Fracking will be safe for local people and the environment only if the drilling is done to the highest standard and operations are rigorously monitored and regulated, the industry-funded Shale Gas Task Force said this morning.
In its second report on fracking, the Task Force highlighted “four essential ingredients for safe operation”:
- Full disclosure of fracking chemicals
- Baseline monitoring of groundwater, air and soil from the beginning
- Independently regulated strong well integrity
- Green completions to minimise emissions and contain gas created
The Task Force came out against the disposal of waste fluid by deep injection. It called for monitoring of data on health impacts by an independent committee and said Public Health England should evaluate its 2013 report once a significant number of wells had been established.
Its chair, Lord Smith, said concerns about fracking were legitimate. They were often caused by poor practice elsewhere in the world, including poorly constructed wells.
“It is therefore crucial that stringent regulations are established in the UK”, he 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.”
The report aimed to assess local environmental and health impacts of fracking. The Task Force recommended all chemicals used in shale gas operations must be disclosed by operators. The Environment Agency must monitor on-site to confirm the level of additives are within agreed and safe limits.
As soon as a potential site is identified, groundwater, air and soil should be monitored to provide baseline data. Local community representatives should oversee monitoring and all results should be made public. Current planning regulations that require full planning consent before boreholes can be drilled for monitoring should be changed, the Task Force said.
“Operators must commit and be held to the very highest standards in well construction, which should be independently monitored”, the Task Force said.
Mandatory green Completions
It said the process which minimises onsite fugitive emissions should be mandatory for production wells.
The Task Force said disposal of waste fluid by deep injection, which has been associated with earthquakes in the United States, should be avoided. This was in line with current Environment Agency practice, it added, particularly where geology was 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”, the Task Force said.
Public Health England should commit to reassessing and evaluating its 2013 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.
The Task Force said its conclusions were based on “months of academic review, visits to communities potentially affected by fracking, input from industry, experts, campaigners and relevant associations”.
Lord Smith said: “Our guiding principle is to provide trusted, factual and impartial information that people need in order to make up their own minds”.
The Task Force published a briefing document on its website this morning which sets out the scientific foundations of its findings. The first report, published earlier this year, called for a new bespoke regulator for onshore underground energy to assume the current responsibilities of the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and the regulatory activities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
- The Task Force was established in September 2014 and is funded by businesses in the shale gas sector. The Task Force says it operates independently of its funders. Its constitution states that funders have no control or influence over how the Task Force operates, what it publishes or what conclusions it reaches. Reports on climate change and economics of shale gas are scheduled for 2015. A final report will be issued in 2016.