Shale production has, however, led to concerns about water pollution, air pollution, earth tremors and local development.
First, contamination of groundwater and surface water can be avoided by ensuring that hydraulic fracturing takes place far below aquifers, by installing multiple layers of steel and cement around the well to protect against leaks, and sealing the site to guard against any accidental spills. Only chemicals defined as non-hazardous by the Environment Agency are allowed in fracturing fluids, and careful handling and treatment of waste water, which does contain small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive material, is essential. The Royal Society concluded in 2012 that risks from shale production can be managed effectively through robust regulation.
Second, to protect local air, it’s important to minimise emissions of methane and other contaminants from site operations. Simple measures like sealing all valves properly can reduce up to 90% of fugitive emissions. Dust, which can be found on any building site, also needs to be controlled. In a recent review of the evidence, Public Health England concluded that risks to public health were low in a properly-regulated industry.
Third, earth tremors from shale operations are smaller than those from coal mining, and are generally too small to be felt at the surface. Companies now carry out 3D seismic monitoring before drilling operations, which identifies the location of small fault lines that can then be avoided. During hydraulic fracturing, a traffic light monitoring system will pause or stop operations if seismic events above 0.5 are identified.
The biggest concern should be about the local development impacts. Shale gas pads do bring trucks, lighting and noise from drilling operations, and as much as companies can minimise their impact, there will always be a certain level of disruption. But once drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations are complete, the equipment is taken away and the truck traffic ceases.
Part of the solution
Shale gas is not the only solution to our energy needs. It should be seen as part of a cleaner energy mix with less coal, more renewables and nuclear, and a big effort to improve the efficiency with which we use energy. Like any source of energy, it comes with issues that need to be carefully managed. But it could, and should, play an important role.
Kindly written by Corin Taylor. Corin is a senior advisor at UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the trade association for the UK onshore oil and gas industry. Visit http://www.ukoog.org.uk to learn more about their work.