Fracking in UK and Germany: contrasting impact of scientific advice
In summer 2012 major independent reports on the risks of Fracking were published by scientific experts in both the UK and Germany. Each report asserted that the risks were serious but could be managed with strenuous effort by all concerned. By 2014 Germany (as part of a coalition deal) turned its back on Fracking despite its dependence on imports of gas from Russia. The UK government has pressed on regardless, dismantling as many obstacles to Fracking as possible and disregarding the heaviest warnings. This is a summary of the backstory to these contrasting decisions.
In April 2011 a panel of experts (40) was commissioned by ExxonMobil to undertake a full analysis of the risks and social impact of Fracking. In Spring 2012 the Royal Society was asked by HMG government scientific adviser to review the technical and environmental risks of Fracking.
- Yes it can be managed with best practice and strong regulation enforced
- Greatest risk is from faulty wells. Need to review design.
- Robust monitoring essential before during and after Fracking
- Environment Risk Assessment should be mandatory
- Water usage OK but disposal needs planning from start.
- Disposal wells (reinjection) would need further review
- Regulation must be fit for purpose, co-ordinated and well resourced
- More research into effects on carbon footprint, climate policies and public acceptability
Review ‘not an exhaustive analysis’. Intended to be a specialist contribution to the wider debate.
The scale and scope of the German study is much more comprehensive and far-reaching
German Panel of Experts – “Hydro Fracking Risk Assessment” trace via davidsmythe –fracking and look for English translation of summary report. (There is a French report to review yet as well).
12 month proactive scientific study on safety, health and environmental compatibility of Fracking, funded and fully supported by ExxonMobil. Director Prof Dietrich Borchardt with core panel plus 30 experts.
- Method included responding to 500 key questions drawn from lay people, councils, water companies etc. (eg Are there some environments…… where fracking should be banned?). Agreed with Exxon to focus analysis on worst cased scenarios.
- Include installation, drilling, sealing, long-term management, waste water disposal, legal aspects.
- To be realistic Report took notional 200sq km area under drilling to 2030 in Munster/Saxony.
- 1 in 4 boreholes need re using after months/years
- Average well needs 10 operations, each using 1600cu m of water,5 tons of chemicals
- Groundwater contamination risk: technologies better than in USA but still possible
- Major leaks identified in minutes; minor leaks days/weeks. Intensive monitoring essential
- Near certain that If 300 wells are sunk, with total 4000 drillings, then at least one serious leak will occur
- Clearing contamination very difficult and expensive (£10m minimum per event)
- Deep brine released contains heavy metals, some radio-activity. Possibility of upwards seepage varies with geological fractures etc. Long term problem
- Fluids may include: Strontium, Barium, Zinc, Lithium, Manganese, Benzene, Mercury
- From 80 years of gas drilling: long term stability of cement not reliable
- Robust regulation and full legal framework absolutely essential
- Long term monitoring and intervention essential
Dealing with contaminated water
- Must have an overall first rate treatment strategy to manage and monitor all waste water. So best if contaminated water is retrieved for treatment (but in tests only 20% is returned from shale)
- Deep re-injection in Germany is allowed at depth of 3.5km or greater (despite tremor risks)
- Requires failsafe pipelines and 24/7 monitoring (not yet developed)
- High salt content make re-processing of contaminated water problematic
- Current substance flow analysis not adequate to guarantee safe disposal
- Additional waste disposal wells would be needed – again new technologies
Protection of drinking water sources
- “We feel strongly that water resource conservation must take absolute preference over energy production”
- Therefore no Fracking to be allowed in:
- Areas of tectonic stress
- Areas with pressurised Artesian wells and geological fractures
- Drinking water protection zones and thermal springs
- No objective reason to ban fracking if all recommendations here are followed
- . “In view of the new risk dimension of Fracking it is best to proceed cautiously, one step at a time, to allow for careful testing and ensure… fracking is not pursued in haste”
- A broad fracking policy requires:
- A defined statement of technological standards
- A legal framework to address risks of Fracking
- Additional scientific study (especially re methane leakage/climate)
- FOR THE TIME BEING PERMIT ONLY EXPLORATION OF GAS FIELDS AND SINGLE MODEL PROJECTS FOR WHICH EXTENSIVE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS ARE TAKEN. FROM THIS ESTABLISH BEST PRACTICE FOR FUTURE
- CARRY OUT IN TANDEM AN EXTENSIVE AND IN-DEPTHY DIALOGUE WITH THE GERMAN PEOPLE, SOCIAL GROUPS, GOVT., EXPERTS AND POLICY MAKERS
- SCIENTISTS MUST DEVELOP LONG TERM BASIC RESEARCH ON FRACKING
Comment: The German report is impressive in its depth, its length, its systematic method and in the way it involved a major part of the Fracking industry and in its commitment to engage candidly with the public. The conditions it laid down for Fracking add up in effect to a ban (or at least a moratorium) although it avoids the word. It all reflects how differently our two societies view science and engineering. In the UK the government seems to have selected those bits of the RS report that it likes and has proceeded flat out for fracking, ditching as many safeguards as it can on the way. The German report is in most ways valid for the UK and can be cited in our campaigns.
John Plummer Dec 2014