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Government proposes more stringent shale gas fracking procedures

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has released for consultation today an independent report that recommends stricter controls and procedures for developers extracting shale gas in the UK.

A series of measures including the introduction of a pre-injection and monitoring stage, a traffic light control regime to ensure danger levels are heeded and more effective seismic monitoring (see box).

The move comes after an investigation found in November last year that fracking – hydralic fracturing – by developer Cuadrilla most likely triggered two earthquakes earlier in the year at near Blackpool.

“If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” said Decc chief scientific adviser David Mackay. “This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK.”

The invitation for comment on the report runs for six weeks from today.

Recommendations

That the hydraulic fracturing procedure should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage.

That an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events should be part of any future hydraulic fracturing operations.

That future fracking operations for shale gas should be subject to a “traffic light” control regime, similar to that recommended by Cuadrilla’s consultants. A red light at activity levels of magnitude of 0.5 or above means fracking should be stopped and remedial action taken (this is lower than the magnitude 1.7 proposed by Cuadrilla’s report). Unusual seismic activity, even at lower levels, should be carefully assessed before operations proceed.

For any future operations elsewhere in the UK the review recommends suitable actions to assess the seismic risk before any operations take place.

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