Shale development in the United Kingdom poses a very low risk to the public, according to a report released Thursday by the government's health agency, Public Health England (PHE).

"The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated," researchers from PHE's Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards said in a 46-page report. "Most evidence suggests that contamination of groundwater, if it occurs, is most likely to be caused by leakage through the vertical borehole.

"Contamination of groundwater from the underground fracking process itself (i.e., the fracturing of the shale) is unlikely. However, surface spills of fracking fluids or waste water may affect groundwater; and emissions to air also have the potential to impact on health."

Since there are currently no fracking operations in the United Kingdom, the PHE's researchers relied on four databases to find published and peer-reviewed scientific articles on shale drilling written through December 2012.

The researchers referred to at least four studies, including one conducted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in 2011, for its findings on air quality. The studies in the United States analyzed air quality in the Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville and Marcellus shales, as well as the Denver-Julesburg Basin.

Data obtained from radon and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) studies in the Marcellus Shale were included in the PHE's report. On water and wastewater, the researchers referred to studies conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 (see Shale Daily, November 13, 2012; March 16, 2011).

"Evidence from the United States suggests that the maintenance of well integrity, including post operations, and appropriate storage and management of fracking fluids and wastes are important factors in controlling risks and appropriate regulatory control is needed," the PHE researchers said.

In September, Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. said it would submit a new drilling application to cover flow testing from a conventional horizontal oil exploration well in southern England (see Shale Daily, Sept. 5). The company acknowledged that protests in August against hydraulic fracturing near a test well in Balcombe, West Sussex County, had impacted its plans (see Shale Daily, Aug. 20).

A report by the University of Nottingham suggested that public opinion in the country was beginning to shift in favor of unconventional natural gas development using fracking (see Shale Daily, Aug. 16). British Prime Minister David Cameron also said he supports shale development.