DECC to look at GHGs from fracking

17th December 2012

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  • Mitigation



Ed Davey has commissioned research into the climate change impacts of fracking, in a bid to address concerns over the controversial shale gas extraction technique

In lifting the UK ban on hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – imposed last year, the energy secretary confirmed that DECC’s chief scientific adviser has been tasked with studying the carbon footprint of shale gas ahead of any large-scale deployment of the technology.

The energy department suspended drilling at the UK’s only fracking site in Lancashire in May 2011, after two minor earthquakes were recorded nearby. Subsequent investigation found that the fracking process, which pumps thousands of litres of pressurised water and chemicals into shale deposits to break up the rocks and release gas, triggered the seismic activity.

Following the recommendations of an independent report conducted by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, the government is satisfied that the risks of fracking causing similar small-scale earthquakes can be managed effectively through new controls. These include mandatory risk assessments and plans showing how seismic risks will be addressed, which must be submitted to DECC prior to drilling. Seismic monitoring also has to be carried out before, during and after fracking.

“We are strengthening the stringent regime already in place with new controls around seismic risks. And as the industry develops we will remain vigilant to all emerging evidence to ensure fracking is safe and the local environment is protected,” said Davey.

“We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment.”
Tony Grayling, head of climate change and communities at the Environment Agency, confirmed that the regulator was satisfied that the environment was sufficiently protected by the controls for exploratory drilling to continue.

Davey acknowledged the broader concerns over large-scale shale gas extraction, particularly its impacts on local water resources, and the release of GHGs, but said more research was needed.

“There has been particular concern about the carbon footprint of shale gas operations, and in particular the possible impacts of fugitive emissions of methane,” he said.

“I therefore intend to commission a study into the possible impacts of shale gas extraction on GHG emissions. This will consider the available evidence on the life-cycle GHG emissions from shale gas exploitation, and the need for further research.”
David Mackay, DECC’s chief scientific adviser will be joined by Tim Stone, the expert chair of the Office of Nuclear Development to carry out the research, Davey confirmed.

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