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UK Task Force on Shale Gas says best practice and transparency are key to safe fracking operations

16 July 2015

On July 15 the Task Force on Shale Gas released its second report on the impact of fracking in the UK, specifically assessing local environmental and health impacts. Recommendations 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.

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It says baseline monitoring of groundwater, air and soil should be established from 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 also be changed.

Other recommendations include:

*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, 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.”

“We highlight four essential ingredients for safe operation: full disclosure of chemicals; baseline monitoring from the outset; strong well integrity, independently regulated; and ‘green completions’ to contain the gas that’s created and minimise emissions.

“The evidence shows that many of the concerns associated with fracking are the result of poor practice elsewhere in the world, such as poorly constructed wells.

“It is therefore crucial that stringent regulations are established in the UK, as set out in our recommendations, in order to meet these legitimate concerns. We also recommend the formation of a National Advisory Committee to examine, collate and evaluate health impacts associated with shale gas operations once they have begun and data from the first wells becomes available.”

The recommendations follow months of academic review, visits to communities potentially affected by fracking, input from industry, experts, campaigners and relevant associations.
To underline the science underlying the 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 www.taskforceonshalegas.uk.

“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 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.”

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.

The Task Force on Shale Gas was launched in September 2014 to give careful consideration to public concerns, and to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK.

The report follows Lancashire county council’s rejection of a planning application by Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas at Preston New Road.

For further information visit http://www.taskforceonshalegas.uk.


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