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15/12/2015

‘Strictest’ environmental standards should be in place for fracking

Words: Laura Edgar
Fracking

Shale gas can be produced safely in the UK as long as the “strictest environmental standards” are in place, according to the Task Force on Shale Gas.

Shale gas can also help the UK transition to a renewable economy and exploratory drilling should go ahead as soon as possible to establish clearly how much gas is available and what sort of industry is possible.

These are the conclusions drawn by the task force in its final report of the series into shale gas: The Economic Impacts Of A UK Shale Gas Industry (pdf).

Lord Chris Smith, chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas, said the conclusion from the evidence gathered during the year is clear. “The risk from shale gas to the local environment or to public health is no greater than that associated with comparable industries provided, as with all industrial works, that operators follow best practice.”

The size of the UK industry’s impact will depend on its potential output, which is as yet unknown, said Smith.

“We recommend that a number of exploratory wells should be allowed to go ahead, under the very strict environmental safeguards that we have outlined in our previous reports, in order to establish a much clearer picture of where and how much recoverable gas there is in the UK. Only when we have a better understanding of how much gas could be recovered in the UK will the public be able to make an informed decision as to whether they support it.”

The shale gas industry has the potential to create “thousands” of jobs, according to Smith, and if it proceeds, the government must commit to providing skills training in areas in which shale gas production will occur. The report concluded that a domestic shale gas industry could strengthen the UK’s energy security and mitigate against potential risks to energy supply.

Lord Smith added: “We recommend that operators and government specify details on how the creation of successful production sites will benefit residents living nearby.”

The Task Force on Shale Gas has made several final recommendations and notes on best practice, including:

  • Transparency must be “at the heart of” any potential shale gas industry” and operators must agree full disclosure of the chemical content on materials used in shale gas exploration and production. Operators must also be transparent in seeking to minimise the effects on nearby residents.

  • Baseline monitoring of air, land and water should begin as soon as a site has been identified.

  • A commitment by operators to use the best materials and techniques and for them to be held the very highest standards.

  • Local residents should have a direct role in monitoring any operations in their area.

The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September 2014. It is funded by shale companies but says it operates independently from them.

The task force’s first report found that there should be a dedicated regulator for onshore underground energy to address the UK’s current planning and regulatory system. The second report  found that fracking will only be safe for local people if strict monitoring is carried out and chemicals used are fully disclosed while the third report found shale gas should be a bridge to a low-carbon future and implored the government to speed up the development of Carbon Capture and Storage.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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