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Institutions to review potential risks of shale gas extraction

07 March 2012

What are the geological, environmental and technical risks associated with hydraulic fracturing as a means to extract shale gas in the UK? Can these risks be effectively managed? A new review announced by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering will investigate these questions and report on its findings later this year. The scientific and engineering evidence will be reviewed, including levels of uncertainty and potential risks associated with the extraction of shale gas.

A Cuadrilla Resources shale gas drilling site
A Cuadrilla Resources shale gas drilling site

Professor Robert Mair, chair of the working group undertaking the review said: "The extraction of shale gas in the UK has been the subject of recent debate, with many concerned over potential risks associated with the process. We will review the available scientific and engineering evidence to provide a clear indication of where any potential risks are well understood, where there is general agreement but continuing debate, and where more significant uncertainties remain. We will also consider how these risks can be managed.

This review will not be an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas, nor does it promise to make any judgements on the appropriateness or otherwise of shale gas extraction being undertaken.We hope that this review will be a valuable contribution from the scientific and engineering community to a wider debate on the future of shale gas extraction in the UK that should also encompass societal and economic issues."

The working group for the review comprises:
- Professor Robert Mair FREng FRS, Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Department of Engineering, Cambridge University (Chair)
- Professor Michael Bickle FRS, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge
- Dr Dougal Goodman FREng, Chief Executive, The Foundation for Science and Technology
- Dr John Roberts FREng, Former CEO of Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board, as well as United Utilities
- Professor Richard Selley, Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London
- Professor Zoe Shipton, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde
- Professor Hywel Thomas FREng, Director, Geoenvironmental Research Centre, Cardiff University
- Professor Paul Younger FREng, Director, Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, University of Newcastle

Cuadrilla Resources, the company exploring for natural shale gas in the Bowland Basin in Lancashire, released the findings of an independent study following unusual seismic activity near Poulton-le-Fylde in April and May 2011.

The report concluded that it is "highly probable" that the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall-1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events. None of the events recorded, including one in April of 2.3 and one in May of 1.5 on the Richter scale, had any structural impact on the surface above.

The report, entitled: Geo-mechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity confirmed that there is little risk of future seismic events reoccurring in the Bowland Basin but proposed a series of mitigation measures in case of any future seismic activity, including the installation of an 'early warning' detection system.


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