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Fracking is safe with strong regulation, says UK’s Royal Society

July 21, 2012

The Royal Society has issued a major report on fracking, essentially blessing the process so long as ‘best practices’ are followed, and robust regulation and monitoring is in place. Here are the report’s basic findings, quoted directly from the Society’s website:

  • 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.

The full report can be downloaded here (7.7 MB).

Here is a short video featuring Professor Robert Mair, chairman of the Working Group that prepared the study.

As you see above and hear, the Society is relatively unconcerned about seismic events or damage to aquifers. Undoubtedly, the Society’s report will have an impact on the comparable study being undertaken by NZ’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment due later this year.

Stay tuned.

Tom Belford

 

Comments

7 Responses to “Fracking is safe with strong regulation, says UK’s Royal Society”

  1. Rob Pharazyn

    on July 22nd, 2012 9:18 am

    Capitalism of late has delivered up the GFC, the Eurozone breakdown, the LIBOR scandal.. so why should we take any notice of some bloody report by a bunch of old crocks who tell us all is cool with fracking…our lives will be no less enriched if we tell Apache and their cronies to frack off out of our region..end of story..any comments to the contrary?

  2. John J Harrison

    on July 22nd, 2012 12:11 pm

    A better source of unbiased and objective reporting on this issue is this weeks Economist that has a 17 page feature on Fracking and other issues.

    While in Montreal this week there was a great article in the Globe of Alberta farmers meeting with environmental groups from Quebece ( where Fracking is currently disallowed) basically noting that as far as they are concerned, getting energy out of the ground by Fracking has proven to be a winner in their Province and they fully support it.

    Interestingly, in New York state they are opening up new areas for Fracking which were previously closed to such a practice !

  3. Leanne Cotter-Arlidg

    on July 22nd, 2012 12:36 pm

    I'm with you Rob. One can only be skeptical about an industry that is driven by huge potential wealth (for a few) and which has basically written it's own regulations. In reality there are no standards robust enough to safeguard against the contamination of our acquifers. The probability of major quakes compromising concrete casings of drilling wells must surely be seen as a high risk for fracking in New Zealand. I would hope the UK Report will not unduly influence our own NZ study by the Commissioner for the Environment. Hopefully she will be thorough, investigative and unswayed by industry spin. The UK report is disappointing but we can only live in hope.

  4. Paul Bailey

    on July 22nd, 2012 10:57 pm

    At a recent meeting with Craig Foss Don't Frack the Bay were told 'I trust the system'. Taken in isolation there is nothing wrong with this statement.

    However your headline says it all – Fracking is safe with strong regulation. Unfortunatly our regulator is the Hawkes Bay Regional Council, a body which I have little trust in given the way that one of thier senior staff lie to thier elected councillors – Bryce Lawrence should note that there is a world of difference between saying "hydraulic fracturing opponents do not represent the facts" and some hydraulic fracturing opponents do not represent the facts (memo dated 4/4/12).

    Also the HBRC has stated on numerous occasions that the Taranaki Regional Council demonstrates best pratice yet time and time again they are found to be lacking with respect to monitoring admitting that they don't even know how many wells have been fracked.

    In saying all this, it is important to remeber that this report deals with the UK experience and not the NZ experience. I look forward to the report from the PCE and will respect the outcome of same.

  5. John J Harrison

    on July 24th, 2012 6:51 pm

    Leanne, your comment that Fracking results in huge potential wealth for a few is at best, disengenuous. The "few" who risk their money are deserved of a fair reward which is called capitalism.

    What you have conveniently forgotten is that because of a few risk takers the price of gas has fallen to 10 year lows in the U.S , Canada and Australia to a mere $2.20 per million BTU. Because of a "few" over 400 million people in these countries enjoy cheap energy, reducing household costs, factory inputs while eliminating coal at a rate never seen before as a source of energy.

    Because of Fracking the U.S has a 200year supply providing 1/3 of it's energy from gas.

    This is the sort of reporting that " greenies" should celebrate.

    It is true that a few ( very few) cases of contamination have occurred in the U.S to the water supply as a result of drillers breaching regulations.

    This has to be seen in light of the fact that over 20,000 holes have been drilled over the last 10 years in the U.S alone.

    Worse happens every day with coal mining and the resultant tailings.

    Remember, in most cases the water table is in the first 100 meters whereas Fracking usually commences at 2,500 meters.

    Hardly the bogey to highlight when the gains by the "many" are taken into consideration as a result of the risks taken by a "few".

    Time to sort Frack from Fiction.

  6. T. Britten

    on August 1st, 2012 9:53 am

    Its not 'capitalism', its 'colonisation'. The same monster companies colonising everyone elses' land and resources to enrich the 1%.

    Do the 'fracking' in your own backyard if u think its such a money making possibility and stay off Ngati Kahungunu land, that is, what little there is left of it after all the previous colonisers took what they wanted.

  7. ian Skins

    on August 4th, 2012 10:21 am

    Luddites – Frack the Bay

    The development of the on shore and off shore oil / gas industry in Hawkes Bay should be welcomed and pushed forward it would benefit all and provide well paid jobs for future generations instead leaving to Australia. It would also help provide funds pay the huge tax burden of social benefits and continuing hand outs .

    It would benefit ALL New Zealanders for a strong future .

    This Country will not get rich on White power (milk ) alone , and that causes more pollution than any fracking will.

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