Task Force report calls for strict regulation of shale gas industry

The UK must employ tighter standards and more rigorous regulation if it is to avoid the poor fracking practices that have created problems in the US warned the Task Force on Shale Gas this week.

Lord Chris Smith, chair of Task Force on Shale Gas

In its new report "Assessing the Impact of Shale Gas on the Local Environment and Health" it sets out a series of key measures for UK Government to consider including the recommendation that disposal of wastewater by reinjection should be avoided. The method which is commonly used in the US has the potential to trigger earthquakes greater in magnitude than tremors caused by fracking itself, says the report. Other findings include the need for closer working with communities, better monitoring of baseline conditions and well integrity and establishment of a new National Advisory Committee to monitor data from shale gas operations once live.

“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,” said Lord Chris Smith, chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas and former chairman of the Environment Agency. "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.”

He went on to explain that many of the concerns around fracking such as contamination issues were the result of poor practices having been employed elsewhere in the world including poorly constructed wells. Failure of well integrity was responsible for many of the problems associated with operations oversees sayd the report which calls for operators to commit to using the best materials and techniques and for independent monitoring of sites with local communities having an oversight role.

“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,”said Smith.

The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September 2014 to provide an impartial, transparent and evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK. Although it is funded by energy companies the task force maintains an independent position and says that the energy firms have no influence over the findings. Its second publication follows on from its initial report into planning, regulation and local engagement, published in March. This initial study called for creation on a new independent regulatory body to bring together the current fragmented system.

A third report into the impact of shale gas on climate change will be published in September, followed by a fourth which will consider the economic impacts, nationally and for local communities. A final summary report will be printed in Spring 2016.

  • Also this week government has published draft regulations outlining how protected areas must be treated during shale gas exploration. Hydraulic fracturing will only be permitted at depths of below 1200m in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites. More details of the regulations are expencted shortly including much anticipated groundwater protection requirements. “This industry will be developed safely with world class environmental protections, creating jobs and delivering better energy security while safeguarding of some of our most precious landscapes," said Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister.
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