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Fracking Should Go Ahead In Britain, Report Says

Fracking should be permitted in Britain because the risk of earthquakes and water contamination is minimal, a government-ordered report has found. Scientists from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society said the controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale should be given the go-ahead, subject to tight regulations and continuous monitoring of drilling sites.

The panel said that despite evidence fracking can trigger small earthquakes, the tremors felt at ground level would be about the same size as those caused by a lorry driving past a house.

Chances of any contaminated water or gas escaping into groundwater supplies were “very low” because of the depth at which the process takes place, they added.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals into shale beds at high pressure to split the rock and release the natural gas stored within.

Prof Robert Mair, chair of the panel, said: “The risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively in the UK, provided operational best practices are implemented and enforced through effective regulation.

“[There are] a number of issues we believe must merit further consideration including the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of shale gas and, very importantly, the public acceptability of hydraulic fracturing.”

The Daily Telegraph, 29 June 2012

 

Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing

The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering June 2012

The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington FRS, asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to review the scientific and engineering evidence and consider whether the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas could be managed effectively in the UK.

The key findings of this review were:

The health, safety and environmental risks can be managed effectively in the UK. Operational best practices must be implemented and enforced through strong regulation.

Fracture propagation is an unlikely cause of contamination. The risk of fractures propagating to reach overlying aquifers is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres. Even if fractures reached overlying aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely to be met given the UK’s shale gas hydrogeological environments.

Well integrity is the highest priority. More likely causes of possible contamination include faulty wells. The UK’s unique well examination scheme was set up so that independent, specialist experts could review the design of every offshore well. This scheme must be made fit for purpose for onshore activities.

Robust monitoring is vital. Monitoring should be carried out before, during and after shale gas operations to detect methane and other contaminants in groundwater and potential leakages of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory. Every shale gas operation should assess risks across the entire lifecycle of operations, from water use through to the disposal of wastes and the abandonment of wells.

Seismic risks are low. Seismicity should be included in the ERA.Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of smaller magnitude than the UK’s largest natural seismic events and those induced by coal mining.

Water requirements can be managed sustainably. Water use is already regulated by the Environment Agency. Integrated operational practices, such as recycling and reusing wastewaters where possible, would help to minimise water requirements further. Options for disposing of wastes should be planned from the outset. Should any onshore disposal wells be necessary in the UK, their construction, regulation and siting would need further consideration.

Regulation must be fit for purpose. Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up should a future shale gas industry develop nationwide. Regulatory co-ordination and capacity must be maintained.

Policymaking would benefit from further research. The carbon footprint of shale gas extraction needs further research. Further benefit would also be derived from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of the UK’s energy, climate and economic policies.

Full report