Got a question about fracking? Get it answered by an expert Sense About Science
- Some advocates of fracking in the UK claim that it could slash energy prices, reduce our carbon emissions and that environmental impacts can be kept to a bare minimum. Others argue that it can’t be done safely – or that we’d be better off keeping it in the ground, moving away from fossil fuels and focusing on renewable energy. Given the usually heated, partisan debate (and the myriad headlines it generates) you’d be forgiven for not knowing what to believe. Whether it’s claims about water contamination, fugitive emissions or earthquakes there’s certainly a need for this discussion to be better informed by what the science actually says. To try and help you decipher fact from fiction we’ve put together a panel of scientists to answer your questions. Could fracking be done safely in the UK? Would we need to earthquake-proof our towns and cities? Will it actually reduce our carbon emissions? Would we be better off keeping it in the ground? On Tuesday 12th May 2015 our expert panel, (Professor Geoff Maitland, Professor Zoe Shipton, Professor Michael Bradshaw, Professor Quentin Fisher, and Professor Kevin Taylor) answered your questions.
- ReFINE is the leading international research consortium on fracking. Based in the UK and led jointly by Newcastle and Durham Universities, ReFINE works closely with a global network of leading scientists and institutions to research the potential environmental and social impacts of shale gas exploitation.
Independent Expert Scientific Panel – Report on Unconventional Oil And Gas The Scottish Government, Edinburgh; 2014
- Main Points
- The development of the unconventional oil & gas industry has changed the energy outlook of the United States of America. This has been made possible by technological advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The impact of the US shale gas ’revolution’ has raised interest in developing unconventional hydrocarbon resources in the rest of the world;
- There could be positive economic impacts from the development of an unconventional oil & gas industry, in terms of jobs created, taxes paid and gross value added. The scale of the impact in Scotland is subject to debate and may only become clear once development is underway. Lack of infrastructure, such as drilling rigs, could have an impact;
- Suitable petrochemical feed-stocks from the North Sea are declining, in particular ethane and other light hydrocarbons. The potential availability of these feed-stocks from unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland could have a beneficial impact on Scotland’s petro-chemical industry in the long term;
- Although further exploratory drilling will be required, Scotland’s geology suggests that there could be significant reserves of unconventional oil and gas – the greatest potential reserves are likely to be in the Midland Valley of Scotland;
- When viewed in the context of the factors that have supported coal bed methane and shale gas development in other countries, it seems likely that unconventional gas could be developed in Scotland at scale. This is particularly true, given Scotland’s domestic oil and gas supply-chain industry, and Scotland’s longstanding experience in other extractive industries such as coal mining, shale oil, and conventional oil and gas;
- There are a number of technical challenges associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, though it is the Expert Scientific Panel’s view that none of these are insurmountable. The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place;
- The impact of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland on the Scottish Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases is not definitive. There could be minimal impact from unconventional hydrocarbons if they are used as a petrochemical feedstock, but lifecycle analysis of an unconventional hydrocarbon industry is required to inform the debate, and provide a clearer view on the impact of their development;
- The regulatory framework is largely in place to control the potential environmental impacts of the production of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, although there may be gaps to address;
- The high population density of those parts of Scotland most likely to host significant unconventional oil and gas resources would be a challenge for any form of reindustrialisation, and will thus be so for any future unconventional oil and gas industry;
- The development of any new industry is likely to impact society - detecting and alleviating negative impacts, and enhancing positive impacts, is complicated unless careful planning of how to identify impacts is undertaken;
- Public concerns around unconventional oil and gas development include concerns about technical risk such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues such as social impacts on communities, effect on climate targets and trust in operators, regulators and policymakers;
- Many of these social (and environmental) impacts can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Added to which, there are already considerable legislative safeguards to ensure such impacts are not realised.
- Early consultation with communities is vital to identify potential impacts on the community, to scope potential benefits and develop plans to mitigate the impacts and enhance the benefits;
- Public engagement is necessary for the development of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland and there is a growing body of evidence showing that sustained and meaningful community engagement has beneficial outcomes for communities, operators and policymakers.
Friends of the Earth must not repeat misleading fracking claims BBC News; 4 Jan 2017
- Friends of the Earth (FOE) must not repeat misleading claims it made in an anti-fracking leaflet, the advertising watchdog has said.
The fundraising flyer claimed fracking chemicals could pollute drinking water and cause cancer and implied the process increases rates of asthma.
- The charity "agreed not to repeat the claims," the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
- An FOE spokeswoman said the watchdog had "dropped the case without ruling".
Shale Gas Collection Energy Institute Knowledge Service
- The Shale gas Collection addresses the scientific and technological aspects of shale gas and its development. It provides a factual, balanced explanation of the major issues to be considered in the debate about the role of shale gas in meeting future UK energy needs. Explore records by topic using the landscape below, or download our publication: An Energy Essentials guide to shale gas. The information here has been extensively peer-reviewed with contributions from over 75 subject specialists, including professionally qualified Fellows and Members of the Energy Institute, and approved by the EI's Energy Advisory Panel.
- The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington FRS, asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to review the scientific and engineering evidence and consider whether the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas could be managed effectively in the UK.
- The key findings of this review were:
- The health, safety and environmental risks can be managed effectively in the UK. Operational best practices must be implemented and enforced through strong regulation.
- Fracture propagation is an unlikely cause of contamination. The risk of fractures propagating to reach overlying aquifers is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres. Even if fractures reached overlying aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely to be met given the UK’s shale gas hydrogeological environments.
- Well integrity is the highest priority. More likely causes of possible contamination include faulty wells. The UK’s unique well examination scheme was set up so that independent, specialist experts could review the design of every offshore well. This scheme must be made fit for purpose for onshore activities.
- Robust monitoring is vital. Monitoring should be carried out before, during and after shale gas operations to detect methane and other contaminants in groundwater and potential leakages of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.
- An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory. Every shale gas operation should assess risks across the entire lifecycle of operations, from water use through to the disposal of wastes and the abandonment of wells.
- Seismic risks are low. Seismicity should be included in the ERA.Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of smaller magnitude than the UK’s largest natural seismic events and those induced by coal mining.
- Water requirements can be managed sustainably. Water use is already regulated by the Environment Agency. Integrated operational practices, such as recycling and reusing wastewaters where possible, would help to minimise water requirements further. Options for disposing of wastes should be planned from the outset. Should any onshore disposal wells be necessary in the UK, their construction, regulation and siting would need further consideration.
- Regulation must be fit for purpose. Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up should a future shale gas industry develop nationwide. Regulatory co-ordination and capacity must be maintained.
- Policymaking would benefit from further research. The carbon footprint of shale gas extraction needs further research. Further benefit would also be derived from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of the UK’s energy, climate and economic policies.
Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use Professor David J C MacKay FRS, Dr Timothy J Stone CBE; DECC; 9 Sep 2013
- Our conclusions are as follows:
- Carbon footprint
- a. If adequately regulated, local GHG emissions from shale gas operations should represent only a small proportion of the total carbon footprint of shale gas, which is likely to be dominated by CO2 emissions associated with its combustion.
- b. Any local GHG emissions from shale gas operations would fall within the nontraded sector of the UK’s carbon budgets. If the carbon budgets impose a binding constraint, any increase in emissions associated with domestic shale gas operations would have to be offset by emissions cuts elsewhere in the economy.
- c. The carbon footprint (emissions intensity) of shale gas extraction and use is likely to be in the range 200 – 253 g CO2e per kWh of chemical energy, which makes shale gas’s overall carbon footprint comparable to gas extracted from conventional sources (199 – 207 g CO2e/kWh(th)), and lower than the carbon footprint of Liquefied Natural Gas (233 - 270g CO2e/kWh(th)). When shale gas is used for electricity generation, its carbon footprint is likely to be in the range 423 – 535 g CO2e/kWh(e), which is significantly lower than the carbon footprint of coal, 837 – 1130 g CO2e/kWh(e).
- In this policy statement we consider the inclusion of shale gas in the UK’s future energy mix.
- To date, the adoption of shale gas as an energy source across Europe has been slow, due to different perspectives on a number of environmental factors and uncertainty regarding the role that it should play in energy policy.
- Increasing demand for energy worldwide means that there is a constant search for new energy sources, in terms of both geographical locations and exploitation methods. One such source is shale gas, which has transformed the energy sector in the USA.
- Although there is considerable uncertainty regarding the global shale gas resource and estimates suggest that the bulk is located in the USA and China, potential sources exist in Europe which could provide the UK with energy opportunities both at home and abroad.
- Key recommendations
- 1. Accelerate the enhancement of the environmental regulatory framework to ensure safe exploitation of shale gas in the UK as soon as possible.
- Recent studies have shown that the UK’s regulatory framework is fundamentally fit-for-purpose for shale gas exploration, but the government should urgently extend the framework for production to build public confidence in the management of the environmental risks associated with the emergence of a shale gas industry.
- 2. Develop UK industrial strategy to include a regional strategy for exploitation of shale gas.
- The government is committed to rebalancing the UK economy and has strong cross-party support. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is developing a UK industrial strategy and the opportunity should be taken to include shale gas as a regional dimension. This would support the creation of highly skilled jobs with future export potential, while contributing to the nation’s energy security.
- 3. Prioritise the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) with gas-fired power plant.
- The UK is committed to a decarbonised energy system by 2050 to meet legally binding mitigation targets. With gas-fired plants projected to make up a substantial part of the generation mix in the coming decades, the government must urgently prioritise the demonstration and deployment of commercial-scale CCS technology in gas power stations and ensure low-carbon gas generation is included in policy development, especially the Electricity Market Reform.
What is fracking and why is it controversial? BBC News; 16 Dec 2015
UC Study Claiming Air Pollution from Fracking Quietly Retracted Due to Bad Data Seth Whitehead; Energy In Depth; 7 Jul 2016
- The University of Cincinnati (UC) has yet to publish the results of a now year-old study that found no water contamination from hydraulic fracturing in a scientific journal, despite scrutiny, media attention, and numerous calls from groups and elected officials to do so. This indefinite delay is all the more interesting considering that UC couldn’t wait to publish the results of its 2015 study that claimed fracking was causing significant air pollution in Carroll County. That study appeared in Environmental Science & Technology just three months after it was completed. But the UC researchers’ urgency has apparently come back to bite them as they have just retracted the study due to “errors” and “incorrect” calculations
Leakage / Fugitive Emissions
Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems A. R. Brandt, G. A. Heath, E. A. Kort, F. O'Sullivan, G. Pétron, S. M. Jordaan, P. Tans, J. Wilcox, A. M. Gopstein, D. Arent, S. Wofsy, N. J. Brown, R. Bradley, G. D. Stucky, D. Eardley, R. Harriss; AAAS Science; 14 Feb 2014
- Natural gas (NG) is a potential “bridge fuel” during transition to a decarbonized energy system: It emits less carbon dioxide during combustion than other fossil fuels and can be used in many industries. However, because of the high global warming potential of methane (CH4, the major component of NG), climate benefits from NG use depend on system leakage rates. Some recent estimates of leakage have challenged the benefits of switching from coal to NG, a large near-term greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction opportunity. Also, global atmospheric CH4 concentrations are on the rise, with the causes still poorly understood.
Group Of Doctors Says It's Time To Hit 'Pause' On Fracking REID FRAZIER; Allegheny Front; 23 Nov 2016
- also at WESA (Pittsburgh news station) website
- anecdotal evidence, NIH studies, health registry