Health concerns associated with unconventional gas mining in Western Australia: a critical review
This paper examines the evidence available from peer-reviewed journal publications regarding the broad array of health concerns associated with unconventional gas mining and whether two Western Australian governmental reports, used to contribute to policy decisions on unconventional gas, adequately and accurately address these health concerns. The reports are:
- “Implications for Western Australia of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas” (Western Australian Standing Committee of Environment and Public Health Affairs, Report 42, 2015)
- “Hydraulic fracturing for shale and tight gas in Western Australian drinking water supply areas: Human health risk” (Western Australian Health Department, June 2015).
The literature review identified increasing evidence of multiple potential hazards and exposure pathways posing credible risks to human health, via air emissions, water contamination, psychosocial stress and climate change. Increasing numbers of published studies report associations between negative health and developmental outcomes and nearness of residence to and/or intensity of unconventional gas operations. These significant risks, combined with substantial gaps in understanding, prevent confirmation of the safety of the industry to health and the environment.
Four main concerns emerged from the examination of the two Reports, which prevent them from adequately and accurately assessing the potential risks and benefits of the industry to the health and wellbeing of Western Australians, based on current knowledge.
This paper concludes by urging the Western Australia government to conduct an updated and fully comprehensive review of the potential direct and indirect impacts of proceeding with an unconventional gas industry on human health and wellbeing, both now and in future. Six recommendations are made to maximize the value of such a review.