Best practice and transparency are key to safe fracking operations

A new report on the impact of fracking has set out a series of recommendations to ensure best practice and transparency at sites where hydraulic fracturing takes place.

These include full disclosure by shale gas operators of the chemicals being used in their operations, which would be verified by the Environment Agency.

The Task Force on Shale Gas’ suggestions are based around the assessment of evidence on the potential local environmental and health impacts at shale sites throughout Britain.

In their second report the independent, industry-funded organisation makes specific recommendations that include:

  • Baseline monitoring of groundwater, air and soil to be established at the moment a potential site is identified, with community representatives given an oversight role in monitoring and all results made public. Current planning regulations that require full planning consent before boreholes can be drilled for monitoring should be changed
  • Operators to commit and be held to the very highest standards in well construction, independently monitored. The Task Force found many of the problems associated with shale gas derived from historical poor practice in the United States, rather than the process of fracking itself. This situation can and must be avoided in the United Kingdom
  • The process of ‘green completions’ – whereby methane emissions are minimised on site – should be mandatory for production wells
  • The disposal of wastewater by deep injection – which has been associated with earthquakes in the United States – should be avoided in the United Kingdom in line with current Environment Agency practice, particularly where the nature of the geology is unsuitable
  • A National Advisory Committee should be established to monitor data from shale gas operations if and when they are established in the United Kingdom to provide an independent analysis of actual and potential impacts on public health to both policymakers and the public
  • Public Health England should commit to reassessing and evaluating its report into the health impacts of shale gas once a statistically significant number of wells have been established and data is available. All results and conclusions must be made public

In a statement, Lord Chris Smith, chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas said: “Our conclusion from all the evidence we’ve seen is clear. Only if the drilling is done properly and to the highest standard, and with rigorous regulation and monitoring, can shale gas fracking be done safely for local communities and the environment.

“The evidence shows that many of the concerns associated with fracking are the result of poor practice elsewhere in the world, such as poorly constructed wells.

“It is therefore crucial that stringent regulations are established in the UK, as set out in our recommendations, in order to meet these legitimate concerns. We also recommend the formation of a National Advisory Committee to examine, collate and evaluate health impacts associated with shale gas operations once they have begun and data from the first wells becomes available.”

The recommendations follow a period of academic review, visits to communities potentially affected by fracking, input from industry, experts, campaigners and relevant associations. A briefing document setting out the scientific foundations of its findings can be found online at www.taskforceonshalegas.uk.

Today’s report follows Lancashire county council’s rejection of a planning application by Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas at Preston New Road.

What is fracking?

Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – is the process of creating fractures in rock formations to release the natural gas trapped inside. Fracturing fluid is released at high pressure into the rock formation to create millimetre-sized cracks. These cracks are held open by sand grains contained within the fluid, allowing the gas to flow into the wellbore and be collected at the surface.

Source: Cuadrilla