Environmental and Health Issues in Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

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We have taken a cautious, evidence-led approach to considering unconventional oil and gas UOG in Scotland. On 28 January , we put in place a moratorium on UOG development in Scotland which prevents hydraulic fracturing and coalbed methane extraction taking place. The moratorium allowed us to undertake a far-reaching investigation into UOG, which included:. Having taken the evidence into account, our preferred policy position on UOG — subject to statutory assessments before the policymaking process is complete — is that we do not support the development of UOG in Scotland. The Chief Planner issued a letter to planning authorities confirming that the moratorium will remain in place.

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More information about the techniques used to extract UOG is available on our unconventional oil and gas techniques factsheet. We have compiled a comprehensive evidence base on hydraulic fracturing and coalbed methane extraction to examine the potential environmental, health and economic impacts, and to inform our evidence-led approach.

This has included commissioning a report by an Independent Expert Scientific Panel , and commissioning a series of research projects that produced the following reports:. The consultation received more than 60, responses, and we published an analysis of the responses on 3 October The preferred policy position is subject to statutory and other assessments before the policy-making process is completed.

They evaluated available evidence on issues including air quality, radon gas, naturally occurring radioactive materials, water contamination and waste water. They concluded that the overall effect of UK shale gas production on national emissions is likely, with the right safeguards, to be relatively small. Indeed emissions from the production and transport of UK shale gas would be comparable to imported Liquefied Natural Gas LNG , and much lower than coal, when both are used to generate electricity.

Report on potential greenhouse gas emissions from UK produced shale gas. BEIS factsheet 2: Shale gas and climate change. BEIS currently grant-funds a research consortium led by the British Geological Survey to deliver a baseline environmental monitoring programme in and around sites in the Fylde Lancashire and Kirby Misperton North Yorkshire , where 2 exploration shale sites are based.

The researchers are gathering data on features including water and air quality, seismicity and ground motion. This monitoring will gather data for the environmental baseline in the areas prior to any hydraulic fracturing processes. This allows any significant changes to be flagged for further scrutiny. The investigations are independent of any monitoring carried out by the industry or the regulators, and information collected is freely available to the public.

Video: The regulatory regime for hydraulic fracturing fracking. This video is available in Welsh: Fideo ar gael yn y Gymraeg. Before any shale operation can begin in the UK, operators must pass rigorous health and safety, environmental and planning permission processes. The Infrastructure Act simplifies the procedure for obtaining the right to use underground land metres and below for the purpose of exploiting oil and gas petroleum and deep geothermal energy, whilst ensuring that communities benefit and that the UK has a robust regulatory regime.

More information is available in the press statement and the Infrastructure Act , Sections 43 to In addition, Section 49 of the Act requires the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to regularly seek, and publish, advice from the Committee on Climate Change on the impact of emissions from the onshore oil and gas sector on the ability of the UK to meet the carbon limits set by the Climate Change Act.

It also introduces a range of safeguards Section 50 , such as requiring independent well inspections, monitoring of groundwater, restoration conditions, and banning hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, within protected areas. The regulations that define the protected areas in which hydraulic fracturing is prohibited ensure that the process of hydraulic fracturing can only take place below metres in specified groundwater areas source protection zones 1 , National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. The OGA issues well consents, development programme approvals, completion of work programme approvals and production consents.

Unconventional oil and gas policy: SEA

PEDLs do not give permission for operations; rather, they grant exclusivity to licensees, in relation to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction including for shale gas but also for other forms , within a defined area. If hydraulic fracturing is proposed, operators are required to undertake detailed geological studies and submit a Hydraulic Fracture Plan HFP setting out how they will control and monitor the fracturing process and assess the risk of induced seismic events.

The HFP sets out the steps that the operator has taken to minimise seismic risks and the ways in which the operator will monitor and control the hydraulic fracturing process. This includes detailed geological studies to be undertaken by an operator to assess the risk of seismic activity, and to prevent any hydraulic fracturing operations taking place near geological faults. The OGA requires operators to adhere to certain controls before, during and after hydraulic fracturing operations. If a seismic event of or above magnitude 0.

If the event is not in line with what is anticipated in the HFP , the OGA will require further analysis of the cause of the seismic activity before considering whether injection operations can resume. Otherwise operations will resume once it is determined safe to do so. Infographic: Seismic activity traffic light monitoring system - PDF version for full screen viewing.

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They also need environmental permits from the relevant environment regulator in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland respectively:. Currently, however, all planned shale gas developments are located in England. Therefore, the processes described below relate primarily to developments in England. The Environment Agency EA ensures that any shale gas operations are conducted in a way that protects people and the environment. The Environment Agency is also a statutory consultee in the planning process and provides local mineral planning authorities normally the county or unitary local authority with advice on the potential risks to the environment from individual gas exploration and extraction sites.

The Environment Agency has published a number of factsheets relating to shale gas and the work it does to regulate the industry. The operator must notify the Health and Safety Executive HSE of the well design and operational plans at least 21 days before drilling is due to start. The HSE then inspects the plan for the well design, its construction and maintenance to ensure that the operator has put measures in place to ensure that health and safety risks are effectively managed throughout the life cycle of the well.

The operator must also provide a weekly report gives details of all work that has taken place since the previous report including:. This provides HSE with assurance that the operator is constructing and operating the well as described in the notification. If they are not, HSE will take appropriate regulatory action. The EA and HSE work closely together to share relevant site information and to ensure that there are no material gaps between safety and environmental protection, and that all material concerns are addressed.

Working together, the EA and HSE will meet all new or first-time shale gas operators and advise them of their legal duties under the relevant legislation and conduct a joint inspection of the key operations at the site. Under this legislation, hydraulic fracturing can only take place with the consent of BEIS. Hydraulic fracturing consent HFC will not be issued unless 13 conditions are met and BEIS is otherwise satisfied that it is appropriate.

A review of the research included in this assessment can help identify themes that emerge in study design, methodology, hypotheses, scope, findings, and recommendations.

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With regard to the latter, one one theme that continually emerged was a recommendation for additional empirical investigations to better understand the risks to water, air, and public health presented by UNGD. Other themes included the recognized need among researchers for baseline studies to allow for before and after comparative assessments and longitudinal data to determine potential short- and long-term impacts.

Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas

Numerous data gaps on the environmental and public health impacts of UNGD exist, many of which have already been recognized in the scientific literature. Several notable data gaps are worth mentioning, however, and the following remain largely unknown: the extent to which the presence of stray-gas in aquifers indicates the potential for chemical contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluids; changes in well integrity failure rates over time; the legacy effects and relative contribution of air pollutants emissions from aging and abandoned wells; exposure data to characterize the frequency, duration, and degree of exposure to various stressors; community health risks from physical hazards e.

The need for quantitative epidemiological research on this subject is widely recognized in the scientific community, but it is difficult to conduct until exposure parameters are better determined and reported cases of health outcomes are analyzed. Many epidemiological studies are expensive, time consuming, and often rely on data that are difficult to obtain.

Shale Research & Development | Department of Energy

The fact that potential exposures would have taken place before background data could be collected only complicates the issue. Although there is quite a bit of evidence of hazards and elevated risks, drawing conclusions about the magnitude of health burdens attributable to UNGD remains difficult from an epidemiological perspective.

There are limitations to this assessment that relate to both its methods and the interpretation of its findings. As previously mentioned, the type of binary categorization we used may not account for the nuances of findings in many of these studies. Relatedly, this type of categorization effectively ranks the quality of the studies included in this article equally, despite clear differences in the weight and merit that should be ascribed to each study, based on either its design or interpretation of the evidence.

Our work, however, was not intended to provide commentary on the quality of each study since here we are primarily concerned with the overall weight of the evidence. The quality and subsequent weight that should be given to a particular study are influenced by a number of factors, such as its design, methodology, and execution. We have only broadly surveyed original research across three different topics, including, but not limited to, qualitative epidemiology, risk analysis, in situ measurements, and modeling studies. There are strengths and weaknesses with each empirical method and it was not our aim to consider these attributes on an individual basis.

Ultimately, this assessment relied on the peer-reviewed process itself in its consideration of the quality of the work. While not all peer-reviewed studies are of equal merit, this appeared to be the most simple, useful, and appropriate standard for quality control and consideration given our purposes. Our selection criteria influence the categorization process and certain data inputs are gained or lost by our decisions to include or exclude particular type of studies.

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By only including original research on air quality, water quality, and public health, we are not accounting for all of the studies that may be pertinent to each topic e. For instance, climate change, water usage, and economic gains may all influence environmental and public health outcomes. We have excluded these topics from our analysis and have chosen to focus only on the three that have consistently received the most attention among environmental public health researchers.

Additionally, by not including government reports that do not appear in peer-reviewed journals we may be missing useful data and analysis that can inform UNGD public health implications as well as air and water quality concerns. The majority of studies included in this assessment were conducted to determine whether or not adverse effects from UNGD exist.