A review of the often controversial process of extracting shale gas has been carried out by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering and given a rules and regulations-based clean bill of health.

“There has been much speculation around the safety of shale gas extraction following examples of poor practice in the US,” said the review’s working group chair, Professor Robert Mair. “We found that well integrity is of key importance but the most common areas of concern, such as the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating drinking water, were very low risk.”

Adding that this was not to say hydraulic fracturing is completely risk-free, he said that strong regulation and robust monitoring systems must be put in place and best practice strictly enforced if the Government is to give the go-ahead to further exploration.

The review, focusing on scientific and engineering evidence, found that the risk contamination of aquifers from fractures was very low, provided extraction took place at depths of many hundreds of metres. It also concluded that earth tremors, induced by hydraulic fracturing, is likely to be of a smaller magnitude than the UK already experiences as a natural course.

Mention is made of the fact the while open ponds for storing wastewater are used in the US, with the risk of leakage, this is not permitted in the UK.

Recommendations to ensure safety standards include strengthening the UK’s regulators, providing additional resources as needed, strengthening the system of well inspections and undertaking appropriate well integrity tests as standard practice.

Robust monitoring of methane in groundwater, earth tremors and methane leakages before, during and after hydraulic fracking is also advised.

edie staff

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