Shale gas task force calls for tighter industry regulations

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 15 Jul 2015 10:10
Fracking firm need to improve safeguards to protect health and the environment
Fracking firm need to improve safeguards to protect health and the environment

The Task Force on Shale Gas has released its latest report on the impact of a fracking industry on the UK, with a specific focus on assessing local environmental and health impacts.

The report analysed 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.

Specifically the Task Force recommends:

• 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.

Lord Chris Smith, chair of the 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 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 2017.

Following today’s publication, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “This report recognises the struggle to make controversial fracking technology acceptable to the British public.

“But people know that fracking threatens local pollution and public health, and that it is crazy to be digging up more fossil fuels when we need to leave four fifths of reserves in the ground to avoid runaway climate change.

"The report also confirms what we have been saying – despite reassuring words from a Government and industry desperate to get fracking, UK regulations are not tough enough.

“But tougher rules can only make fracking safer, not safe. This dangerous technology will always carry risks for the local environment and people’s health, as well as adding to climate change – so no amount of regulation or industry-funded task forces will make people embrace fracking.”

And Daisy Sands, Greenpeace Head of Energy commented: "The Task Force on Shale Gas is entirely funded by shale gas companies such as Cuadrilla, Centrica and Total, so its recommendations should be taken with a truck load of salt. Their findings runs contrary to the government's own evidence into the impacts of fracking which revealed that fracking could decrease house prices, lead to water contamination, increase air, light and noise pollution and exacerbate climate change.

"The fracking companies and their Task Force are also calling for the powers to bypass local democracy so they can drillbore holes without planning permission. With the government in the fracking industry's back pocket, the local planning process is the only way residents get to have a say over fracking in their community and that's under threat.

“This is worrying as other administrations such as in the Netherlands and New York are putting a halt on fracking, but the UK is fast tracking fracking."

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