not stupid! There are regulations for the use of these common chemicals, and prosecution in the event of an injury to the public, or a worker. COSHH, HSE, control this.  See the link

The workers are not exposed significantly to any toxic chemicals as there are methods in place to prevent dangerous practice. The ‘Elf and Safety’ mentality is the norm everywhere now, and that has led to the reduction of incidents over the years. The idea that companies can bypass this is ludicrous. The US is more ‘gung ho’ in its approach.


July 2014 – The British labor journal Hazards, identified health concerns in the drilling and fracking industry

All based on US evidence of the type mentioned above, and with no regard paid to UK regulation and the role of the HSE, DECC etc. Traffic accidents abound, but of course, UK truck movements are covered by compulsory rest periods, and the condition of vehicles. Again, these are prosecutable offences if in breech.


‘30 March 2015. A report from MEDACT’…..

Many of the reports used by Medact are financed by foundations that want to stop fracking and fossil fuel usage. There is a veritable industry of these reports that are written by, or peer reviewed, by activists.  The intention seems to be to present a scientific ‘proof’ that fracking is dangerous, when in fact the data does not show that to be the case. In fact health outcomes in many states have improved, as gas has displaced coal. Coal is a known killer, and is responsible for 13,000 deaths in the UK every year.

Some of the authors are Kassotis, Steingrabber, Bamburger, Hill, Nagel, Tillett… the list goes on. They all have a history activism or opposition to  fracking.

The data they ‘discover’ has been heavily criticised by medical authorities, paediatricians, and cancer specialists.

The Medact report was heavily criticised by the oil/gas operators body, UKOOG. See this link 

In addition, Public Health England called the data presented by the Medact into question in the report to the Lancashire County Council Planning committee. The following blog contains comment and the relevant links

The fact that 3 of the writers of that report were activists did not help matters.


‘October 2, 2014 – According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, an increasing number of gas wells in Pennsylvania is significantly correlated with inpatient rates of hospitalization’

Except that it didn’t. Its showed no change before/during/after drilling. Also certain critical results were removed as they didn’t seem to fit the ‘desired’ result. Its this type of 'science' that Public Health England rejected in their report to Lancashire County Council.

 Quite why proximity to a well should affect anyones health is beyond me. There is potential for disruption, some generator fumes etc, but wells are not going to leak once they are completed and put into production. Even if they did, shale gas is not a toxic material, and it is lighter than air and very dilute. We have a massive gas network in the UK that functions well. The following industry link takes the science of this dodgy report apart.


‘May 21, 2014 – Raising questions about possible links to worsening air pollution from the Uintah Basin’s 11,200 oil and gas wells, health professionals reported that infant deaths in Vernal, Utah, rose to six times the normal rate over the past three years.’

Looked at by specialists. There is no science in this claim, from some VERY strange people. Reported here


‘January 28, 2014 – Congenital heart defects, and possibly neural tube defects in newborns, were associated with the density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of mothers’ residences in a study of almost 25,000 births from 1996-2009 in rural Colorado. The researchers note that natural gas development emits several chemicals known to increase risk of birth defects (teratogens)’

The trouble is that the State Chief Medical Officer (Larry Wolk) dismissed these claims.

It is difficult to draw conclusions from this study, due to its design and limitations. We appreciate continuing research about possible public health implications that may be associated with oil and gas operations in Colorado. With regard to this particular study, people should not rush to judgment.’ There then followed 9 separate criticisms, and descriptions of these limitations. He finished saying that the Colorado authorities distanced themselves from the conclusions, stating

‘As Chief Medical Officer, I would tell pregnant women and mothers who live, or who at-the-time-of-their-pregnancy lived, in proximity to a gas well not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect. Many factors known to contribute to birth defects were ignored in this study.’


November 6, 2014 –Sakthi Karunanithi, Director of Public Health in Lancashire, UK, reported on a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the two proposed shale gas exploration sites in Lancashire. Karunanithi’s study determined that key risks to the health and wellbeing of the residents who live near the two proposed sites in Lancashire include stress and anxiety…..   The HIA also noted a lack of public trust and confidence.

Probably due to the incorrect science and scaremongering from some!


Reviews on Environmental Health Dec 2014 discuss risks and monitoring needs for the effects of air and other environmental pollution associated with enegy extraction.

This is US based, it ignores in the UK context.

  • The total gas security required. (There is no pollution pathway)
  • The fluid security of flowback fluids. Open pits, as used in the US, are not permitted. (no pollution pathway)
  • The fact that only ‘non hazardous’ chemicals may be used. (No pollutant present)

There is more I could write, but suffice it to say, Tim Thornton's writing is classic scaremongering nonsense.

More drivel from Tim Thornton can be seen here, (with proper information attached).


Ken Wilkinson. BSc Ex oil rig engineer and science teacher. Totally independent and retired

4 August 2015. 


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