London - Fracking is unlikely to cause cancer but more research is needed into its long-term effects, a health watchdog has warned.
Public Health England (PHE) also dismisses the risk of breathing difficulties and other medical problems for people living near to the sites.
They “know enough” to allay fears for now but admit there has been very little research into the potential harms of the process.
The new body – charged with protecting public health – has also criticised a study that claimed that residents living within half a mile of a site were slightly more likely to get cancer.
The watchdog says that research may well be flawed and its findings could be down to chance.
The British government believes that extracting shale gas by drilling thousands of feet underground could supply our future energy needs and drive-down bills.
But environmental campaigners say it can cause small earth tremors as well as water contamination and air pollution – which could have long term health implications.
Dr John Harrison, director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards said that as long as fracking was carried out properly, the potential risks to public health are “low”.
But he conceded that research into the long-term health implications was “limited” – and they would need to continue to monitor evidence.
Scientists in Colorado, US, used a computer model in their studies to predict there would be an extra ten cases of cancer for those living within half a mile radius of a fracking drilling well.
Professor Harrison added: “The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with shale gas extraction process are low if operations are properly run and regulated.”
And Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at the organisation said: ‘This is by no means the end of the process.
“We want to continue to collect the evidence and we want to continue to review the data.
“We know enough about the process to provide this reassurance now.
“We should definitely collect the exposure information, we need to understand what the emissions are in detail, so that is the primary thing.
“On the whole, the results are reassuring. We do not expect any adverse health effects.”
More than 1 000 protesters staged a sit-in during the summer near Balcombe, West Sussex, when energy firm Cuadrilla began “exploratory” drilling.
The company is trying to assess how much gas lies within the rocks and whether it can be easily extracted.
Another 40 potential sites across the UK – including areas in Manchester and Lancashire – have been lined-up by the Government and the Prime Minister recently urged the public to get behind the technique.
But Leila Deen, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “This report is a timely reminder of the risks inherent in fracking, and the potential long-term health impacts from industrial activity, traffic and the process of firing cocktails of chemicals into the ground in a densely populated country.
“The government has so far responded to these risks by cutting the budget of the environmental regulator and effectively allowing companies to mark their own homework when it comes to monitoring.” - Daily Mail