The shale industry needs to improve its engagement with the public, according to one of the UK’s leading environmental advisors.
In a report published this week, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) said there was a “disappointing degree of defensiveness” from people closely involved in shale gas. It said the importance of clear, open stakeholder engagement from all parties could not be overstated.
The report, Shale Gas and Water, called on the industry to ensure it complied with the community engagement charter drawn up by the UK Onshore Operators Group. One of the charter’s guiding principles is to “engage openly with local communities”.
The CIWEM said it was important that everyone understood the impacts of the current exploration industry, as well as the likely impacts if the industry went into production.
It acknowledged that there were risks of damage to sensitive habitats and to the contamination of groundwater through wellbore failure. These risks must, it said, be robustly regulated. “It is important that the public are reassured that this regulation is fit for purpose and that transparency is displayed on all levels in order to establish trust. There appears to be scope for improvement on these fronts at the present time.”
The report warned that a shale gas industry may be attractive to the Treasury, but it must not be encouraged to develop through light-touch regulation at the expense of critical environmental resources. It said “any UK shale gas industry will need to be an exemplar of good practice, alongside those bodies which govern and regulate it.”
The CIWEM called on government ministers to ensure their messages on shale gas were consistent with those of their departments. Some leading members of the government have, for example, said shale gas would reduce energy prices, despite statements from the industry that this is unlikely in the short or medium term.
The report suggests that the risks of a shale industry to water resources may have been exaggerated. It said the volume of water used in fracking appeared large in isolation but was small when compared with other industrial uses. However, the report said fracking could have local consequences if a significantly-sized production industry developed, particularly in the south east, where water resources were already stressed.
On water pollution, it said risks to groundwater from wellbore failure must be seriously considered. Construction should be closely monitored to ensure that best practice was followed. Where there were doubts about the risk of fracking to drinking water, the Environment Agency should take a precautionary approach. Good baseline data was essential to identify pollution incidents and full details of all environmental monitoring programmes should be disclosed.