Unconventional natural gas development and human health: Thoughts from the United States
If unconventional gas development (UGD) continues to expand in Australia, the potential health and environmental impacts should be adequately addressed and preventive public health measures should be implemented. The United States has embraced UGD and has decades of experience that could be beneficial to Australia as stakeholders debate the potential benefits and harms of the technique. Additional research on the health impacts of UGD is necessary. Baseline and trend morbidity and mortality data need to be collected to assess changes in population health over time. To date, few health or epidemiological studies have been conducted, so it remains difficult to assess actual health outcomes. In the absence of scientific consensus, there are two possible risks: failing to develop unconventional natural gas when the harms are manageable; or developing it when the harms are substantial. Many government bodies around the world have chosen to minimise the risk of the latter until the impacts of UGD are better understood. Policies should be informed by empirical evidence based on actual experience rather than assurance of best practices. There is a strong rationale for precautionary measures based on the health and environmental risks identified in the scientific literature.