Recent research round-up: March 2016


This round-up looks at 30+ recent studies about fracking published since late October 2015. Please let us know if we’ve missed a report you think should be included. Click here to get in touch.

Reports and research are grouped into categories and listed in date order, with the most recent first. Click on the title to go to the full study.

Click here to go to the Resources section of DrillOrDrop for our review of research on fracking and onshore oil and gas dating back to 2011.

Attitudes to shale gas

Majority of Scots want next Scottish Government to make renewables a priorityYouGov poll of 1,013 people for Scottish Renewables, 1st March 2016
The poll showed 70% of Scots wanted renewable energy to be a government priority. 19% wanted shale gas fracking to be prioritised. 42% said the government should not prioritise building new or extending the life of fossil fuel power stations. 33% said new nuclear power should be a priority.

North West Energy Task Force Lancashire business survey, ComRes poll, 17th February 2016
An survey of decision-makers in Lancashire businesses concluded that 53% believed the development of a shale gas industry in the county would have a positive impact on the Lancashire economy. 32% said the benefit they would most like to see from a shale gas industry would be giving priority for any new jobs created to local residents.

Department of Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker – Wave 16, 2nd February 2016
This ongoing opinion poll found that middle aged professional women living in villages were the most likely opponents of fracking. It again confirmed that the more people know about fracking the more likely they were to oppose it. The most frequently stated reason for opposition to shale gas was the threat to the natural environment. Support for fracking was highest among men and people aged over 65. Overall, opposition to fracking (29%) was higher than support (21%). But the largest proportion of people surveyed were neither opposed nor in favour (44%).

Department of Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker – Wave 15, 10th November 2015
This poll in the ongoing survey found the highest level of opposition to shale gas exploitation so far. The gap between support and opposition was the largest recorded in the survey and the proportion of participants who were undecided was at its lowest level. Opposition to fracking stood at 31%, an increase from 28% in the previous survey in June. Support for shale gas stood at 23%, up from 21% in the June survey. People who said they neither supported nor opposed made up 43%, down from 46% in June. People who said they didn’t know stood at 3%, down from 5% in June.

Climate change

The future role of natural gas in the UK, Christophe McGlade, University College London (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Resources; Steve Pye, University College London (UCL) Energy Institute; Jim Watson, UKERC and SPRU, University of Sussex; Mike Bradshaw, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick; and Paul Ekins, UKERC and University College London (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Resources, Uk Energy Research Centre, 23rd February 2016
The report concluded

  • Gas can play only a modest role as a bridging fuel in the UK between now and 2020
  • Without carbon capture and storage, there is little scope for gas use in power generation beyond 2030
  • The economic logic in investing in new combined cycle gas turbine power stations is undermined
  • A second ‘dash for gas’ could compromise the UK’s decarbonisation ambitions
  • The UK lacks a clear vision for the future role of gas

Global temperatures set to reach 1 °C marker for first time, The Met Office, 9th November 2015
This analysis of Met Office data showed that for the first time global mean temperatures at the earth’s surface were set to reach 1 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. It added that 2,000Gt of Co2 had been emitted, meaning that two-thirds of the budget needed to reach 2 degrees of warming had already been used.


Just fracking: a distributive environmental justice analysis of unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania, USA, Emily Clough1 and Derek Bell, Environmental Research Letters Focus on Environmental Justice: New Directions in International Research, Volume 11, Number 2, 15th February 2016
The authors concluded there is no evidence of traditional distributive environmental injustice: there is not a disproportionate number of minority or low-income residents in areas near to unconventional wells. But they said there was evidence of benefit sharing distributive environmental injustice: the income distribution of the population nearer to shale gas wells has not been transformed since shale gas development.

The Economic Impacts of a UK Shale Gas Industry, Task Force on Shale Gas, 15th December 2015
The report concluded that a shale gas industry would create thousands of the jobs but presently available predictions were based on “less than ideal” data and “intelligent guesswork”. It called for: Greater clarity on the tax arrangements for operators

  • Government spending to develop skills and training programmes
  • Exact outline of how the community benefits of exploratory wells will be provided and a definition of “community”
  • Payment schemes should not be left to operators or local authorities
  • Definition of community

UK Shale – not a compelling proposition, Gundi Royle, Presentation, 6th November 2015
Energy analyst and geologist, Gundi Royle, makes the case that shale will not make money when oil prices are below $100 a barrel or $6mmbtu of gas. She looks at what has motivated IGas and INEOS to invest in UK shale.


A large increase in U.S. methane emissions over the past decade inferred from satellite data and surface observations, A. J. Turner, D. J. Jacob, J. Benmergui, S. C. Wofsy, J. D. Maasakkers, A. Butz, O. Hasekamp, S. C. Biraud in Geophysical Research Letters, 2nd March 2016
Satellite retrievals and surface observations of atmospheric methane suggested that US methane emissions had increased by more than 30% from 2002-2014. The authors said the trend was largest in the central part of the US.  They could not readily attribute it to any specific source but they said shale gas production increased nine-fold during the same period. The increase in U.S. methane emissions could account for 30–60% of the global growth of atmospheric methane seen in the past decade.

Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical Industry, Environmental Integrity Project, 29th February 2016
The study concluded that fracking and horizontal drilling in the US has led to the growth of the petrochemical industry and an associated increase in greenhouse gases. In 2015, 44 construction projects were proposed or permitted and are expected to release 86m tons of greenhouse gasses, the equivalent of 19 coal-fired power plants. Over the past five years, emissions from petrochemicals could equal pollution from 39 coal plants. Efforts to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions will have to increase to keep pace with petrochemical expansion.

Methane Emissions from Conventional and Unconventional Natural Gas Production Sites in the Marcellus Shale Basin, Mark Omara, Melissa R. Sullivan, Xiang Li, R. Subramanian, Allen L. Robinson, and Albert A. Presto, Environmental Science & Technology, 29th January 2016
The authors compared methane emissions from conventional and unconventional gas wells in the Marcellus region. Emission rates at unconventional sites in production were 23 times greater than the conventional sites. The differences were attributed partly to the large size and higher production at unconventional sites. The conventional sites had a greater prevalence of what the study called “avoidable process operating conditions”. Regionally, emissions from conventional pads exceeded that from unconventional pads reflecting the large number of conventional wells.

Fugitive emissions of methane from abandoned, decommissioned oil and gas wells, I.M. Boothroyda, S. Almond, S.M. Qassim, F. Worrall, R.J. Davies, Science of The Total Environment, 26th January 2016
The study based on 102 abandoned onshore wells concluded that 30% were leaking methane. But the average leak produced lower emissions than a breeding dairy cow. However, in the most extreme example, methane was 147% higher than the control. In 39 out of 102 wells, soil gas methane was significantly lower than controls. The study found that leaks were caused by well integrity failure and wells were most likely to leak within 10 years of being abandoned.

The facts about fugitive methane, Elizabeth A Muller and Richard A Muller, Centre for Policy Studies, 26th October 2015
The authors argued that replacing coal-fired electricity generating plants with gas would help reduce global greenhouse emissions. They estimated average methane leakage across the gas supply chain was below 3%, which they argued was less than half the warming potential of coal.


Investor confidence in the UK energy sector, House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, 1st March 2016
The committee concluded that a series of government policy announcements during summer 2015 had had an impact on the confidence of many investors. It estimated the cost of households could be £120 a year. It called for more clarity on existing policy and a “credible long-term vision for the future UK energy system.

Engineering the electricity gap, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 26th January 2016
This report and policy statement said opposition to shale gas raised doubts about whether it would be ready by 2025 to meet demand for gas for electricity generation.

Mad maths: How new diesel generators are securing excessive returns at billpayers’ expense, Jimmy Aldridge, Institute for Public Policy Research, 8th December 2015
The study found that the government’s capacity market awarded £109m in subsidies last year to operators of diesel generators, the dirtiest form of energy generation. The cost was likely to increase in December 2015, it said, by up to £434m. It predicted a rapid proliferation of diesel generators, which would hamper emission reduction and undermine investment in clean technology.


A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity, Elise G Elliott, Adrienne S Ettinger, Brian P Leaderer, Michael B Bracken and Nicole C Deziel. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 6th January 2016
The study of more than 1,000 chemicals used in and created by fracking in the United States found that 15% were linked to reproductive and developmental health problems. The researchers at Yale School of Public Health discovered 157 substances in fracking fluids or wastewater which were associated with reproductive or development toxicity. They were particularly concerned about 67 chemicals because they were the subject of a federal health standard or guideline.

Selenium enrichment in Carboniferous Shales, Britain and Ireland: Problem or opportunity for shale gas extraction? John Parnell, Connor Brolly, Sam Spinks, Stephen Bowden, Applied Geochemistry, 12th December 2015
The study, by University of Aberdeen, found “anomalously high” levels of trace elements selenium, molybdenum and arsenic in the Bowland shale, an areas earmarked for fracking in northern England. The researchers recommended monitoring for selenium and arsenic in groundwater, given concerns that it could be released and cause contamination. They also suggested that selenium could be extracted as a by-product of fracking.

Human rights and legal

Keep Moving. Report on the policing of the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp November 2013-April 2014, Dr Joanna Gilmore (York Law School, University of York), Dr Will Jackson (School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University) and Dr Helen Monk (School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University), Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion, Liverpool John Moores University Centre for URBan Research (CURB), University of York, February 2016
The authors concluded:

  • The protest at Barton Moss was overwhelmingly peaceful.
  • The policing operation undermined the right of protesters to protest peacefully at Barton Moss.
  • The Police and Crime Commissioners panel report on the protest largely excluded the voices of protesters.
  • Greater Manchester Police’s communication strategy focussed on justifying the policing operation
  • An apparent lack of trust between protesters and police prevented effective dialogue
  • Violent behaviour and harassment were central features of the policing operation
  • Several women reported sexualised violence by Greater Manchester Police officers

Local impacts

Fear of Fracking: earthquakes linked to shale gas exploration cause house prices to fall, Professor Steve Gibbons, Spatial Economic Research Centre, London School of Economics; Dr Stephan Heblich, University of Bristol; Esther Lho, Duke University; Professor Christopher Timmins, Duke University, National Bureau of Economic Research. PolicyBristol Briefing 22/2016, March 2016
Licensing of areas for oil and gas had a minimal impact on house prices. But two earthquakes linked to fracking near Blackpool in 2011 had led to a 3-4% reduction in house prices nearby.

Extent of fracking in Sheffield and Yorkshire beauty spots, House of Commons Library, 23rd February 2016
Research commissioned by Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, found that one-sixth or 533sq km of protected land in Yorkshire was now in areas set aside for fracking. 140 of Yorkshire’s SSSIs, (almost half) were covered by Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences.

The housing market impacts of shale gas development, Lucija Muehlenbachs, Elisheba Spiller, and Christopher Timmins, American Economic Review, 14th December 2015
The research conducted in Pennsylvania concluded that home values declined steeply when fracking occurred in neighbourhoods that used well water. But the outcome differed in neighbourhoods that relied on piped water, where home values rose slightly after shale gas drilling.


Investigating the traffic-related environmental impacts of hydraulic-fracturing (fracking) operations , Paul S. Goodman , Fabio Galatioto , Neil Thorpe, , Anil K. Namdeo , Richard J. Davies , Roger N. Bird, Environment International, 24th February 2016
The authors, working for the Refine consortium, concluded single fracking well pads created substantial increases in local air quality pollutants during peak activity. Short-duration/large-magnitude events may adversely affect local ambient air quality and noise. Daily NOx emissions may increase by over 30% and hourly noise levels could double (+ 3.4 dBA).

See also Health section for Selenium enrichment in Carboniferous Shales, Britain and Ireland: Problem or opportunity for shale gas extraction? John Parnell, Connor Brolly, Sam Spinks, Stephen Bowden, Applied Geochemistry, 12th December 2015


Adequacy of Current State Setbacks for Directional High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus, Barnett, and Niobrara Shale Plays, Marsha Haley, Michael McCawley, Anne C. Epstein, Bob Arrington, and Elizabeth Ferrell Bjerke, Environmental Health Perspectives, 19th February 2016
The authors conclude that setbacks distances between well pad sites and homes may not be sufficient to reduce potential threats to human health in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs. It is more likely that a combination of reasonable setbacks with controls for other sources of pollution associated with the process will be required.

Shale Gas and Water 2016, Laura Grant and Alastair Chisholm, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, February 2016
The report, described as an independent review, concluded that the shale gas industry had developed guidelines and the regulators have produced standard rules and guidance on best available techniques (BAT) to minimise harm. It said the expansion of the industry would “almost certainly not be quick”. To minimise disruption the industry would need to be “well-run” with a high level of transparency suitably involving stakeholders at all levels and employing BAT. CIWEM said the most significant risk was from the management of flowback and produced water. Good baseline data was required on water quality and continual scrutiny by all parties and further research is needed.

Task Force on Shale Gas: Final conclusions and recommendations, Task Force on Shale Gas, 15th December 2015
The final report concluded that shale gas could be produced safely and useful provided the government insisted on industry-leading standards. Risks, the Task Force said, were not greater than those associated with comparable industries, again provided that operators followed best practice. Exploratory drilling to ascertain how much gas may be recoverable should begin. It said baseline monitoring of air, land and water should begin as soon as possible. Well operators must be held to the highest standards of well integrity and the process of “green completions” should be compulsory. There should no venting of gases and flaring should be for small time-limited exploration only.


Use of borehole imaging to improve understanding of the in-situ stress orientation of Central and Northern England and its implications for unconventional hydrocarbon resources, Andrew Kingdon, Mark W. Fellgett and John D.O. Williams, Marine and Petroleum Geology, available online 10th February 2016
The authors concluded that the use of high-resolution borehole imaging produced a more reliable assessment of in-situ stress orientation in fracking boreholes. They recommended these tools should become a standard assessment before fracking began in the UK.

Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald Basins, UK, David K Smythe, Solid Earth 27th January 2016
The author analysed case histories in Lancashire and Sussex and concluded that UK shale exploration to date has been characterised by a low degree of technical competence, and that regulation divided between four separate authorities, was not up to the task. If UK shale was to be exploited safely, he argued, more sophisticated seismic imaging methods needed to be developed and applied to both the Bowland and Weald basins, to identify faults in shale with throws as small as 4-5 m. He also recommended that what he called the current lax and inadequate regulatory regime must be overhauled, unified, and tightened up.

The importance of characterizing uncertainty in controversial geoscience applications: induced seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in northwest England, Rob Westaway Proceedings of the Geologists Association, 7 January 2016
The author concluded that the Preese Hall earthquake in 2011 fitted what he describes as “an emerging trend of relatively large induced earthquakes in localities with high differential stress”. He said it should not have been unexpected. He suggested the earthquake was caused by the southward leakage of fracking fluid into a fault. He argued that given the “pervasive presence” of steep faults striking NNE-SSW or NE-SW, future occurrences of similar induced seismicity should be planned for. They posed a significant technical challenge to any future UK shale-gas industry, he added.

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