UK shale fracking not risking quakes, dirty water

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 28, 2012 7:25 PM
UK shale fracking not risking quakes, dirty water

LONDON (Reuters) - Fracturing shale rock formations to extract trapped gas, also known as shale gas fracking, is unlikely to cause big earthquakes or contaminate drinking water in Britain, science and engineering bodies said in a report on Friday.

Shale gas extraction came under fire in Britain last year when the government stopped fracking activity at a site in Blackpool after tremors were measured in the area.

Developers predict trillions of cubic feet reserves could be lying under British soil which could help it reduce dependence on imports.

Shale gas has already transformed the U.S. gas market, where prices have dropped to 10-year lows and companies are gearing up to export excess fuel.

An expert report commissioned by the government recommended in April that fracking could continue in the UK under tighter monitoring and Friday's scientific findings support the argument that if fracking is carried out correctly it poses little danger.

"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 drinking water, were very low risk," said Professor Robert Mair, chair of the working group made up of members of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The scientists and engineers said the force of seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing in the UK was smaller than tremors which Britons have been used to for decades due to coal-mining activity.

Environmentalists have criticized shale gas fracking on concerns that its drilling fluids contaminate groundwater.

Friday's report said when fracking takes place at depths of many hundreds of meters, water contamination is low and that leaks and spills from wells can be prevented when developers use best practice standards.

The experts also said that one UK authority should take the lead in regulating shale gas fracking and that responsibilities of the various bodies involved in the process at the moment should be clearly distinguished.

The government is expected to soon make a decision on whether it will allow fracking to resume.

(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)