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Monday, 26 August 2013

Follow-up to Letter to the Prime Minister

Several points have been thrown-up in response to my suggestion that we should have a factual clearing-house for data in order to allow us to judge the dangers to the environment and health which shale gas exploitation has the potential to cause.  

Data, Interpretation and Impact Mike Jones (@GroundWaterMike)and others suggested that there is more of a need for "interpretation and consolidation to give clear articulation of risk (and) to inform". I thoroughly agree that interpretation of impact and its clear communication is of the highest importance. However, there is a plethora of opinions out there ranging from the extreme shalegasophobe to the greedy commercial enterprise. Most people, governmental representatives, journalists and companies occupy some part of the middle ground. Who to trust when factual data is scarce or locked-away in company reports or academic journals? People currently lack, and desperately need, access to data so they can check the interpretations and decide which are somewhat over-egging the pudding and which to trust. Nobody seems to care about providing the general population with real information; the general population is constantly being underestimated. Well, at the end of the day, it will be the general population that has the best balanced view and will leaver that view politically. As for the interpreters and opinionators (of whom I am one), what none of them have is they also have no access to plenty of incontravertible data regarding shale gas and fracking. That means their interpretations have to be made in a mist of uncertainty. They would also benefit from a set of high quality data, especially as they would be able to refer to data that anyone could access at the click of a mouse.  

Accessibility Whatever engine that is used to provide the data should be as easy to use as possible. This has not been the traditional strength of governments, but is the strength of some software companies.  

Who would control the database All data required for regulatory processes as well as monitoring and testing data should be available. There should be a group containing representatives from government, academia, industry, protest groups and the general public overseeing the accuracy and clarity of the data. It must be independent and would probably benefit from being managed by a publishing company.  

Timeliness The data we have currently is rubbish. The USA is only now beginning to gather good scientific data. A process which has been impeded by the lack of regulation, secrecy and well-entrenched lobbying groups. However, preliminary data on health from Pennsylvania is coming in and the quality of groundwater studies is increasing. There is very little data available for the UK precisely because we have done little high volume fracking. However, that puts us in an extremely good position to start with a proper plan for making all data accessible. Already companies such as Cuadrilla have shown openness in having pre-tests carried out that will allow post-drilling and post-fracking tests to be compared with a back-ground level. These data are already available publicly. We need to ensure that there is more of the same for every site. The world is waking up to shale gas (e.g., Israel, the Netherlands, South Africa). The UK ought to be at the forefront of showing how it can be done safely and responsibly for the good of all.

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