Government commits to ‘greener’ fracking with £2m fund

The Government has unveiled a new £2m fund for 19 companies across the UK to develop innovative ideas that improve the sustainability and safety of shale oil and gas.

The fund, being overseen by Innovate UK, has been launched to help the UK improve energy security, create jobs and speed up the country’s transition to a low-carbon future.

UK Minister for Business, Enterprise and Energy Matt Hancock said: “Unlocking the shale gas and oil that is deep underground is an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, increase our energy security and create jobs.

“It must be done safely and securely, so supporting innovation in this sector is vital to help us seize this opportunity.”

The 19 winning projects will explore the likes of water treatment and monitoring techniques; well drilling and design technology, including:

– Glass-based beads to keep fractures open, removing the need for high-volume water use 
– New ‘photocatalyst’ technology for safe water treatment 
– ‘Non-intrusive’ geophysical techniques to probe to depths of up to 3,000 metres 
– New sensors to detect methane leaks while drilling 
– Automated systems to guide exploratory drilling processes 

Confidence boost

The new funding is part of the Government’s efforts to reassure the public about the controversial method of extracting shale gas and oil.

Innovate UK head of energy Rob Saunders said: “Shale gas and oil could transform the energy sector in the UK, but for that to happen it’s vital that the public have confidence in the sustainability and above all, the safety of the industry.

“That’s where innovation plays its role and the companies that have won the very competitive process we have run here are bringing considerable expertise to tackling this problem.”

The £2m fund includes £1m in contributions from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and a further £250,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Chemical use

In related shale news this week, the coalition Government has accepted proposals put forward by the Labour Party to legally bind fracking companies to disclose all the chemicals used in their operations.

Labour proposed several amendments to the original draft of the Infrastructure Bill, including increased baseline monitoring of methane gas in groundwater and a legal duty of companies to consult the water companies in the fracking planning process.

Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex, who set out the ammendments, said: “Shale gas extraction can only go ahead if we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. 

“Despite clear flaws in the existing framework, David Cameron’s government have repeatedly side-lined genuine and legitimate environmental concern and seem prepared to accept shale gas at any cost.

“Labour has repeatedly attempted to overhaul the regulations for shale gas, but we have been rebuffed by a Tory Government that simply doesn’t want to listen to public concern.”

‘Gung-ho pursuit’

Commenting on the proposals, Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Donna Hume said: “Labour’s call for a ban on fracking near aquifers and for other safeguards is the right one – it is basic common sense to not risk Britain’s drinking water. 

“While Labour’s set of proposals is a welcome break from the Government’s gung-ho pursuit of controversial fracking whatever the cost, the truth is that any fracking is highly risky for people’s health and the environment and has no place in any community. 

“The sooner Britain follows the lead of France, Bulgaria and more recently New York State to ban fracking, the safer people will be and the quicker we can get back to the urgent challenge of stopping climate change.”

Luke Nicholls

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