The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will today publish an independent report recommending measures to mitigate the risks of seismic tremors initiated by fracking of shale gas.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, is the controversial process in which large volumes of water and chemicals are pumped into geological deposits to extract shale gas.
The process has attracted criticism in the US for polluting aquifers and, last year, operations at Cuadrilla’s shale gas operations at Preese Hall near Blackpool in the northwest were halted after minor earthquakes in the area.
The independent report, carried out by scientists from from Keele University, GFrac Technologies, and the British Geological Survey, essentially confirms that the Blackpool tremors were the result of Cuadrilla’s operations and says that they could be repeated during future fracking activities.
But in what will be seen as a tacit green light to moving ahead with the exploitation of shale gas, DECC is now consulting on measures to mitigate these impacts of fracking, such as an effective monitoring system and a ‘traffic light’ control regime.
Under this system, a red light would indicate seismic activity levels of magnitude of 0.5 or above and require an immediate cessation of fracking and the taking of remedial action.
“If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” says the Department’s chief scientific advisor David MacKay.
“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK,” he adds.
Earlier this month, exploration company IGas reported that shale gas deposits at its site in north-west England could be more than twice as large as previously estimated and there are promising signs of similar deposits in neighbouring Bowland Shale.
But the Renewable Energy Association has warned the government against pinning its hopes on shale gas and being left behind on the path to renewables.
“Globally, renewables are being deployed at a faster rate than any other energy technologies, and for good reason,” says chief executive Gaynor Hartnell. “The government… should look at all the potential implications [of shale gas], not just whether it can be extracted without causing mini earth tremors.”
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth called the report “completely inadequate”.
“There should be a full scientific assessment of all the impacts of fracking,” says executive director Andy Atkins. “Earth tremors aren’t the only risks associated with fracking – it’s also been linked to air and water pollution and produces gas that causes climate change.”
For further information:
UK shale gas deposits twice as large as thought, says IGas (4-Apr)
UK would renege on climate change goals if shale gas is pursued, says Co-op (23-Nov 2011)
Huge shale gas field found in northwest England (23-Sept 2011)
UK Government takes cautious approach to shale gas (29-Jul 2011)
17 April 2012