Risks associated with shale gas drilling have been over-stated and risk assessments have failed to take into account of mitigation measures demanded by the industry, according to global gas developer Cuadrilla.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said safeguards put in place by industry had been ignored.
A recent European Commission report said that shale gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing- fracking - posed a high risk to the environment.
But Egan said the report failed to address key issues.
“What’s missing in the report is any consideration of residual risk,” said Egan at a shale gas summit attended by leading energy market players last week.
Residual risk accounts for the removal of risk after environmental mitigation measures had been taken. Egan said the European Commission report identified and classified environmental risks but “stopped” without considering residual risk.
The European Commission released three reports on shale gas drilling in Europe last month. They covered environmental risks, greenhouse gas emissions and potential contribution to gas supplies.
Environmental consultant AEA’s report on the environmental impacts identified eight areas where risks to the environment are high. These included air pollution, groundwater contamination and risks to biodiversity.
Egan pointed out that the report failed to account for actual practice being used on the ground. He gave the example of the Bowland Basin in Lancashire - where the firm is currently drilling for shale gas. Here he said - the risk of contaminating drinking water was small because it is working 1km below an aquifer that is not being used for drinking water.
AEA said the study was “designed to help the European Commission develop regulatory policy”. It identified all areas that might require regulation, but failed to tackle site specific risk assessments.
He said the risks “need to put into context”, adding that “you can convince not to do anything. We need a decision on from the government.”
Cuadrilla said it hoped to start fracking the Bowland Basin this year, if it got the go-ahead from the government. This would involve getting football pitch sized area of up to 10 wells into operation by 2015.