Following months of academic review, visits to communities potentially affected by fracking, input from industry, experts, campaigners and relevant associations the Task Force on Shale Gas today released its second report on the impact of a fracking industry on the UK, specifically assessing local environmental and health impacts.
The report assessed the available evidence on the potential local environmental and health impacts of a shale gas industry in the UK and made a series of recommendations, which were outright dismissed by anti-fracking campaigning groups.
Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth, said: “tougher rules can only make fracking safer, not safe. This dangerous technology will always carry risks for the local environment and people’s health, as well as adding to climate change – so no amount of regulation or industry-funded task forces will make people embrace fracking.”
The recommendations made by Task Force include:
- 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 Chris Smith (pictured), chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas said: “Our conclusion from all the evidence we’ve seen is clear. Only if the drilling is done properly and to the highest standard, and with rigorous regulation and monitoring, can shale gas fracking be done safely for local communities and the environment.”
To underline the scientific and robust nature of its report the Task Force has also simultaneously published a briefing document which sets out the scientific foundations of its findings. This document is available at its website.
“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,” said Lord Chris Smith, “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. We look forward to the public’s response.”
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG – the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry – commented on the report’s findings: “I was pleased that the report highlighted a number of areas that we have already considered and have taken action on.
“The tone of the report is geared towards creating a better understanding of hazard and risk which I think will be invaluable for those coming to this subject for the first time.”
“I was particularly pleased to note that the Task Force is satisfied that the risk levels associated with public health hazards are acceptable provided that the well is properly drilled, protected, monitored and regulated,” he concluded.
However, Daisy Sands, Greenpeace Head of Energy, questioned the impartiality of the report saying: “The Task Force on Shale Gas is entirely funded by shale gas companies such as Cuadrilla, Centrica and Total, so its recommendations should be taken with a truck load of salt. Their findings runs contrary to the government’s own evidence into the impacts of fracking which revealed that fracking could decrease house prices, lead to water contamination, increase air, light and noise pollution and exacerbate climate change.
“The fracking companies and their Task Force are also calling for the powers to bypass local democracy so they can drillbore holes without planning permission. With the government in the fracking industry’s back pocket, the local planning process is the only way residents get to have a say over fracking in their community and that’s under threat.
“This is worrying as other administrations such as in the Netherlands and New York are putting a halt on fracking, but the UK is fast tracking fracking.”
The Task Force said in a statement that although it has been funded initially by businesses that operate in the shale gas industry, it operates completely independently from its funders; and the funders have committed to the Task Force Constitution, which states explicitly that they have no control or influence over how the Task Force operates, what it publishes or the conclusions it reaches.
The Task Force will publish two further reports in 2015 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.
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