Shale and Safety: get the fracking facts right from the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Royal Society of EdinburghThe Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has published a wide-ranging report into options for Scotland’s gas future, calling for the public to be given a genuine opportunity to influence the decision-making process and be provided with meaningful information.

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The RSE report contains the following authoritative and intellectually and logically robust facts on fracking, shale gas and public safety:

The safety aspects of hydraulic fracturing have been addressed by several papers, including those by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Independent Expert Scientific Panel commissioned by the Scottish Government, and Public Health England. 

These reports found that safety risks associated with fracking can be effectively managed provided that the industry is robustly regulated and monitored.

Fracking is not required to produce gas from coal for coal-bed methane extraction, but could be used with CO2 to enhance CBM production. Fracking is not used for underground coal gasification.

 UK regulations dictate that any chemicals used in fracking fluid must be declared to the environmental regulator.

 The risk of damaging seismic activity from fracking is low.

How shale gas is minedDECC regulations include the directive that the injection of water into a well is immediately suspended if any seismic activity reaching a magnitude of 0.5 or higher occurs.

Major seismic activity (above levels of magnitude 3) is highly unlikely and seismicity induced by fracking is likely to be of a smaller magnitude than that of coal-mining. Seismicity induced by coal-mining is usually of a smaller magnitude than naturally occurring tremors.

The seismic activity Scotland could expect from fracking would, at its peak, be felt by very few people and would be likely to cause only very minor surface impact – if any at all.

A paper produced by Professor Paul Younger and Dr Robert Westaway proposed regulating induced microseismicity from fracking – with controls similar to those currently applied to quarry blasting.

It suggested that this would result in peak levels of vibrations to residential property that would not cause a hazard, but rather be comparable to ‘nuisance’ vibrations such as the slamming of a door.

Wells are located hundreds of metres below known, limited and mapped, aquifers, making the likelihood of either gas or fracking fluid escaping upward to water sources low.

Layers of impermeable rock that often exist above the shale further decrease the likelihood of such an event. Fracture growth can be monitored and operations can be terminated if the danger of reaching a water source is considered possible.

Estimates have put the likelihood of a fracture extending vertically beyond 500m at less than 1%.

UK regulations expressly forbid the practice of storing flowback fluid in open storage ponds. Specific rules are set out outlining the suitable methods for the safe disposal of this fluid.

Thus, high volume spillage and surface soil pollution are unlikely.

Significant quantities of water are necessary for hydraulic fracturing: between 10,000 and 30,000m3 per operation (between 1 and 2 road tanker volumes) in the USA.

The environmental permission for the Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood wells in Lancashire has limited the water use per fracked well to 750m3 per hydraulic fracturing stage.

In areas where water is scarce water abstraction could put further pressure on resources, although SEPA has the power to regulate this.

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