Professor Zoe Shipton, University of Strathclyde
In the UK, public concern about hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) was triggered by low magnitude earth tremors induced by exploratory activities in Lancashire in April 2011. The resulting embargo on fracking for shale gas was lifted by DECC in December 2012. Campaign groups argue that shale gas extraction could produce significant environmental damage, whereas proponents of the shale gas industry argue that an indigenous source of UK gas will enhance energy security and may result in falling household energy bills. Indeed it is now possible to buy “Keep calm and frack on” T-shirts on the web! In this talk I will argue that it should be possible to “frack well” – i.e. extract potentially considerable shale gas resources in the least environmentally damaging way. A Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering working group report on “Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of the scientific and engineering evidence” investigated the major risks associated with fracking and asked how these risks can be effectively managed. The report found that the health and safety and environmental risks associated with fracking for shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through legislation. The risk of groundwater contamination (both from natural gas and water and from fracking fluids) via hydraulic fractures is very low. Seismicity is also a very low risk, and where it does occur is likely to be at magnitudes less than those regularly felt near abandoned coalfields. Ensuring borehole integrity must be the highest priority to prevent groundwater and surface contamination. The joint academies report recommended implementing robust monitoring systems to address uncertainties in the subsurface process and to strengthen public confidence. If we can convince the public that it is possible to “frack well”, shale gas has a place as a bridge between traditional, declining fossil fuels and renewables.