Potential impacts of emissions associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction on UK air quality and human health

29 Jun 2018

Here we report the first results of model sensitivity simulations to assess the potential impacts of emissions related to future activities linked to unconventional hydrocarbon extraction (fracking) in the UK on air pollution and human health. These simulations were performed with the Met Office Air Quality in the Unified Model, a new air quality forecasting model, and included a wide range of extra emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to reflect emissions from the full life-cycle of fracking related activities and simulate the impacts of these compounds on levels of nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3). These model simulations highlight that increases in NOx and VOC emissions associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction could lead to large local increases in the monthly means of daily 1-hourly maximum NO2 of up to +30 ppb and decreases in the maximum daily 8-hourly mean O3 up to -6 ppb in the summertime. Broadly speaking, our simulations indicate increases in both of these compounds across the UK air shed throughout the year. Changes in the 1-hourly maximum of NO2 and 8-hourly mean of O3 are particularly important for their human health impacts. These respective changes in NO2 and O3 would contribute to approximately 110 (range 50-530) extra premature-deaths a year across the UK based on the use of recently reported concentration response functions for changes in annual average NO2 and O3 exposure. As such we conclude that the release of emissions of VOCs and NOx be highly controlled to prevent deleterious health impacts.