Shale gas briefing paper issued by House of Commons

19Jan / 2017

Shale gas briefing paper issued by House of Commons

The House of Commons has issued a shale gas briefing paper summarising the UK’s current position regarding onshore oil and gas. 

Now at the exploratory stage of onshore gas development, the briefing paper provides an overview of progress made by the UK shale industry to date, with particular attention being paid to the evolving regulatory regime, the US example and environmental considerations.

It makes the point that the transformation of the world gas-market caused by US shale expansion was not going to be a game changer in the UK. Limited land availability and UK ownership rights made that a given. Instead, a significant impact of US activity landed on public awareness of the perceived risks inherent in shale development. Concerns over the safety of onshore oil and gas acquisition may have contributed to slowing the development of a UK industry, but it also helped drive the formation a new gold standard for regulating the industry worldwide.

Regulation of shale development in the US is applied at state and federal level, resulting in inconsistency and often public uncertainty. Claims were made in some parts of the country that fracking had caused groundwater contamination, which despite being unsubstantiated, lead to a ripple of concern throughout Europe.

Once UK shale resources were estimated, extensive investigation and debate ensued over the level of risk to human health posed by fracking. This resulted in the view that hazards can remain low on the condition that operational integrity is maintained, including adherence to regulations, working to accepted best practice and applying effective on site management through drilling, capture, storage and decommissioning stages.

Industry standards for shale development were strengthened by the enforcement of Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act 2015 in April last year, which set out preconditions for hydraulic fracturing, including well integrity, well depth, and restrictions in protected areas. The establishment of environmental parameters in advance of hydraulic fracturing was also made compulsory, including the advanced monitoring of methane in groundwater for at least 12 months.

The method by which to measure these parameters has not yet been specified, but it can be presumed that only the most stringently tried and tested methods need apply. As per the updated Environment Agency (EA) ‘Onshore Oil and Gas Sector Guidance’ released in August 2016, environmental monitoring is a principle component of best practice when it comes to shale development. It demands independent bodies to provide risk management and autonomous data on the natural variations in ground gas and water activity. The EA guidance states the starting point for shale gas planning is a Site Condition Report, which establishes the pre-exiting baseline conditions before operations begin.

Having been relied on for the efficient and cost-effective environmental monitoring of onshore gas for many years, GGS has established baseline monitoring with continuous monitoring as the best available technology for safe hydraulic fracturing. Since before regulations were introduced, this method has been proven as the most scientifically robust when it comes to benchmarking a sites natural baseline conditions. With options for long term deployment and telemetry enhanced technologies, operators can install long term on site safety measures that generate continuous and reliable data that limits risk and provides early warnings. This not only provides scope for safe shale development, but enhances confidence for industry and community stakeholders, contributing to environmental acceptance and a social license.

Find ‘Shale Gas and Fracking’ briefing paper No. 6073, 4 January 2017 here.

Read more about GGS’ continuous monitoring services for the Onshore Petroleum industry here.