Lagging and Flagging: Air Pollution, Shale Gas Exploration and the Interaction of Policy, Science, Ethics and Environmental Justice in England
|400 BC||Hippocrates associated the city with air pollution in Greece||Heidorn 1978 |
|1||Industrial air pollution recorded in Tyre, Lebanon||Heidorn 1978|
|852||London noted its foul air||Heidorn 1978|
|1257||Nottingham found too smoky and therefore uninhabitable||Heidorn 1978|
|1273||1st smoke abatement law enacted in London prohibiting use of coal as “prejudicial to health”||Heidorn 1978|
|1307||Edward I prohibits coal use because of pollution that could not be ameliorated||Heidorn 1978|
|1661||John Evelyn published the first significant study on air pollution in London||Heidorn 1978|
|1662||John Graunt analysed Bills of Mortality, using health statistics to speculate that much of London’s public health problem was due to air pollution||Heidorn 1978|
|1875||Public Health Act included the need for smoke abatement||Heidorn 1978|
|1933||Ashworth published a study of pollution in Manchester||Heidorn 1978|
|1937–1939||Major survey of atmospheric pollution in Leicester||Heidorn 1978|
|1952||London smog estimated in 1970s to have killed 4000 people. Suspended particulates of 400–4500 µg/m3 are reported||Heidorn 1978|
|1975||European Community (EC) Directive 75/716/EEC: on sulphur content of two types of gas oil (diesel and heating oil)||Enviropedia nd |
|1980||EC Directive 80/779/EEC: air quality limit values and guide values for sulphur dioxide and suspended particles||Enviropedia nd|
|1988||1988—EC Directive 88/609/EEC: limited emissions of SO2 and NOx and particulates from power stations and other large combustion plants||Enviropedia nd|
|2008||UK air pollution mortality estimated at 29,000 deaths, equivalent to associated loss of 340,000 life years||COMEAP 2010 |
|2016||Annual mortality burden in the UK from exposure to outdoor air pollution is equivalent to approximately 40,000 deaths||RCP 2016 |
|2018||Long-term exposure to human-made air pollution in the UK estimated to have an annual impact on shortening lifespans, equivalent to 28,000 to 36,000 deaths||COMEAP 2018 |
2. Materials and Methods
3.1. Situating the Science on Air Pollution and Shale Exploration
3.2. Ethics and Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) of Shale Exploration
3.3. Inequalities and Environmental Justice in Shale Exploration
“Rebrands its flexible geographies—its variable spatial and temporal configuration of work, equipment, and bodies—as uncertain such that the industry, and its occupational exposures, are ungovernable. The evidentiary process of rulemaking has the effect of imbuing industry with ‘health’ such that human health risks are considered alongside industry’s capacities. Thus, the hearings provide a venue for industry to contest new regulations using discourses of uncertainty, not just regarding the science that justifies lower limits, but also the geographies on which the industry relies”.
“Air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the UK. It shortens lives and contributes to chronic illness. Health can be affected both by short-term, high-pollution episodes and by long-term exposure to lower levels of pollution”.
“We will progressively cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution as suggested by the World Health Organization. We will set a new, ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to PM2.5 and will publish evidence early in 2019 to examine what action would be needed to meet the WHO annual mean guideline limit of 10 μg/m3. By implementing the policies in this strategy, we will reduce PM2.5 concentrations across the UK, so that the number of people living in locations above the WHO guideline level of 10 μg/m3 is reduced by 50% by 2025”.
“We will equip health professionals to play a stronger role by working with the Medical Royal Colleges and the General Medical Council to embed air quality into the health professions’ education and training. We will work with local authorities and directors of public health to equip and enable them to lead and inform local decision-making to improve air quality more effectively”.
3.4. Environmental Justice
“The question of environmental justice is not anchored in a debate about whether or not decision makers should tinker with risk assessment and risk management. The environmental justice framework rests on developing tools and strategies to eliminate unfair, unjust, and inequitable conditions and decisions” (, p. 1).
“Air pollution is a grave risk to human health that affects nearly everyone in the world and nearly every organ in the body. Fortunately, it is largely a preventable risk. Reducing pollution at its source can have a rapid and substantial impact on health. Within a few weeks, respiratory and irritation symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, phlegm, and sore throat, disappear; school absenteeism, clinic visits, hospitalizations, premature births, cardiovascular illness and death, and all-cause mortality decrease significantly” (, p. 1478).
3.5. The Ethical Dimensions
“Oil and gas companies have known for decades that their activities caused climate change (Fact A—Awareness); they did not take steps to modify their fossil-fuel centred behaviour (Fact B—Behaviour), even though less carbon-intensive alternatives were possible (Fact C—Capacity). Additionally, oil and gas companies funded and orchestrated climate change denial campaigns, through which they successfully opposed political action against climate change (Fact D—Denial), while at the same time amassing and distributing fabulous wealth (Fact E—Enrichment) to the privileged few” .
4. A Typology of Industry and Consultancy Approaches to Shale Developments in England: Lessons on Air Pollution and Public Health (Drawn from Analyses of Proposals and Related Regulatory Commentaries and Reports)
4.1. Planning Design
“As a minimum, the planning system should not take decisions on individual proposals that lead to unacceptably poor air quality, nor should it make a series of decisions that collectively produces this undesirable outcome” (, p. 9).
“A particular concern of many local authorities is that individual developments are often shown to have a very small air quality impact, and, as a consequence, there are few mechanisms available to the planning officer to require the developer to achieve lower emissions. This, in turn, leads to concerns about the potential air quality impacts of cumulative developments as many individual schemes, deemed insignificant in themselves, contribute to a ‘creeping baseline’” (, p. 16).
4.2. Planning Equity
4.3. Data and Evidence: Health
4.4. Data and Evidence: Environment
Conflicts of Interest
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|Particulate Matter (Pm)||Volatile Organic Compounds (Vocs)||H2s||Respirable Silica||Vocs||nox||Greenhouse Gases|
|Pm10||bTex||PAH (Incl. |
Naphthalene, Chlorobenzene, Phenol)
|Other (Incl. |
Formaldehyde, Ethylene Glycol, Methanol)
|Well site preparation (landscape clearing, soil|
pipelines and other infrastructure)
|Well drilling, hydraulic fracturing and |
drilling muds and cuttings, fracturing fluid mixing, water trucks, pumps, generators, flowback
|Well production (produced water, gas flaring/ venting, well maintenance work)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|processing and storage (gas venting, glycol dehydrators, separators, condensate tanks, compressors)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Transmission (compressors, gas venting, pipelines, tanker trucks||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Well abandonment & |
|Non-methane volatile organic compounds||Fugitive emissions from drilling, during the extraction process, storage, venting and capped wells. Flaring and use of mobile machinery||03 formation and health impacts|
|Nitrogen oxides||Flaring, mobile machinery, usage, gas processing, freight vehicles||03 formation and health impacts|
|Methane||Leakage from well exploration, extraction and abandonment activities||03 formation|
|Particulate matter||Suspension of bulk materials handling, flaring, mobile machinery, suspension/resuspension from freight vehicles||Health impacts|
|Sulphur compounds||Drilling, flowback phase and flaring||Health impacts and odour nuisance|
|Date||Report Author||Body||Environmental Justice||Inequalities||Ethics||Planning|
|2012||Royal Society Royal Academy of Engineering ||Report for Government||0||0||0||40|
|2014||Public Health England ||Government agency||1||0||1||47|
|2014||Independent Expert Panel. Scotland ||Report for Scottish Government||2||0||1||57|
|2015||House of Commons shale gas. White et al. ||Parliamentary Research Briefing||0||0||0||48|
|2015||Task force on Shale (Smith): Final Conclusions ||Industry funded||0||0||0||3|
|“||4th interim report economic ||Industry funded||0||0||0||6|
|“||3rd interim report. Climate change ||Industry funded||0||0||0||4|
|“||2nd Interim report. Environment and health ||Industry funded||0||0||0||13|
|“||1st interim report. Planning, Regulation and Local Engagement ||Industry funded||0||0||0||106|
|2016||Health Protection Scotland. Full report ||Scottish Government Agency||1||21||0||97|
|2016||Saunders et al. ||Academic paper||2||0||2||9|
|2018||House of Commons shale gas. Priestley and Hinson ||Parliamentary Research briefing||0||0||0||100|
|2019||DBEIS UK Government Guidance on fracking development ||Government department||0||0||0||16|
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Watterson, A.; Dinan, W. Lagging and Flagging: Air Pollution, Shale Gas Exploration and the Interaction of Policy, Science, Ethics and Environmental Justice in England. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 4320. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124320
Watterson A, Dinan W. Lagging and Flagging: Air Pollution, Shale Gas Exploration and the Interaction of Policy, Science, Ethics and Environmental Justice in England. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(12):4320. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124320Chicago/Turabian Style
Watterson, Andrew, and William Dinan. 2020. "Lagging and Flagging: Air Pollution, Shale Gas Exploration and the Interaction of Policy, Science, Ethics and Environmental Justice in England" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 12: 4320. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124320