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CIWEM comes out against fracking for shale gas

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has broken rank with the ICE and warned against fracking for shale gas.

CIWEM said the government should “proceed with caution” over fracking in its new policy position statement “hydraulic fracturing of shale in the UK”. The statement reviews the potential environmental impacts of the use of hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking’ to access natural gas reserves in shale rock, and discusses whether it is an acceptable method to produce gas in the UK.

It concludes that shale gas from fracking should not be encouraged as a part of the UK’s energy mix until there is more evidence that operations can be delivered safely, that environmental impacts are acceptable and that monitoring, reporting and mitigation requirements are comprehensive and effective. It said it was time for sound, evidence-based objectivity coupled to a renewed and long-term government commitment to a renewables-centred energy mix.

The statement is at odds with the ICE, which last month said shale gas was an “acceptable alternative” to coal in its own position statement. It said shale gas exploration in the UK should be “further investigated in an enhanced regulatory framework” following the success its production has had in bringing down energy prices in US.

CIWEM’s view of shale gas

Fracking for shale gas has the potential to cause significant environmental impacts from induced seismicity, degradation of landscape and amenity, water contamination and the release of fugitive emissions of methane. Robust regulation would see these risks minimised. In addition to the regulatory controls proposed, CIWEM is calling for Environmental Risk Assessment to be made mandatory for proposed shale gas operations. This would ensure that each site is individually assessed, with the likelihood of a specific impact and its cumulative impact taken into account.   

Many apprehensions over fracking in the UK are a result of the experience in the United States. There have also been mixed messages in the UK, with some touting shale as a long-term panacea for energy security, and others suggesting that energy prices will show a similar fall to those in the US. However, differences in geology and mineral rights, and stricter regulation in the UK would preclude a similar situation occurring. Furthermore, there remains limited understanding about the commercial viability of shale gas reserves in the UK, despite rhetoric suggesting a potential new ‘dash for gas’. The government’s gas strategy needs to set out clearly the contribution that shale gas could make and how its environmental impacts will be limited.

Readers' comments (3)

  • S G H Sinclair

    It beggars belief that the ICE and the CIWEM failed to reach a common position onfracking before 'going public'. No wonder that engineering has so little input into political decisions in UK life.

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  • Part of the reasoning behind a shift from coal to gas is the lower level of carbon emissions. In other words, in our tranission to a low carbon economy, the UK can achieve it's 2030 emission reduction targets by replacing all coal power by gas generation.

    These calculations are not based on shale gas resources but traditional gas extraction.

    Shale gas extraction is considerably more energy intensive and therefore produces more carbon emissions per cubic meter.

    'Fugitive' methane gases, with 72 times the global warming potential of carbon, does not do anything to help the emission gains from a transition to gas from coal.

    Furthermore, it appears unrealistic that the access to shale gas will not harm technological transition and innovation in renewable technologies as well as demand side management.

    Finally, the energy penalty represented by CCS leds to a dramatic decrease in efficiency in electricity production. This would be associated with a considerable cost increase of electricity as well as increased resource consumption.

    In these respects, the ICE position paper is disappointing.

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  • I too was disappointed with my Institution. over fracking. The ICE is backing the wrong horse.

    Carbon-based fuel from oil or gas should be replaced asap with renewables or Nuclear. (Nuclear isn't strictly renewable and the uranium we can mine is also a limited resource, but we need it during the next 50 years).

    What the ICE should be doing is getting behind the one project which will create jobs and produce a huge contribution to our energy needs. The Severn Barrage has private financial capital to build it, but depends on the Government saying it will buy the output electricity. Tat's what the ICE should be focussing upon.
    What is so galling (excuse the pun) is that the equivalent plant in France (La Ranche) was completed in 1966 and has produced 16 billion kWh of power. ( I have no financial or other interests in promoting the Severn Barrage, by the way. To me it's just a no - brainer to do.)

    I trust that Hurricane Sandy has finally put an end to climate change deniers, and that people can now see how urgent is the change to renewables. of course no one storm can itself be attributed solely to climate change, but the rate of hurricanes hitting Delaware since 2000 has been over two a year (prior1950 it was one every four years, and 1975-2000 just over one a year). Sandy was as big and bad as it was because the sea temperatures were high and the Jet Stream was displaced. Both these are climate change effects.
    So no more fracking and more on the things we really should be building as civil engineers - harnessing the great forces of nature. We used to lead the way. Let's do it again.
    Peter Gardiner FICE

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