Last week, Dr Enda Hayes and I presented alongside Dr Mark Broomfield at the South West regional seminar for the Institute of Environmental Sciences on the subject of Shale Gas and the Environment. Shale gas extraction and the associated development – also known as ‘fracking’ – has proved to be a stimulating topic that draws a varied, informed and interested audience. This event was no exception, with around 60 students and environmental professionals attending.
Mark familiarised the audience with shale gas development, referring to examples in the US, and discussed the environmental impact of development referring to papers prepared for the European Commission. These recognised that cumulative development ultimately increased environmental risk and thus impact. Both Mark and members of the audience acknowledged the similarities yet limitations in extrapolation from US examples of development, with differences in geology, environmental regulation and working practice identified.
I followed, elaborating upon reserves of shale gas in the UK and the extent to which extraction has the potential to enhance our security of supply status. The findings of CIWEM’s 2013 report ‘Shale Gas and Water’, including the water requirement of extraction (up to 22megalitres per well) were presented, along with well pad water requirement scenarios and areas where water availability could act as a limiting factor for development – or potentially water stress – based upon my research so far. A summary of the regulatory framework in England and Wales concluded the presentation.
Enda talked about implications on our atmosphere. A map of showed that 58 Air Quality Monitoring Areas (AQMAS) were located within purchased Petroleum and Development Licences (PEDLs) in the UK, which increased to over 400 for offered PEDLS (DECC 14th round). This highlighted the scale of potential shale gas development and consequently the importance of both monitoring and mitigating on/to site emissions. The credentials of shale gas as a ‘transition fuel’ were explored citing a paper by Stanford and Azapagic (2014), a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) which concluded that shale gas has a similar global warming potential to conventional gas.