Fracking can be undertaken safely if best practice and effective regulation are enforced

July 11, 2012, University of Cambridge

Hydraulic fracturing (often termed "fracking") can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced through regulation. That is the conclusion of a review by UK's Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

"There has been much around the safety of shale gas extraction following examples of poor practice in the US. We found that well integrity is of key importance but the most common areas of concern, such as the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating , were very low risk. This is not to say hydraulic fracturing is completely risk-free. Strong regulation and robust must be put in place and best practice strictly enforced if the Government is to give the go-ahead to further exploration. In particular, we emphasise the need for further development and support of the UK's , together with Environmental Risk Assessments for all shale gas operations and more extensive inspections and testing to ensure the integrity of every well," said Professor Robert Mair FREng FRS, Chair of the review's working group.

The review examined the scientific and engineering evidence relating to the environmental and health and safety risks associated with the onshore extraction of shale gas. Findings that led to the conclusion that the practice could be undertaken safely include:

• Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used by the oil and gas industries for many decades in the UK;

• The risks of contamination of aquifers from fractures is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres;

• Seismicity (or earth tremors) induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of a smaller magnitude than the UK naturally experiences or than is related to coal mining activities, which are, of themselves, low by world standards;

• Open ponds for storing wastewater (which have been historically used in US fracking operations and carry a possible risk of leakage) are not permitted in the UK and there are numerous facilities in the UK for the treatment of similar wastes from the industrial sector;

Well established procedures have been developed for the disposal of naturally occurring radioactive materials (which are present in the hydraulic fracturing wastewaters) by the UK's extractive industries.

A particular cause for concern is that that poor cementation and casing failures of wells could lead to leakages and wider environmental contamination, as they have in some cases in the US. Therefore, the review concludes that the priority must be to ensure the integrity of every well throughout its lifetime.

Assessment of systems of regulation in the UK and examples of best practice led to a number of recommendations that should be implemented if shale gas extraction is to be undertaken safely in the UK. These include:

• Strengthening the UK's regulators, including providing additional resources as needed;

• Allocating lead responsibility for regulation of shale to a single regulator;

• Strengthening the system of well inspections to ensure that well designs are considered not only from a health and safety perspective, but also from an environmental perspective;

• Undertaking appropriate well integrity tests as standard practice;

• Mandating and enforcing Environmental Risk Assessments for all shale gas operations, which should be submitted to the regulators for scrutiny

• Ensuring robust monitoring of methane in groundwater, seismicity and methane leakages before, during and after hydraulic fracturing;

• Establishing integrated management processes to ensure water is used sustainably and to minimise wastes

Professor Mair added: "As we made clear at the start, this review is not an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas and we have highlighted a number of issues that we believe merit further consideration, including the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of , and the public acceptability of . "

Explore further: Duke study offers 7 safeguards for hydraulic fracturing

More information: The report is available at … s-extraction/report/ and … eports/Shale_Gas.pdf

Related Stories

Duke study offers 7 safeguards for hydraulic fracturing

November 17, 2011

A new report by Duke University researchers offers several health and environmental measures for North Carolina lawmakers to consider as they debate legalizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

English tremors blamed on shale 'fracking'

November 2, 2011

(AP) -- The only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale rock said Wednesday that the controversial technique probably did trigger earth tremors in April and May.

Fracking risks, fact or fiction?

February 17, 2012

A Simon Fraser University researcher known for his expertise on naturally occurring hazards will participate Friday in a shake down of the truth about a new form of human-induced earthquakes.

Recommended for you

Maximizing the environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles

February 15, 2018

The added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag of the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles are significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2012
Of course fracking is safe.

And regulations are needed like any energy development.

5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2012
The preferr'd spelling (by the industry) is "fraccing". See, http://en.wiktion...raccing, and
1 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2012
Its ironic that the title of this story:
Fracking can be undertaken safely if best practice and effective regulation are enforced

And just to the right is another PhyOrg article entitled:

English tremors blamed on shale 'fracking'

I guess you can be well regulated and still have legal Earthquakes because now they a "well regulated".

It's funny in the US, insurance won't pay for your collapsed chimney caused by fracking;


Fracking is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.