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Royal Society and Academy of Engineering – report

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Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used in the oil and gas industries for many decades.

Since 2003.

Concerns have been raised about the risk of fractures propagating from shale formations to reach overlying aquifers.

Now confirmed

Ensuring well integrity must remain the highest priority to prevent contamination. The probability of well failure is low for a single well if it is designed, constructed and abandoned according to best practice

6 % fail at completion and progressively do so until at around 16 years – 50% have failed. Newer designs fail more than older ones and laterals fail more often than simple vertical wells.

Disclosure of the constituents of fracturing fluid is already mandatory in the UK. Ensuring, where possible, that chemical additives are non-hazardous would help to mitigate the impact of any leak or spill.

All chemical used should be disclosed. Hydrofluoric acid is highly toxic but not disclosed as not a fracking fluid as such. The (industry funded) Task Force on Shale suggests the new ‘green’ chemicals should be protected by disclosure to the Environment Agency only to protect commercial sensitivity.

Monitoring should be carried out before, during and after shale gas operations to inform risk assessments. Methane and other contaminants in groundwater should be monitored, as well as potential leakages of methane and other gases into the atmosphere. The geology of sites should be characterised and faults identified. Monitoring data should be submitted to the UK’s regulators to manage potential hazards, inform local planning processes and address wider concerns. Monitoring of any potential leaks of methane would provide data to assess the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction.

And methane is a marker for other chemical leaks. USA 7-10% of production is lost to the atmosphere. Third have not explained why they do not want to label their fracking fluids so we can see who has caused the contamination.

It is mandatory for operators to report well failures, as well as other accidents and incidents to the UK’s regulators. Mechanisms should be put in place so that reports can also be shared between operators to improve risk assessments and promote best practices across the industry.

Cuadrilla failed to inform anyone of the well casing deformity and loss of pressure on UKs first ever frack. It came to light 6 months later. Reccomendations include The results of well tests and the reports of well examinations should be submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory for all shale gas operations.

To be abandoned by EA Standard rules procedures. Risks should be assessed across the entire lifecycle of shale gas extraction, including risks associated with the disposal of wastes as yet undetermined by Third and abandonment of wells. Seismic risks should also feature as part of the ERA.

Should any onshore disposal wells be necessary in the UK, their construction, regulation and siting would need further consideration.

Currently banned by EU and the cause of all the great earthquake epidemics in USA. 5.7 on Richter scale and 21 miles away are current records. Fylingdale is 9 miles away from Ebberston.

There is greater uncertainty about the scale of production activities should a future shale gas industry develop nationwide. Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up.

50 wells next to Kirby Misperton would be something of a threat. 1-2000 wells in Ryedale would have a number of impacts.

Neither risks associated with the subsequent use of shale gas nor climate risks have been analysed. Decision making would benefit from research into the climate risks associated with both the extraction and use of shale gas. Further benefit would also be derived from research into the public acceptability of all these risks in the context of the UK’s energy, climate and economic policies. See DEFRA report.

An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory for all shale gas operations, involving the participation of local communities at the earliest possible opportunity.

By ‘all’ I assume that includes the test frack (now not a frack due to a change in definition) Standard Rules avoids this.

Mechanisms should be put in place to allow the reporting of well failures, as well as other accidents and incidents, between operators. The information collected should then be shared to improve risk assessments and promote best practices across the industry.

Have they?

On a 20-year timescale, the global warming potential of methane is 72 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. On a century timescale, it is 25 times greater (IPCC 2007).

By 2002-03, the combination of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling made shale gas commercially viable.

Halliburton Loophole accelarated fracking from a very low level in around 2005.

On 1st April 2011, the Blackpool area in north England experienced seismicity of magnitude
2.3 ML shortly after Cuadrilla Resources (‘Cuadrilla’, hereafter) hydraulically fractured a well at its Preese Hall site. Seismicity of magnitude 1.5 ML occurred on 27th May 2011 following renewed fracturing of the same well. Hydraulic fracturing was suspended. Cuadrilla commissioned a set of reports to investigate the cause of seismicity (de Pater and Baisch 2011). The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also commissioned an independent
report that was published for public comment
(Green et al 2012).

Interesting they don’t mention A report by Green and Styles report for DECC concluded a series of earthquakes in Spring 2011 in Lancashire were caused by fracking at Preese Hall. The first was on 1 April 2011, magnitude 2.3M. Well-bore deformation was discovered on 4th April 2011 when a caliper log run showed that deformation was greater than 0.5 inches over a depth range between 8,480-8640ft. There was another earthquake was on 27th May 2011, magnitude 1.5M. A total of 50 seismic events were detected from 31st March 2011-27th May 2011. Fracking was suspended on 30th May (Source: Independent)
The Guardian reported that the Energy Secretary, Charles Hendry, wrote to Lord Browne, on 11th May 2012: “My department is concerned Cuadrilla failed to recognise the significance of the casing deformation experienced in the earth tremor triggered by fracking operations on 1 April 2011. …. “So much so, that the company did not report it to my officials … as to the possible cause of the tremor and the possibility it might be linked to fracking. In the light of Cuadrilla’s responses to the department’s subsequent inquiries, I have formed the view that this failure discloses weaknesses in Cuadrilla’s performance as a licensee, which need to be addressed.”

3.3.2 Adding tracers to fracture fluid
Tracers can assist understanding of fracture propagation (see section 4.1). They also provide evidence for determining whether hydraulic fracturing has led to groundwater contamination. The distinct elemental composition and isotopic signatures of flowback water provide opportunities for tracer studies that could indicate contamination of groundwater or surface waters (Entrekin et al 2011).

Insist on this and drillers will curl up their toes. We need a large bond as well as full insurance for every frack well. In USA full dislcoure is reuired for share holders. These disclosures show inadequate insurance. Third parties are not insured as a result.

Operators are responsible for wells once abandoned. Operators have an open-ended liability to remediate any ineffective abandonment operations. Consideration should be given to establishing mechanisms, such as a common liability fund, to ensure funds are available to respond to well failure post-abandonment in the case that the operator can no longer be identified.

Third claim liability passes to the landowner at 5 years. What happens if(When) Third sell out to ANOther?

Various methods are available to monitor fracture growth before, during and after operations (Bennett et al 2006). Chemical tracers can be added to fracturing fluid. The performance of the fracturing process stage by stage can be inferred from the concentration of specific tracers combined with the recovery time and volumes of flowback water. The dilution of the tracers can improve understanding of fracture fluid loss and flowback efficiency. Proppant can be tagged with a radioactive tracer. Detection of the tracers can confirm whether proppant was placed as intended and identify leakage points (King 2010). An alternative is to rely on naturally occurring isotopic signatures.

Local planning conditions can also address aesthetic impacts, as well as contributions to local noise, traffic and air pollution

The EA has a statutory requirement to safeguard public health, so seeks expert advice from health professionals, such as the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The EA has an agreement with the HPA about when and how the HPA is consulted when permitting an activity.

Under current planning arrangements, it is the decision of the local planning authority to decide who to consult. Health professionals should be consulted to advise on local health impacts whether directly or indirectly through the EA. The HPA has established a Working Group of chemical and radiation specialists to collate and review literature, including national
and international studies, about the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction. Its terms of reference are yet to be established. The results of this HPA review should inform local planning processes.

Interesting that this tends to exclude inputs rather than search for them.


2 Responses to Royal Society and Academy of Engineering – report

  1. 1st July 2017 at 11:16 am #

    A review conducted with the Royal Academy of Engineering of the scientific and engineering evidence of the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing as a means to extract shale gas.

    • Tim Thornton 31st July 2017 at 3:01 pm #

      A good early stab at the uncertainties of fracking as of 2012 – less than ten years into the US Experience. Lots of talk about regulation when now we know they are reducing regs all round even though they started off inadequate. They made 10 recommendations of which all were acknowledged by UK Govt. but not to the extent that they are accepted and built into regulation – only part of 1 has been as far as I am aware. Most Govt reports conclude – It will be safe if it is done safely. Cameron, my MP and my driller all quote USA as being an example of a country with clean safe fracking. We know plenty about the short-comings of the engineering and regulations over there and can anticipate the same here – industry best standard.
      Thank you for your response.

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