Landmark report on fracking to be updated and £7.6m shale gas research confirmed

pnr 180620 Ros Wills 1

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, 19 June 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

A report relied upon by the Government in its support for shale gas extraction is to be updated.

The Royal Society confirmed to DrillOrDrop that it planned to publish a new report on hydraulic fracturing this winter.

The new review, to be carried out with the Royal Academy of Engineering, will look at international evidence on fracking published in the past six years.

The news came as £7.6m of funding for research into UK fracking was confirmed. 17 research institutions will share the money for studies into the risks of fracking, distribution of shale gas, socio-economic impacts, public attitudes and participation and the UK shale gas landscape. (See £7m+ research projects in the second half of this post)

2012 review

Royal Society Royal Academy reportThe previous review by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing, was published in 2012.

Commissioned by the Government and led by Professor Robert Mair, this report concluded that the risk of fracking was

“very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres”.

It stated:

“The health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.”

The terms of reference of the original report were to look at the major risks of hydraulic fracturing to geology and environment and assess whether and how they could be effectively managed. The study did not look at the risk to the climate or health or the use made of shale gas.

The conclusions are quoted regularly by ministers and supporters of fracking as evidence that shale gas can be produced safely in the UK. It was referred to in the key 2015 Written Ministerial Statement on Shale Gas and in Government guidance on fracking. It is also used by local authorities in information about fracking and was quoted earlier this year by the Environment Agency in its report: The State of the environment: water quality.

The 2012 report made 10 main recommendations. These comprised more than 25 individual actions, including the establishment of a single body to lead the regulation of a UK fracking industry – something which has yet to happen.

A traffic light system to respond to seismic activity during fracking has been implemented. Other recommended actions included:

  • Minimising the use of water and recycling of waste water
  • Methane monitoring before, during and after shale gas operations
  • Disposal of waste fluids planned from the outset
  • Arrangements developed for monitoring abandoned wells
  • Guidelines clarified to ensure the independence of well examiners from the site operator
  • Comprehensive national baseline study of methane in groundwater
  • National study of faults in UK shales

The 2012 report said regulation must be fit for purpose and attention paid to the way in which risks scale up if the industry developed. There should also be further research into the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction, the report concluded.

There has been disagreement between supporters and opponents of shale gas extraction about the number of recommendations that have been implemented.

Hywel Thomas


Hywell Thomas. Photo: Royal Society

The new review is to be led by Professor Hywel Thomas, a member of the previous working group and a fellow of the Royal Society since 2012. He is Professor in the School of Engineering at Cardiff University.

He is known for research into the behaviour of excavated and compacted soil. His work is said to have improved understanding of how liquids and gases move through soils, including pollutants in landfill sites.

DrillOrDrop asked the Royal Society about the parameters of the new study.

A spokesperson said:

“The Academies wish to determine to what extent international research into shale gas exploration and extraction has developed since 2012, and will produce a report considering the quality and relevance of this research, and any further research needs based on this evidence. We expect to comment during winter 2018/19.”

The 2012 working group was briefed by experts. One of eight previous evidence-gathering sessions was with non-governmental organisations. Sir Robert Mair said:

“We consulted widely with academia, government, industry and environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF-UK.”

The new study seems unlikely that it will seek public submissions. A spokesperson said:

“As this is an analysis of published research already in the public domain, this piece of work is not suited to a broader call for evidence.”


peter styles 2

Emeritus Professor Peter Styles

The news has been welcomed by one of the academics who established a link between the Blackpool earthquakes and the UK’s first and only high volume hydraulic fracture by Cuadrilla at Preese Hall in 2011.

Emeritus Professor Peter Styles said research in the UK since then has either used data on US fracking or based on models of predicted seismic activity.

He warned that UK and US continental geologies were not the same.

“Caution should be exercised in simply deriving direct analogues between American experience and predicted British geological behaviour.”

Professor Styles has recently published a report on the dangers of fracking in former coal-mining areas, highlighting the increased risk of seismic activity in areas that are already stressed by mining. DrillOrDrop report

He said:

“The data which are probably most pertinent to an appraisal of the likely response of the Bowland Shale (and other likely unconventional oil and gas formations) to changes in stress, comes from analysis of the extensive catalogue of coal mining induced seismicity and its relationship to small-scale fractures which has been mapped in high detail during extremely intensive coal mining beneath Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire where the main prospectivity for shale gas lies.”

Campaigners against fracking have been calling for the update of the 2012 review, along with other reports on the health impacts of fracking (Public Health England, 2014) and potential greenhouse gas emissions (Professor David MacKay and Dr Timothy Stone, 2013). Several campaign organisations welcomed the news.

180319 UKOG injunction Bianca Jagger and Joe Corre

Joe Corre, of Talk Fracking pictured with Bianca Jagger, said:

“I am pleased they are reviewing this report. It is way out of date.

“It has become an embarrassment to the standing of the Royal Society.

It is almost as if they have been dragged, rather than gone voluntarily. But I am glad they are doing something about it.”

A spokesperson for the umbrella network, Frack Free United, said:

“While we welcome the news that the Royal Society are reviewing their desperately outdated report on fracking, we are concerned that this review appears to be taking place in secret, and all other academics, scientists and community groups are being prevented from submitting evidence for inclusion.

“This ‘behind-closed-doors’ approach is unlikely to win the trust of those communities currently threatened by fracking, and could allow the Royal Society to cherry-pick any reports to support the government’s pro-fracking agenda – as appeared to be the case when their first report was published in 2012 – while ignoring evidence that highlights the real and present dangers of shale gas production in the UK.

“We urge the Royal Society to open up the process and allow submissions of relevant research from other interested parties, or run the risk of their review being seen as another government-orchestrated fluff piece for the benefit of their friends in the fracking industry.”

£7m+ research projects

180619 Marsh Lane9

Anti-fracking campaigners outside the inquiry into Ineos shale gas plans at Marsh Lane in Derbyshire. Photo: DrillOrDrop

A total of 26 fracking research projects, worth more than £7.6m, were confirmed yesterday.

The projects cover seven main areas:

  • Assessing and monitoring the UK shale gas landscape
  • Assessment of UK shale resource distribution and analysis of shale mechanical and fluid properties
  • Impact of hydraulic fracturing on the overburden of shale resource plays
  • Assessment of shale gas risk and pathways
  • Public attitudes to shale gas
  • Socio-economic impacts
  • Effective participation

Four individual projects are based at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)/British Geological Survey (BGS). Newcastle and Bristol Universities have three projects each, while Durham and Manchester are hosting two projects.

Newcastle University has received the most funding at £1.35m, followed by NERC/BGS (£1.195m), Bristol (£0.8m) and Exeter (0.5m).

The largest sum (£1.794) goes to projects looking at risk and pathways, divided between eight institutions. A similar amount (£1.767m) goes to the seven institutions looking into the distribution of shale gas.

The grants have been distributed by the Natural Environment and the Economic and Social Research Councils. They said the research programme aimed to:

“Provide an independent scientific evidence base to understand potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction.”

They said:

“NERC and ESRC recognise that unconventional hydrocarbon extraction is a complex issue requiring a holistic approach, encompassing knowledge from both the environmental and social sciences. Seven multi-institution consortium projects will be funded and will commence in summer 2018.”

More details

40 replies »

  1. For information purposes, The President of the Royal Academy of Engineering who is doing the fracking review is Professor Dame Ann Dowling who is a Non Executive Director of B.P. also a Non Director of B.E.I.S. and a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and technology. Just saying.

  2. Any study should cover all unconventional onshore oil and gas activity. And that includes the areas labelled as conventional by government agencies, although recognised by academia as unconventional. It should also include acidisation, as many of the risks and impacts are the same, along with some additional risks. Check out hydrofluoric acid and how hazardous that stuff is! Furthermore the differences in geology between the US and the UK must be taken into account. I trust the study will include recognised geologists with the appropriate background and expertise. I recall a certain A Leadsom referring at an APPG meeting only to the Royal Society report when asked what it was that ‘persuaded’ her (her own words) that fracking could be done safely in the UK. At the same meeting she also stated that she had been ‘persuaded’ that climate change was a reality.

  3. It will be important to lobby for wider inclusion and transparency if the government and the industry want the public to buy in. The anti fracking community should start this immediately. Clive Betts, Lee Rowley, Kevin Barron ect could be asked to take this forward throug APPG, select committee report ect.

  4. Carol-what will get the public to “buy in” will be if fracking in UK starts to appear to be successful and an economic benefit to them. That may be noted BEFORE this study is published.

    • just saw another flying [MC} pig……
      ….and just what do you mean by successful; lines the pockets of your fictitious ‘buddies’ who will stamp on you first chance they get? Hysterical and sad at the same time; almost feel sorry for you – not.

  5. My father and his sister moved to the Fylde in the 1940s from Runcorn in Cheshire and lived to an old age. Their 2 brothers stayed and passed away painfully and early!
    Wonder why that was? Oh yes, Runcorn became the largest chemical plant in Europe!

  6. My successful would mean not gifting money to purchase gas from countries to kill people with the arms that purchases, and, instead produce the “stuff” from under our own feet. Germany has different plans. I know the antis think Germany is a beacon, because of the influence of the Greens, but that sort of policy (relying and buying Russian gas) is an extreme danger to my children, and I don’t support it. Equally, you can transpose the same equation into the Middle East. Although, maybe you are a Trump supporter and would like to help him build the Wall? Three “good” choices.

    So whilst you pontificate about the dangers to our health in the UK you ignore the deaths produced through the alternative, and then state the alternative could (but won’t) be something different even without evidence that is going to happen, in reality, anytime soon, if at all.

    More than sad to tolerate death and destruction to further your argument. (What do you think these countries spend the income on? You may not have a TV, but it is still easy to get the evidence.) Is that why you seem to find it difficult to sleep at night?

    See, I can become serious, when it is justified.

    • You mean the arms made in Blackburn, Warton, Samlesbury etc etc etc?

      It’s YOU who kills people by burning the gas that comes from these regions; it’s your responsibility.

      So, transferring the misery onto [some] of your own communities may be divine justice for some, but in reality just a money generator through virtual reality accounting and generation of numbers on a computer.

      [Edited by moderator]

      Germany has up their game with renewables for precisely the reason you state, so they are no longer reliant on Russian gas.

      We need to drop the tax breaks on oil and gas and show people what the real cost is; then all people can make a choice based on economics if money is their only god. Money from the tax not previously collected can then go to help those who are paid shit wages by offshore companies who won’t pay their taxes, those who cannot get a job because they are the wrong age/sex/location and pensioners who cannot afford to live as they have been shafted by the current governance.

      As 85% will choose a now comparably priced renewable source for their energy, the price of this will come down further. Less energy will be wasted, Oil and gas can stay in the ground, being used sparingly when absolutely needed and the planet can get back in balance so we all have a home for the future; no more oil wars, hallelujah!

        • We are the second biggest arms dealer in the world; a total hypocrisy when we talk of world peace.

          Shale gas is not the answer; just another toxic finite source of fossil fuel with no social licence; another raw material for more plastic.

          Renewables are the answer and we need to move quickly; we have already missed out on opportunities through the dinosaurs dragging their feet.

          Renewables leads to greater freedom of choice, a cleaner planet and less wars over resources like oil and gas.

          Make no mistake, dally for much longer and the world as we know it has gone, there will be mass migration and more wars. We have been lucky to live in a relative lull in major conflicts, but this cannot hold out for much longer with the greed of the few exploiting the many.

          Time for each of us to change; it is our responsibility to put things right; the increasing and irresponsible escalation in demand by the consumer is driving the machine, exploited by those who have no conscience. Stop being afraid; they feed on it and paralyze you.

          Source your energy responsibly.

          Grown your own food or buy from ethical and chemical free sources.

          Live long and share life with your community; your neighbour is not your rival, they are your family; we should work together for the good of all.

          As the end of the longest day approaches, I bid you goodnight and hope that you all start your renewable journeys as the sun rises on a new day.

      • Post after post using the f word and s word why?

        Germany are looking to Nord Stream 2 to supply gas direct from Russia by the way…

        • you mean frack and sun?
          Germany are looking to Nord Stream 2 to supply gas direct from Russia by the way, evidence please.

  7. We must of course work for an immediate MORATORIUM until the report is published, commented on and reviewed. Let’s get going guys and gals.

    • Hi Carol, just to say that it’s just so obvious that the frackers and their pushers are totally up the creek without a paddle!
      The process must be halted completely before serious environmental damage is caused by continuing!
      Bankrupt frackers will not be restoring and cleaning up before they run away! Stop the damage now!

  8. Well I think All the protesters should Back up their stance by refusing to burn any fossil fuels & that includes petrol & diesel for their vehicles we wouldn,t wan t them to pollute the Air would we.? & just for good measure we wouldn,t want them to be Hypocrites.. By burning Gas so cut that off too. & just make sure you only uses green energy….Bet there’s no takers Eh.? Thought Not.

    • I especially love it when Ian R Crane half way through his YouTube blog invites people to join him and have a BBQ!!!

      Ian R Crane might as well say come on over and we’ll have a great get together burning dead animals over fossil fuels and talk about the evils of extracting errrrr fossil fuels…


  9. i see SHJ put his best alchemical brain drain together to come up with something “magical” to say on Drill Or Drop?

    ……and came up with…….these two……”comments”??

    Wasn’t there meant to be something about gold standards and turning base elements to noble metal with wit and humour in their somewhere?

    I know you gotta start with something base to begin with SHJ, but these two are a little too far down below the elemental periodic table don’t you think? I didnt know there was an element below Dumbanium?

    Rather more basement than base in fact?

    Ooops! i think you got the alchemy book up the wrong way? You started with something base and its going dumbass backwards?

    Never mind, i think one of your closest fans has almost finished the Beano, maybe you can do something with that?

    Have a great weekend, and….do try to get some better materials to work with?

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