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.