Controls needed to cut risk of spills and leaks from UK shale gas industry – new research

pnr 170822 Ros Wills3

Preston New Road, 22 August 2017. Photo: Ros Wills

The UK could see up to one spill for every four large shale gas pads, according to researchers.

In the first study of its kind, the Researching Fracking in Europe (ReFine) consortium has predicted that for production pads with 10 lateral wells there could be one onsite spill for every 16 pads. When 40 laterals were developed on a single pad, the rate was estimated to increase to one spill for every four pads.

The researchers from Durham and Newcastle Universities also looked at the risk of spills during the transport of liquids to and from sites. They predicted there could be one road spill for every 19 pads.

The study concluded that strict controls would be “a necessity” to minimise the risk of leaks and spills from any future shale gas industry in the UK.

Flowback fluid is usually highly saline, sometimes five times the salinity of sea water. It can also contain heavy metals, fracking chemicals, naturally-occurring radioactive material and hydrocarbons. Spills of flowback water, produced water, fracking fluid and chemicals are potentially hazardous if they enter natural ecosystems.

Lead author Sarah Clancy, a PhD student at Durham University, said:

“There is currently no shale gas production within Europe, but exploration wells are underway and the public has expressed concerns about the effects on the environment including the potential for leaks to pollute land, surface water and groundwater.

“Given the highlighted risks of spills from shale gas operations, mitigation methods are a necessity.

“If a shale industry is to go forward in the UK, or across Europe, appropriate strategies need to be in place to minimise the risk of spills associated with well site activities and the transportation, handling, storage and disposal of hydraulic fracturing related fluids.”

The study, published yesterday in the journal, Science of the Total Environment, used data on reported onsite spills in the shale industry in Texas (1999-2015) and Colorado (2009-2015). The researchers suggested that the number of reported spills may be an under-estimate. Despite this spills in both states increased over the period of study.

The researchers said the most common cause was equipment failure, corrosion, what were described as “acts of God” and human error. In Colorado, a third of spills were spotted during site remediation and random site inspections.

The study said:

“It is important that regular site inspections are performed by an appropriately trained work force and where possible constant onsite monitoring is carried out.”

The researchers called for systematic equipment checks and regular site monitoring during operation and after abandonment to identify equipment failures.

Last week, the industry organisation, UK Onshore Oil and Gas restated its case that 400 UK shale gas sites would be built over the next 20 years (link here). This followed an unpublished Cabinet Office report which estimated 30-35 sites by 2022.

Road spills

20140131 Barton Moss Peter Yankowski

Photo: Peter Yankowski

The researchers estimated that in the first two years of drilling, a well pad with 10 laterals would require at least 2,856 tanker movements, each with a potential capacity of 30,000 litres of liquid.

Using spill data from UK milk and oil tanker industries, they predicted that a shale industry would be likely to experience an incident on the roads for every 12 well pads developed and a road spill for every 19 well pads over the lifetime of a well.

The paper said:

“Our analysis shows that when tanker movements for a single 10-well pad with 10 laterals is concentrated over two years the likely annual number of spills is less than one.”

But it added:

“Our calculations show that the number of spills increases to 2-6 when 100 wells sites with 10 wells per pad with one lateral each is developed.”

Previous research into commercial road transport has shown that long journeys, driver fatigue, time pressures, and unsuitable roads, such as country lanes made worse by bad weather or heavy traffic, could contribute to accidents and spills.

The researchers recommended there should be regular vehicle inspections and maintenance; specialised training and instruction for drivers; and appropriate driving schedules and routes.

Most UK onshore oil and gas sites have traffic management plans which specify delivery routes and hours for heavy goods vehicles. But campaigners against the industry have identified breaches of these plans at sites across the country.

Link to study

  • The ReFine website says: “The consortium is primarily funded by Ineos, with contributions from the Natural Environment Research Council, Environment Agency and the EU.” It adds: “Although partly funded by the energy industry, ReFINE enforces strict governance and ethical procedures to ensure that funders have no control over the research that is undertaken or published”.

35 replies »

  1. All very eco correct Sherwulfe but unfortunately, scientifically, nonsense. Food should be to sustain life, but the production of food has risk elements that need controlling. I’m sure you could Giggle away for years and find plenty of references to serious outbreaks of food poisoning where deaths have occurred. How about botulism from consumption of duck eggs? A few forgot that duck eggs are pretty porous and when produced outside onto muddy ground (ducks do that) , as they cool, bacteria are drawn in through the shell-and hey ho, a serious outbreak of botulism. In that case, husbandry is the answer but “greens” will try and ruin that by insisting that ducks be “allowed” to puddle around in mud. Equally, when salmonella infects a soya processing factory the strain found will invariably be found in the pigeons around the factory. (Soya is the major protein source within animal feed). It is not the soya infecting the pigeons but the other way round. Then the soya needs to be treated for a period to prevent the infection transmitting to livestock, until it can be eradicated in the factory. That is not as simple as it sounds and is akin to trying to remove a virus from a hospital ward.
    As most industries, farming has hazards within the production of food. We expect precautions to be taken to prevent those hazards coming through the food chain and, within the UK, we are pretty good at that. But, it does, in some cases require the transportation of what are classified as hazardous materials, probably a little more hazardous than milk, but it is managed on a daily basis. When the public enjoy horses frolicking in a sunlit meadow they don’t think that equines are very sensitive to mycotoxins and yet consume forages that can be a vector for such. It’s control that prevents that being a problem, not luck.

    • Well that, as usual Martin is very naive.

      As humans we were originally carrion eaters; after the lions and vultures had had their fill. When we acquired? our cognitive improvements we were able to progress onto the real deal; all very scientific. No cooking at this point, by the way and we still survived as immune systems were in line with natural food – you don’t get many lions dying of salmonella and botulism in the wild; just killed by trophy poachers.

      If you want to make excuses for the ‘food’ industry, then go ahead by all means. Just as the oil and gas polluters it’s all contributing to our cognitive decline and only a few will remain, if the oxygen levels are sustainable after the big wipe out?

      And sadly the horses are subjected to this myth of nutrition when the grass and correctly dried hay works better all round…..

      It’s control that is the problem, the limiting to badly produced, profit induced product instead of sound nutrition and natural consumption; provided at feeding stations in the human zoo..

  2. Ahh yes, let’s all return to the good old prehistoric ages Sherwulfe. Well, try that with the population level we have in the UK now, and the land mass we have to provide food for them. Those mammoths disappeared a long time ago. Feel free to eat contaminated food Sherwulfe. Many in developing countries do, as they have little choice, and then they die-so much for their immune system protecting them. You may feel that is worth turning a blind eye to as it is inconvenient to your position, others do their best to help avoid that continuing to occur.

    But an interesting little discourse as it identifies the “expert” platform built on straw, so familiar now. By the way, what is correctly dried hay when the UK has a wet summer? Ahh, the good old crop driers. Back to the transport of hazardous materials!

    • Just as expected, MC, no real regard for human or indeed animal life. Keep going, you are ever more revealed or should that be reviled by the day. ‘You may feel that is worth turning a blind eye to as it is inconvenient to your position, others do their best to help avoid that continuing to occur.’ – this statement is best served to yourself.

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