Fracking research roundup: February 2017


This round-up collects together studies, briefings and reports from the past six months on fracking and the onshore oil and gas industry. It includes work on methane emissions, public attitudes to fracking, economics of fossil fuels, impacts of noise on health and dealing with waste.

Please let us know if we’ve missed a reference you think should be included.  Click here to get in touch.

These papers will also be added to the Research section of DrillOrDrop which has links to studies on fracking and onshore oil and gas dating back to 2011. Look for this section under Resources on the menu.

New in this post: following a request from a DrillOrDrop reader, we’ve identified journals that are peer-reviewed.


Everything you always wanted to know about acidising (pdf)
Kathryn McWhirter for the Weald Action Group, January 2017
The author argues that acidising/acid fracking poses a threat to the environment, health, quality of life and climate. It is one of four processes, including fracking, that could cause oil and gas wells to proliferate in their thousands across our countryside. She says it slips under the radar and avoids the regulation (weak as it is) that now surrounds shale gas. Politicians, NGOs, planners, water companies, regulators and communities need to object to and campaign against acidising as well as fracking for shale gas.

Attitudes to fracking

Public Attitudes tracking survey, Wave 20
Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 9 February 2017
This quarterly opinion survey recorded a 1% increase in support for fracking to 18% and a 2% fall in opposition to 31%. The proportion who neither support nor oppose was up 1% to 49%. Awareness of shale gas fell slightly to 75% from a record of 79% in the previous survey. People who had never heard of shale gas rose to 25%, from a record low of 21%.

Briefings and presentations

How fracking supports the plastic industry
Food and Water Watch, February 2017
This briefing by the public interest organisation argues that the plastics industry has reaped under-the-radar benefits from the fracking boom, which has produced an oversupply of cheap ethane. It says “transforming ethane into plastics and other products is inherently toxic, polluting the environment and imposing public health risks on petrochemical workers and the communities near the plants”. The plants emit air and climate pollutants, the report says. It adds that industry is energy-intensive and inherently wasteful because the largest sector is packaging which is immediately thrown away. Much of the plastic waste ends up in oceans and surface waters, the briefing argues.

Briefing paper on shale gas and fracking
Church of England, 17 January 2017
This paper concluded that any development of shale gas reserves in the UK must not distract or delay efforts to expand low-carbon renewable energy (including community-owned energy) or other efforts to meet the UK’s long-term 2050 carbon reduction targets. It argued that the acceptability of fracking depended on: the place of shale gas within a transitional energy policy committed to a low carbon economy; the adequacy and robustness of the regulatory regime under which it is conducted; the robustness of local planning and decision-making processes. It accepted that a robust planning and regulatory regime was possible and that ongoing research and monitoring were needed on health and environmental impacts. The paper said the legitimate concerns of affected communities should be heard and that appropriate protections and compensation put in place.

Review of Church of England briefing paper on shale gas and fracking (pdf)
Mike Hill, January 2017
The author reviews the conclusions of the Church of England briefing paper. Mike Hill says the paper highlights evidence that is “considerably behind current technical and sociological thinking on the facts surrounding fracking in the UK. This has resulted in the paper giving false confidence to the public with respect to fracking safety, its regulation and its contribution to greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. This false confidence may be described as ‘flawed’ at best and is in fact potentially reckless.”

The need for natural gas development (Powerpoint file)
Vincent Booth, January 2017
The author argues that the UK should support shale gas for the following reasons: security of supply; the variability of renewable energy; the cost of renewables and the energy produced; paid for by the low paid and poorest people; benefit to the balance of payments; employment opportunities.

Climate Change

A stress test for coal in Europe under the Paris Agreement
Climate Analytics, 9 February 2017
This report calculates that to stay within the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature limits of well below 2 degrees C the EU’s C02 emissions budget for coal in the power sector is around 6.5Gt by 2050. The EU will exceed its Paris Agreement-compatible coal emissions budget by 85% if its existing coal-fired power plants continue operating to their full lifespan. The report says emissions from coal in the EU electricity sector need to be close to zero by 2030, with a quarter of operating coal-fired power plants switched off by 2020.


Expect the unexpected: The disruptive power of low-carbon technology
Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Institute, 1 February 2017
The report challenges the wisdom of backing fossil fuel expansion. It predicts that the falling costs of electric vehicle and solar technology could half growth in global demand for oil and coal from 2020. The authors warn that big energy companies are “seriously underestimating low carbon advances with a business-as-usual approach and that stranding of fossil fuel assets is likely as the low-carbon transition gathers pace”. It predicts a scenario where solar PV could supply 23% of global power generation in 2040 and 29% by 2050, entirely phasing out coal and leaving gas with a 1% market share.

UK-based oil and gas sector insolvencies hit a new high
Jeremy Willlmont for Moore Stephens, 3 January 2017
This study by a London firm of accountants revealed that 16 UK oil and gas companies became insolvent in 2016, up from two the year before. The author said: “The collapse of the price of oil has stretched many UK independents to breaking point. The last 15 years has seen a large increase in the number of UK oil and gas independents exploring and producing everywhere from Iraq to the Falkland Islands. Unless there is a consistent upward trend in the oil price, conditions will remain tough for many of those and insolvencies may continue.”

Government policy

Evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Shale Gas Regulation and Planning
Jesse Norman, Energy Minister, 23 January 2017
In a letter to the APPG, Mr Norman says it is vital to “seize the opportunity to explore the UK’s shale gas potential while maintaining the very highest safety and environmental standards, which we have established as world leaders in extracting oil and gas over decades. The Government is committed to developing this new source of energy as part of our work to ensure our energy security. Developing shale gas could create a whole new British industry, provide more jobs and make us less reliant on imports from abroad.


Overview of Silica-Related Clusters in the United States: Will Fracking Operations Become the Next Cluster?
Thomas Quail, Journal of Environmental Health (peer-reviewed journal), January/February 2017
This report on silicosis in the US, argues that industries have impeded government oversight, resulting in silicosis exposure clusters. “The risk of acquiring silicosis is diminished when industry implements safety measures with oversight by governmental agencies. Reputable authorities believe that the current innovative drilling techniques such as fracking will generate future cases of silicosis in the U.S. if safety measures to protect workers are ignored.”

Public health implications of environmental noise associated with unconventional oil and gas development
Jake Hays, Michael McCawley, Seth B.C. Shonkoffd, Science of the Total Environment (peer-reviewed journal), 9 December 2016
This literature review concluded that oil and gas activities produced noise at levels that may increase the risk of adverse health outcomes, including annoyance, sleep disturbance, and cardiovascular disease. More studies that investigate the relationships between noise exposure and human health risks from unconventional oil and gas development were warranted, the authors argued, and policies and mitigation techniques that limit human exposure to noise from oil and gas operations should be considered to reduce health risks.

Induced seismicity

A global review of human-induced earthquakes (pdf)
Gillian R. Foulger, Miles Wilson, Jon Gluyas, Bruce R. Julian & Richard Davies, Earth Science Reviews (peer-reviewed journal), submitted January 2017
The study draws on the Durham University iQuake database which recorded more than 700 earthquakes from 1868-2016. It found that 3.9% of induced earthquakes were caused by fracking and another 5% by waste fluid injection. Mining caused 37.4%, water reservoir impoundment 23.3% and conventional oil and gas 15%.

Methane emissions

Analysis of local-scale background concentrations of methane and other gas-phase species in the Marcellus Shale
J. Douglas Goetz, Anita Avery, Ben Werden, Cody Floerchinger, Edward C. Fortner, Joda Wormhoudt, Paola Massoli, Scott C. Herndon, Charles E. Kolb, W. Berk Knighton, Jeff Peischl, Carsten Warneke, Joost A. de Gouw, Stephanie L. Shaw, Peter F. DeCarlo, Elementa Science of the Anthropocene (peer-reviewed journal), 9 February 2017
This research from Drexel University found that atmospheric methane levels in the Marcellus Shale in north east Pennsylvania increased from 2012-2015, despite a slow-down in the number of new gas wells. Measurements showed a substantial increase from 2012-2015. Peter DeCarlo, who led the study, ascribes the rapid increase to increased gas production. He said: “With the increased background levels of methane, the relative climate benefit of natural gas over coal for power production is reduced.”

Controls on Methane Occurrences in Shallow Aquifers Overlying the Haynesville Shale Gas Field, East Texas
Jean-Philippe Nicot, Toti Larson, Roxana Darvari, Patrick Mickler, Michael Slotten, Jordan Aldridge, Kristine Uhlman, Ruth Costley, Groundwater (peer-reviewed journal), 19 January 2017
This research found a zone of elevated microbial and thermogenic methane linked to an active fault system. The authors concluded that the pathway for methane from a shallow and deeper reservoirs was provided by the fault system.

Water, waste and contamination

Final submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Shale Gas Regulation and Planning
John Busby, 10 February 2017
The author argues that a universal treatment facility is needed to cater for all the possible variations in wastewater content. He also says a mobile universal treatment plant will be needed to cater for the wastewater arising from exploratory well drilling. He calculates that current inland treatment works will be inadequate if fracking went into full production. The only practical, universal method of ensuring that fracking wastewater could be treated satisfactorily is by zero liquid discharge systems, he says. Full production would require an investment in an adequately-sized, centralised treatment plan to serve the fracking locations. Adequate treatment would be expensive and energy-intensive, he adds.

Evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Shale Gas Regulation and Planning on the EPA report
The Environment Agency, 16 January 2017
In this evidence, The Environment Agency reviews how six potential impacts of fracking on drinking water – identified by the US EPA – would be mitigated and regulated in England. It responds to risks from water withdrawals at times of low availability; spills of chemicals resulting in groundwater contamination; inadequate mechanical integrity of wells; injection of fluids into groundwater resources; discharge of inadequately treated wastewater to surface water; disposal of wastewater in unlined pits.

Effects on Biotransformation, Oxidative Stress, and Endocrine Disruption in Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) Exposed to Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback and Produced Water
Yuhe He, Erik J. Folkerts, Yifeng Zhang, Jonathan W. Martin, Daniel S. Alessi, and Greg G. Goss, Environmental Science & Technology (peer-reviewed journal), December 2016
This study, from the University of Alberta, concluded that hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water could cause significant adverse effects on fish and the organic contents might play the major role in its toxicity.

Updated at 12.36 to include How fracking supports the plastic industry

8 replies »

  1. Crikey. Well anyone reading that may come to the conclusion this website is sponsored by people with an anti agenda…..oh wait.
    Tbh I merely glanced over it as I quickly realised the authors aren’t of any stature and all their arguments of course can be argued against.
    Keep trying though.

  2. Research roundup??? From the first pdf: “acidising leads to fracking”. “Fracking is for shales”
    No and No; this is complete rubbish. If you are going to publish a “research” roundup please consider using scientific papers from the likes of the AAPG or SPE rather than what people with (apparently) no scientific background are compiling.

  3. Sorry to hear that some of these inclusions upset the pro-fracking [edited by moderator] who frequent this page with monotonous regularity. While a couple of these are referenced round-ups of research, rather than original research papers, many are original research and peer-reviewed papers. But of course the pro-frackers never actually click through and read the research – not just the executive summaries, the actual research – and dismiss everything that does not support their view on the subject. The final paper, for example, by Yuhe He, Erik J. Folkerts, Yifeng Zhang, Jonathan W. Martin, Daniel S. Alessi, and Greg G. Goss, Environmental Science & Technology (peer-reviewed journal), December 2016 is very interesting reading – but why bother of all you do is just criticise any research that you don’t like and try to undermine its credibility. Paul Seaman, could you read the entire report and then explain to us why you think this is not worth including in this report?

  4. Slight diversion relating to the Oroville Dam Spillway collapse.
    That dam engineers are investigating the possible reason for the damage to the Oroville Dam spillway and its collapse and endangering the rest of the dam by undermining it.
    Basically a process of aeration slots has been used in various dams to prevent the process of cavitation, essentially the build up of tiny bubbles on the surface of small cracks which under pressure and speed, such as the recent unprecedented and rapid storms, the small bubbles act like jack hammers and can completely destroy defective concrete within hours.
    In spite of the danger of this happening to the Oroville Dam, flagged up 12 years ago and funds made available for the work, nothing was done, the Oroville Dam and the spillway therefore have no such measures to prevent cavitation. Indeed the funds seem to have disappeared and not even regular investigation and remediation took place until the damage was obvious, hence the sorry state of the spillway and its demise.
    The Oroville Dam is the the tallest earth and concrete dam in USA, and was built, somewhat bizarrely, on a well known major fault in the rock beneath, nearby dams are also little more than earth and concrete dams and even more bizarrely, are also built upon major faults. Links below.

    There are some aspect of this that is perhaps applicable to the process of fracking, and may explain some of the earthquake effects and the potential for more as fracking proceeds.
    And that is cavitation, the process only occurs where air and water under pressure and speed are within the same location and defects in structure are available, such as casing joints and bends, by that it could be surmised that drilling into the ground and inserting casing and cement seals still have air around and within them. As the high pressure water and propants are injected under high pressure and speed, then what is to prevent cavitation from taking place? If cavitation can destroy a poorly maintained concrete spillway within hours, then pumping water and sand and propants into a narrow casing under high pressure and speed, must surely cause at least a degree of cavitation at the joints and later in the fracked cracks and fissures opened up from the process?

    it is interesting to note that on the same day of the spillway collapse at the Oroville Dam, that there was a small earthquake registered just hours before, a 2.1 at less than 200 metres deep probably centered in the nearby quarry during blasting activities, yes, blasting in a quarry nearby a dam known to be built upon a major fault line and under pressure due to heavy rain?
    If perhaps this caused further cracks in the dam and spillway and the heavy storms at the time caused the dam to be over topped and the spillway employed to run off the excess water, then perhaps the collapse of the spillway, which had no aeration slots to protect it from cavitation, then became an disaster just waiting to happen.

    So back to fracking, we have a situation unfolding where high pressure water sand and propants are going to be pumped into a new casing and cement sealed drill head, which has a horizontal element that can be kilometers long and explosives to fracture the all ready fractured strata along the way and then we are surprised if a form of water hammer and cavitation occurs and creates nearby earthquakes and further endangers nearby properties and what other industrialised processes, and as we pointed out before, seismic testing only relates to the testing location and as at Mexico City in 1985, amplification can occur anywhere that a silt basin exists.

    These illustrate a small earthquake was amplified by 75 times (Ms = 8.1) in a silt basin underlying Mexico City.

    The questions i might ask are these, is cavitation and its effects controlled or monitored during fracking? And are possible amplification of small tremors investigated and risks established to local areas as part of the process, and are these available to the public?

    Answers anyone?

    • Still off topic but perhaps relevant none the less, simply because it illustrates that a safe process can become disastrous simply by lack of due diligence, and the O&G industry across the world has demonstrated little better or worse.
      Update on the 9 dams above the Oroville dam also threatened by record storms snow and rain, 199mph!! winds recorded. Presently the 9 dams have been prevented from discharging to save the Oroville dam becoming endangered, with more rain on the way, those dams will have to be opened to prevent their failure, and Oroville will again be in danger.

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