UK Task Force on Shale Gas: Tough regulations and enforcement can minimise impact of fracking on local environment and health

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman, Shale Gas Task Force, left
Lord Chris Smith, Chairman, Shale Gas Task Force, left

The UK Task Force on Shale Gas today (15 Jul) publishes its second report on the impact of a fracking industry on the UK, specifically assessing local environmental and health impacts.

The report assessed the available evidence on the potential local environmental and health impacts of a shale gas industry in the UK and made a series of recommendations

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman, UK 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.”

“We highlight four essential ingredients for safe operation: full disclosure of chemicals; baseline monitoring from the outset; strong well integrity, independently regulated; and ‘green completions’ to contain the gas that’s created and minimise emissions.”

“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 months of academic review, visits to communities potentially affected by fracking, input from industry, experts, campaigners and relevant associations.

To underline the scientific and robust nature of its report the Task Force has also simultaneously published a briefing document which sets out the scientific foundations of its findings.

“Our guiding principle is to provide trusted, factual and impartial information that people need in order to make up their own minds about shale gas,” said Lord Chris Smith.

“With this second report the Task Force has reviewed evidence, visited shale gas sites and met with experts and communities, all of which has informed our environmental and health recommendations. We look forward to the public’s response.”

The Shale Task Force recommendations are:

  • Full disclosure by shale gas operators of the chemicals being used in their operations – with Environment Agency monitoring on site to confirm additive levels are within agreed and safe limits
  • 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 fugitive 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

The UK Shale Task Force will publish two further reports in 2015 covering climate change and economics. A final report on the potential risks and benefits of shale gas for the UK will be published as the culmination of the Task Force’s research in the spring of 2016.

The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September 2014 to give careful consideration to public concerns, and to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK.

For more information:  http://www.taskforceonshalegas.uk

See also: The UK Shale Energy Conference 2015 – Glasgow 25 Sept – http://goo.gl/hrEzOi

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