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Environmental Public Health

Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland
Health Impact Assessment


The Scottish Government announced a process for carrying out an evidence-based assessment of the potential impacts of developing onshore shale oil and gas and coal bed methane (collectively referred to as unconventional oil and gas resources) in Scotland, in October 2015. This involved commissioning a wide-range of research into the potential impacts of exploration and exploitation of this natural resource.

Read the Scottish Government statement on the Unconventional Oil and Gas Consultation

As part of this initiative, HPS was commissioned to provide a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in order to answer three specific questions:

  1. What are the potential risks to health associated with exploration for and exploitation of onshore unconventional shale oil and gas and coal bed methane?
  2. What are the wider health implications of deploying the technology necessary for the exploration and exploitation of shale oil and gas and coal bed methane?
  3. What options could there be to mitigate any potential adverse impacts that are identified?

The final Health Impact Assessment report has now been published by HPS on this website.

A Health Impact of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland: Summary Adobe PDF icon
A Health Impact of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland: Volume 1 – Full Report Adobe PDF icon
A Health Impact of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland: Volume 2 – Appendices  Adobe PDF icon

Health Impact Assessment of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland

The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) followed a standard model to identify the health-related issues associated with Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG) development. This process incorporated consultation with a range of stakeholders (see Stakeholder Events below) in Scotland with an interest in the topic, ranging from community groups concerned about the impacts on local areas, to the oil and gas industry. The HIA was designed to address the issues raised by these stakeholders, by carrying out a review of published international scientific literature and by assessing the quality of the available evidence, in order to draw conclusions.

The Scottish Government requested that the HIA address the issues identified from a generic perspective (only) and so the report does not consider potential impacts in relation to specific individual communities in Scotland. Wider issues such as the health implications of developing UOG in relation to climate change were outside the UOG HIA remit.

Health Protection Scotland coordinated the HIA in collaboration with other organisations including NHS Health Scotland, the Scottish Health and Inequalities Impact Assessment Network (SHIIAN) and the Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN). Additional technical advice was provided by agencies including SEPA, HSE, SoCOEH, BGS and Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS).

The report provides extensive background information on UOG and on the principles underpinning the HPS approach to the HIA (Section1).

It describes the HIA model used and provides details of the stakeholder consultation process carried out as part of the HIA (Section 2).

The methodology adopted for the literature review and critical analysis of the evidence is presented along with the main findings by classifying the underlying evidence according to its relative strength (Section 3).

To answer the Scottish Government question regarding options for mitigation of the potential impacts of UOG development, a specific section addresses this issues and includes recommendations on potential options to enhance mitigation by a variety of methods (Section 4).

Methodological and other issues identified during the HIA process are addressed in the discussion (Section 5), which also provides responses to comments made on an earlier draft of the report by external peer reviewers.

Finally the conclusions of the working group regarding the potential health impacts and wider health implications of developing UOG in Scotland are summarised (Section 6).

The overall conclusion of the HIA was that the evidence available was ‘inadequate’ as a basis to determine whether development of shale oil and gas or coal bed methane would pose a risk to public health, if permitted in Scotland.

However, individual conclusions were also drawn on evidence relating to particular UOG-related hazards and types of health outcome, some of which was classed as ‘sufficient’ or ‘limited’ in terms of its strength.

The working group also concluded that, if it was decided that UOG development should proceed in Scotland, although the evidence reviewed on UOG associated hazards, potential health impacts and wider health implications was lacking in quantity, quality and consistency, the evidence available would justify adopting a precautionary approach. Suggestions have been made on what could constitute a proportionately precautionary approach.

As part of the review of mitigation options, evidence relating to the regulatory framework that would apply to UOG development in Scotland at present suggested that there are inadequacies. Additional measures to mitigate potential UOG-related hazards and health impacts have therefore suggested in relation to the planning and regulatory framework, as well as for industry and regulator best practice, stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation and local health impact assessment.

HPS was not asked to make a specific policy recommendation on future UOG development in Scotland. The report therefore sets out a number of options open to the Scottish Government in response to the HIA findings and sets these in the context of the Precautionary Approach. The choice of a final policy option is a matter for the Scottish Government and will follow a further public consultation exercise in late 2016.

Stakeholder Events

The HIA included input from a wide range of stakeholders in Scotland.  The views of stakeholders were gathered via a series of events held in November 2015.  These provided interested parties an opportunity to highlight issues of particular concern to them. Three separate events were arranged to address different groups of stakeholders. Details of the events are provided below:

The information collected at these workshops was used to inform the scoping of the evidence-gathering for the HIA.  Summaries of the outputs from these events are provided below, and were included in the final report.

Peer-Reviewers’ Comments on Initial Draft Report

An independent peer-review process was incorporated to provide external, objective feedback on the methods used and the process followed for the HIA. An initial draft version of the report was reviewed by a number of invited external peer-reviewers, none of whom was directly involved in the HIA process itself.  The reviewers comments have been provided for information. These were written in response to the initial draft report only, not the final report as published.  The comments from all reviewers have been analysed thematically and responses provided.  Section 5 of the report (Discussion) also addresses points raised by reviewers.

The final report differs substantially from the initial draft report, and incorporated changes to accommodate issues raised by peer-reviewers where this was practical and consistent with the Scottish Government remit for the HIA.

Last updated Nov 2016