UK government gives go ahead for shale gas fracking to restart

Posted at December 14, 2012 » By : » Categories : News » Comments Off on UK government gives go ahead for shale gas fracking to restart

UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey has today given the go ahead for fracking of shale gas to restart in the UK.

The process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas is controversial and has been linked with seismic activity and contamination of water supplies. Initial fracking activities in the northwest of England were suspended early last year after mild earthquakes in the area.

But now the government says, after “detailed study” of the scientific evidence, including assessments by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, fracking can restart subject to new controls mitigating the risks of seismic activity.

“Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. I am in principle prepared to consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary permissions and consents are in place,” said Davey in a statement.

But he added that the industry would develop slowly in the UK, with no new exploration work cleared to proceed until “well into next year” and actual production “some years away yet”.

Davey emphasized that development would not come “at the expense of local communities or the environment”.

“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,” he said.

The new controls include a requirement to carry out a seismic risk assessment before starting fracking; seismic monitoring before, during and after fracking; and the drawing up of a fracking plan including details of how seismic risks will be addressed.

The newly formed Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, led by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), will oversee these regulations, and instigate a traffic light system indicating seismic activity. A trigger mechanism will stop fracking immediately under certain conditions.

Cuadrilla’s current exploratory fracking will be subject to these new controls and DECC will have an independent expert on site to ensure compliance when activities resume. Davey added in his statement to Parliament that there are currently no other consent applications for fracking elsewhere in the UK.

The Environment Agency, which officially regulates the sector, maintains that current legislation is sufficient to govern the sector.

“[We] take the potential risks arising from fracking for shale gas extraction very seriously and has undertaken a thorough assessment of them… [but] we are satisfied that existing regulations are sufficient to protect people and the environment in the current exploratory phase,” commented Tony Grayling, head of climate change and communities at the Agency.

The Agency has established its own Shale Gas Unit as a single point of contact for the industry, which Grayling says ensures there is an “effective, streamlined approach for the regulations”.

But in a nod towards critics of shale gas, Davey also announced a study led by DECC scientific advisor David Mackey chair of the Office of Nuclear Development Tim Stone, into the possible impacts of shale gas development on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Davey emphasizes that his decision is based on “evidence” but critics argue that the evidence is already out there that fracking and shale gas do have detrimental environmental effects.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth, however, is deeply critical of the decision, with executive director Andy Atkins commenting:
“Communities up and down the country will be disturbed by this reckless decision, which threatens to contaminate our air and water and undermine national climate targets.”?

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Related stories:
UK Chancellor’s Autumn Statement confirms a ‘dash for gas’ (6-Dec)
UK government set to approve 30 new gas power stations (4-Dec)
Benefits of US switch to shale gas overstated, say researchers (29-Oct)
Shale gas no ‘silver bullet’ for UK but will bring benefits (19-Sept)

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