Fracking must be subject to ‘stringent regulations’

Shale gas extraction

The chairman of the national Task Force on Shale Gas has called for ‘stringent regulations’ in UK shale gas fracking to avoid the problems that have happened abroad, leading to concerns about the industry as a whole.

Lord Chris Smith has made the comments after the Task Force released its second report on the impact of a fracking industry on the UK, specifically assessing local environmental and health impacts.

And Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and a member of the North West Energy Task Force, has echoed Lord Smith’s remarks.

The Task Force has published a number of recommendations, including:

  • Full disclosure by shale gas operators of the chemicals being used in their operations – with Environment Agency monitoring on site to confirm additive levels are within agreed and safe limits
  • Baseline monitoring of groundwater, air and soil to be established at the moment a potential site is identified, with community representatives given an oversight role in monitoring and all results made public. Current planning regulations that require full planning consent before boreholes can be drilled for monitoring should be changed
  • Operators to commit and be held to the very highest standards in well construction, independently monitored. The Task Force found many of the problems associated with shale gas derived from historical poor practice in the United States, rather than the process of fracking itself. This situation can and must be avoided in the United Kingdom
  • The process of ‘green completions’ – whereby fugitive methane emissions are minimised on site – should be mandatory for production wells
  • The disposal of wastewater by deep injection – which has been associated with earthquakes in the United States – should be avoided in the United Kingdom in line with current Environment Agency practice, particularly where the nature of the geology is unsuitable
  • A National Advisory Committee should be established to monitor data from shale gas operations if and when they are established in the United Kingdom to provide an independent analysis of actual and potential impacts on public health to both policymakers and the public
  • Public Health England should commit to reassessing and evaluating its report into the health impacts of shale gas once a statistically significant number of wells have been established and data is available. All results and conclusions must be made public

Lord Smith said: “The evidence shows that many of the concerns associated with fracking are the result of poor practice elsewhere in the world, such as poorly constructed wells.

“It is therefore crucial that stringent regulations are established in the UK, as set out in our recommendations, in order to meet these legitimate concerns.

“We also recommend the formation of a National Advisory Committee to examine, collate and evaluate health impacts associated with shale gas operations once they have begun and data from the first wells becomes available.”

“Our guiding principle is to provide trusted, factual and impartial information that people need in order to make up their own minds about shale gas.

“With this second report the Task Force has reviewed evidence, visited shale gas sites and met with experts and communities, all of which has informed our environmental and health recommendations.”

NWLCC chief executive Babs Murphy said: “We have said all along that much of what has been said by those that oppose fracking is misguidedly based on things that have happened in other countries.

“What we can be certain of in the UK is that the Government would not make an industry it believed to be dangerous one of its top priorities.

“Shale gas fracking in this country will be heavily scrutinised and strictly regulated to ensure that it is safe.

“We can only hope that this industry was not lost to Lancashire altogether when those concerns allowed county councillors to refuse Cuadrilla’s application to begin fracking on the Fylde Coast.

“The Chamber’s position remains supportive of this new industry providing it is robustly regulated and managed safely and responsibly.”

The Task Force will publish two further reports this year covering climate change and economics. A final report on the potential risks and benefits of shale gas for the UK will be published as the culmination of the Task Force’s research in the spring of 2016.

The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September to give careful consideration to public concerns and to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK.

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