On June 29, 2012, the Royal Society and Royal Academy of
Engineering (the "Royal Society") published an
independent review (the "Report"), commissioned by the UK
government's Chief Scientific Advisor, which analyzed the
current scientific and engineering evidence relating to the risks
associated with the use of hydraulic fracturing (or
"fracking"). The Royal Society concluded that ensuring
well integrity is the highest priority in fracking operations and
that the health, safety, and environmental risks associated with
fracking could be effectively managed in the UK so long as
operational best practices are implemented and enforced through
The Report made certain recommendations to effectively manage the
risks associated with fracking, which included the following
Water Contamination: The risk of
fractures propagating from shale formations to overlying aquifers
is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at
depths where it is typically most feasible. Arrangements for
monitoring abandoned wells require further development to ensure
well failures do not occur post abandonment, including the
establishment of a permanent source of funding for such monitoring
and any required remediation work.
Well Integrity: Ensuring well
integrity must be the given the highest priority to prevent well
leakage and contamination. In order to achieve this, the role of
well examiners should be clarified such that they remain
independent of operators and their reviews are conducted taking
both a health and safety perspective and an environmental
perspective into consideration and that such reviews would include
examinations of well designs and the conformity of well
construction to approved well designs.
Induced Seismicity: To mitigate the
risk of future tremors, national surveys should be carried out to
identify stresses and faults in the sub-surface and a national
database should be maintained including data obtained from
operators. In addition, a "traffic light"
monitoring system, with operational data fed back to well sites,
should be implemented, which would require fracking operations to
be halted upon the occurrence of a seismic event of a particular
magnitude. The Report recommends that companies proposing to
undertake drilling monitor seismic activities before, during, and
after hydraulic fracturing.
Water Management: Waste water is of
particular concern as between 25 and 75 percent of the injected
fracking fluid flows back to the surface upon depressurization of
the well and such fluid contains methane, saline water, and
minerals from the shale formation. Operational practices should be
adopted to minimize water use, and waste water should be recycled
and reused wherever possible. The Report did, however, note that
such reuse of waste water could concentrate contaminants and,
thereby, complicate eventual disposal.
In addition, the Report also recommends a number of operational
best practices, in order to detect gas leakages, implement risk
management best practices, and manage environmental risks, which
drew on studies and operational practice in the United States.
Currently, oil and gas licenses and planning permits and
authorizations are issued by different regulatory authorities. The
Report recommends that a single regulatory body should take
leadership over the shale gas permitting process in order to
co-ordinate the various authorities with responsibilities for
regulating shale gas extraction in the UK.
The Report also recommends that further consultation and
research should be carried out into the public's acceptance of
the extraction of shale gas in the context of the UK's wider
policies on climate change, energy, and the economy and suggests
that such consultation and research should be publicly funded
rather than carried out by the oil and gas industry in order to
ensure independence and confidence in the conclusions. The Report
predicts a much wider UK shale gas industry in the future, but did
note that it would still be some years before a rigorous estimate
of UK shale gas reserves is possible.
The Report is a positive development for the shale gas industry
and is consistent with the prevailing view of U.S. state regulators
that the risks from hydraulic fracturing can be managed provided
operational safeguards are adopted and best practices
The UK government has not yet responded to the Report.
Please click here for a copy of the Report and here for further information on shale gas
operations from DECC's website.
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