The UK Government has given the go-ahead for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to resume in the UK.
So far, there has been no commercial shale gas production in the UK. Exploratory fracking was suspended in May 2011 after two small seismic tremors were detected near the country’s only fracking operations in Lancashire.
However, following a detailed study and further analysis by an independent panel of experts commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Government has concluded that the seismic risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively with controls.
Energy minister Ed Davey said: “Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy.
“We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment. Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe.”
New controls to mitigate seismic risks
In order to minimize the risks of fracking, the Government has announced the following controls:
A prior review before fracking begins must be carried out to assess seismic risk and the existence of faults
A fracking plan must be submitted to DECC showing how seismic risks will be addressed
Seismic monitoring must be carried out before, during and after fracking
There will be a new traffic light system to categorize seismic activity and direct appropriate responses. A trigger mechanism will stop fracking operations in certain conditions.
Despite the controls, the announcement has been met with criticism from environmentalists. Jenny Banks, energy policy officer at WWF-UK, said: “Despite all the hype, there is still considerable uncertainty as to how much shale gas is in the ground and whether it will be socially, environmentally or economically viable to extract.
“One thing which is absolutely clear is that more reliance on gas is a high risk gamble…The sooner senior Government figures wake up from their shale gas fantasy and see the renewable success story going on right in front of them, the better.”
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