The Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil - Economic Affairs Committee Contents

Chapter 7: Environmental impact of development of shale gas in the UK

125.  Opponents of shale gas development are concerned about environmental and health risks. These concerns must be taken seriously and addressed by Government, regulators and the industry. This chapter will examine each of the main fears and attempt to distinguish between the legitimate concerns and those that have been exaggerated. We address the regulation of shale gas development in the UK in Chapter 8.


Shale Gas Extraction

Source: CP14/038 British Geological Survey © NERC. All rights reserved.

Groundwater contamination

126.  Groundwater contamination was described by Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the Environment Agency, as "the biggest environmental risk".[245] Opponents of fracking told the Committee that contamination could arise from: chemicals present in the fluid used to fracture the rock; fugitive methane; and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) that return to the surface with wastewater after fracking has taken place.


127.  The Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) wrote that in the US, over 600 chemicals had been used in fracking fluid and some of these were "hazardous air and drinking water pollutants."[246] They were also concerned that many of the chemicals used are "proprietary and 'trade secret chemicals', making assessment of their health impact difficult".[247] They cited a 2011 report from the US House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce as the source of these claims.

128.  This report was the result of a Committee on Energy and Commerce investigation that looked at hydraulic fracturing during the infancy of the US shale revolution. The 14 leading oil and gas service companies were asked to disclose the products used in their fracturing fluids between 2005 and 2009. 750 chemicals and other components were found to have been used over the period. The US report concluded that "more than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens[248]".[249] Presenting the report, Representative Henry Waxman urged the US regulators to make certain that there were strong protections in place to prevent chemicals from entering drinking water supplies.[250] He did not otherwise propose restrictions on fracking. The findings of the report do not reflect current practice in the US.

129.  Since that report was published in 2011, the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board in the US has recommended that operators disclose all chemicals used in fracturing fluid.[251] Mr Chris Wright told us that unlike the chemicals involved "in making a couch, a sculpture, a wind turbine, a solar panel or a Starbucks … you can increasingly access all of the chemicals used on each fracturing job from the Frac Focus website."[252] The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report into shale gas extraction in the UK said that many claims of contaminated water wells due to shale gas have been made in the US and none have shown evidence of chemicals found in hydraulic fluids.[253]


130.  Unlike in the US, the composition of fracturing fluid in the UK requires regulatory approval from the Environment Agency. Dr Tony Grayling, Head of Climate Change and Communities at the Environment Agency, said they would, "not allow the use of substances in fracking fluid that we consider to be hazardous to groundwater … we have a tighter regulatory regime than is the case in some states in America."[254] Professor David MacKay, Chief Scientist at DECC, told us that the Environment Agency "has the powers to require full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, so there will not be anything secret."[255]

131.  With reference to Cuadrilla's operations in Lancashire, Mr Ian Roberts from the Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF) group said that the wastewater that returns to the surface following fracking "contains some nasty chemicals".[256] Asked to specify, Mr Roberts replied, "I do not have a scientific background and I cannot detail the chemicals involved."[257] Ms Tina Rothery added that when the companies "go into full production, they have access to up to 600 chemicals in the States at each well … We cannot say which ones they will use because generally they will not say. It is very hard to get this information."[258]

132.  The Cuadrilla website has a section entitled "fracturing fluid". It displays the pie chart below which shows that 99.95 per cent of their proposed fracturing fluid is water and sand. The remaining 0.05 per cent is polyacrylamide, a chemical that Professor MacKay said is "commonly used in cosmetics and facial creams."[259] Mr Egan told us that Cuadrilla

"propose to use one chemical, which is non-toxic, in our fracturing fluid. The Environment Agency will review it and approve it, and if it is declared hazardous to groundwater we will not use it … people say frequently to me: "You don't say what is in your fracturing fluid", and I say, "It's been on our website for the last three years."[260]


Composition of hydraulic fracturing fluid proposed by Cuadrilla


133.  Concerns about pollution of groundwater by fracking fluid seem largely based on reports of past practice in the US, where greater transparency is now enforced. The position in the UK is clear: the regulators require full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid, they do not permit use of hazardous chemicals and operators do not use them. Provided that the regulator enforces this prohibition, hydraulic fracturing fluid poses no risk to groundwater in the UK.


134.  Some witnesses expressed fears that methane might find its way into groundwater. The Committee heard that this could happen by methane migrating up natural faults into groundwater or through leaking from a poorly constructed well.


135.  Two American films, Gasland and Gasland 2, have received great publicity for appearing to demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing has led to tap water in nearby homes becoming flammable.[261] Professor Richard Muller, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, told us that it was well documented that the "flaming faucets" shown in the movie are a natural phenomenon that pre-dated fracking, and are known to be the result of generation of biogenic methane by bacteria that gets into well water.[262] Mr Wright told us that the portrayal in the second Gasland film of water from a hosepipe being set on fire had been ruled a fraud by the local courts as the perpetrators simply hooked a garden hose up to a residential gas line.[263] No opponents of fracking cited these two films in support of their arguments.

136.  The UK Onshore Operators' Group (UKOOG) said that "repudiating some of [the] myths" around contamination has been more difficult due to the "lack of baseline monitoring in the US, making it difficult to prove that the industry has not been at fault".[264] Professor Mair told us that

"the evidence from the US is rather hard to unravel … not least because of the absence of baseline monitoring … there is no question that there are some areas where the geology is such that methane naturally bubbles up into groundwater. It can be very misleading to imply that it is all down to hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction."[265]


137.  As Figure 10 at the beginning of this chapter illustrates, shale gas is found deep underground; it starts to be produced between depths of 1,500 metres and 4,200 metres.[266] Professor Stephenson told us that "the key is to remember that shale will be exploited or fracked pretty deep, so a long way from rocks that contain water … Most geologists find it very hard to imagine contamination could occur in those circumstances."[267] He also said that the BGS were mapping areas where there were big differences and small differences between possible shale layers and layers containing aquifers: "it is not finished yet but that would be a very important way of essentially screening which parts of the country have aquifers close to shales".[268]

138.  Professor David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow, thought it was likely that in the UK, "fugitive methane … will eventually contaminate aquifers."[269] FFBRA cited Professor Smythe's concerns and quoted him as saying, "a leaky fault is a fast-track back to shallow groundwater and to the surface for methane".[270]

139.  The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering's report does not reflect Professor Smythe's fears. It considered propagation of methane through natural fractures very unlikely: sufficiently high upward pressures would be required during the fracturing process and then sustained for a long time afterwards once the fracturing process had ceased and it was difficult to conceive of how this might occur. Even if that did happen, the permeability of the fractures would need to be similar to the overlying aquifer for any significant quantity of liquid to flow and it did not think this would be likely either.[271] Professor Mair told us that the risk was "very low".[272]

140.  Professor Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University said that, although there had been well over a million fracking operations in America, many of which happened in areas where there were natural faults, "There is not yet any hard evidence to show that contamination has occurred in the water supply due to fracking operations."[273] Mr Wright wrote that there was not a single instance of a hydraulic fracture contaminating groundwater in the more than two million hydraulic fractures that have been performed over the last 65 years.[274]

141.  The Environment Agency issued draft technical guidance on onshore oil and gas exploration in August 2013. It provides that if the Environment Agency determines that there is a risk of groundwater contamination, a permit for groundwater activity will be required.[275] An operator applying for a permit would need to provide the Environment Agency with "a conceptual model showing the hydrogeological relationship between the zone of interest and any overlying or adjacent aquifers."[276] Dr Grayling told us that the Environment Agency would object to shale gas development if there were proposals to drill in a location which was important to supplies of drinking water.[277] Ms Harvey said that the industry would monitor how high fractures grow during operations to make sure that the fractures did not get near water supplies.[278]

142.  The weight of scientific opinion is that the risk of methane migrating up natural faults and into aquifers is "difficult to conceive" and "hard to imagine" in the UK. With strict regulatory oversight and monitoring, the risk of methane contamination of aquifers through natural fractures is very low.


143.  About 25 per cent to 75 per cent of the injected fracturing fluid flows back to the surface through the well after fracking has taken place.[279] This fluid is mixed with methane and saline water containing minerals from the shale formation below. This 'flowback water' (or 'wastewater') will typically contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs).[280] Most witnesses who expressed fears about NORMs were concerned with the safe treatment and disposal of the wastewater once it returns to the surface. These concerns are dealt with in a separate section below. Fears were also expressed that well failure could lead to NORMs entering groundwater underneath the surface.[281]


144.  A leak from a poorly constructed or sealed well could provide a way for fracturing fluid, methane or NORMs present in wastewater to get into groundwater. Tony Grayling told us that "where there have been problems … in the United States, they have been to do with the poor sealing of the well nearer the surface".[282] Professor Stephenson said that "There are peer-reviewed papers in the United States that have come out recently that show that there is evidence of fracking gas getting into water supplies."[283] Professor Stephenson and Professor Smythe both highlighted one recent study from the US.[284] This paper attributed the presence of methane in aquifers near to shale gas extraction sites in the Marcellus shale to leaking wells.[285] The paper concluded that the two simplest explanations were that methane had leaked from wells due to faulty or inadequate casings and imperfections in the sealing of the wells.[286]

145.  The British Geological Survey considers that there is a risk of contamination where the well goes through the underground layer that contains aquifers.[287] Professor Stephenson said that "the important thing is that those wells are completed and engineered properly".[288] Professor Mair agreed: "a much more likely source of potential contamination is poorly constructed wells, so well integrity is paramount."[289] Dr Grayling said that "It is particularly critical from the point of view of environmental protection that the well is properly constructed and sealed … it is our responsibility to ensure, along with the Health and Safety Executive, that those regulations are properly applied."[290]

146.  Professor Mair said that "if all the right safeguards are applied … that is an important proviso … then, yes, I believe that shale gas can be produced safely without any significant risk of contamination."[291] Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the Environment Agency, said that "provided that drilling takes place in the right place and provided that it is properly regulated … there should be no risk to groundwater."[292]

147.  The only significant risk posed to groundwater by hydraulic fracturing is of methane or wastewater entering aquifers as a result of a poorly constructed or sealed well. This is also a risk for conventional onshore gas and oil production. The risk is low as long as independent monitoring ensures that wells are properly constructed and sealed.

Disposal and treatment of flowback water

148.  Flowback water returning to the surface after hydraulic fracturing may contain hazardous materials. The water that returns is heavily salted and often contains heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs). Mr Chris Wright described this as the "real hazard" from oil and gas production, a problem he said was as old the industry itself.[293] Opponents of fracking have cited the disposal and treatment of flowback water as an environmental risk.


149.  Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) told us that recent reports had revealed elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals downstream from US water treatment plants.[294] FFBRA also quoted Avner Vengosh, Professor of Geochemistry and Water Quality at Duke University: "'Years of disposal of oil and gas wastewater with high radioactivity has created potential environmental risks for thousands of years to come'."[295] Professor Vengosh made this statement in October 2013 when releasing a study from Duke University that compared the quality of shale gas flowback water from the Marcellus shale with stream water above and below a disposal site in Pennsylvania.[296]

150.  The Duke study was based on water samples taken between August 2010 and November 2012.[297] Mr Wright told of an operator in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania who sent flowback water to a water treatment facility that was not equipped to handle the NORMs present.[298] He said, "It should never have happened … It would never happen in Pennsylvania today."[299]

151.  FFBRA also said that much of the flowback water in the US was injected into the ground to be disposed of, "where it can cause earthquakes by stressing and lubricating existing faults."[300] Professor Muller told us that earthquakes induced this way "are of concern."[301] He said the larger earthquakes produced in the United States "came from storage of flowback water in specialised sites and pumping far more water down into those than should have been done. That can be avoided by regulating the use of the flowback water".[302]

152.  Finally, FFBRA said that flowback water in the US was often held in open lagoons.[303] Sir David King said that "in the United States, still today, the water is pooled. The pools have membranes to prevent the water from going into the ground. I would suggest that membranes are not always trustworthy."[304]


153.  DECC published a Strategic Environmental Assessment in December 2013 (carried out by AMEC) which predicted that under a high activity scenario, there could be annual production of 108 million cubic metres of flowback water that would require treatment.[305] This was approximately three per cent of UK total annual wastewater. Depending on where it was treated it "could place a substantial burden on existing wastewater treatment infrastructure capacity."[306]

154.  FFBRA quoted this assessment as indicating that "currently there is no safe way of treating and disposing of this material, and it is deemed to be nasty enough that there is no waste facility in Britain equipped to treat it."[307] Mr Roberts said that Residents' Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF) understood that Cuadrilla "do not have any plans in place to treat safely and dispose of the waste flow-back water."[308] He said that the flowback water that came out of the Preese Hall site[309] went to a treatment plant at Davyhulme,[310] "but our understanding is that that plant became overwhelmed with the quantity, toxicity and radioactive nature."[311]

155.  Mr Lee Petts from Remsol Limited said that the flowback water "can be treated, the contaminants largely removed and it can be returned back into the water environment".[312] He said the flowback water could be treated at about a dozen existing industrial waste water treatment plants around the UK.[313] Cuadrilla had yet to make a decision on future plans as it was exploring options around on-site recycling.[314] It was "incorrect" that the Davyhulme treatment plant had been compromised as described by Mr Roberts: "my enquiries … confirm that treatment of the wastewater was completed successfully and without any identified detriment to the treatment process."[315] The DECC Strategic Environment Assessment said that given the industry is not expected to be at substantial scale before the 2020s, "this will allow time for any necessary new investment in infrastructure such as waste water treatment capacity."[316]

156.  Under the UK regulatory regime, flowback water is deemed to be a mining waste and operators require an environmental permit to dispose of it.[317] The disposal method is agreed between the operator, the treatment facility and the environmental regulator as a condition of the permit.[318] All facilities in the UK that can treat flowback water hold the appropriate permits to deal with the waste.[319] As explained in paragraph 115, the Environment Agency would not permit flowback water to be stored in open pits and lagoons in the UK.


157.  Professor Muller told the Committee that the technology for recycling flowback water has been developed so that it could be substituted for fresh water for future hydraulic fractures.[320] Mr Petts said that a better option than treatment would be "to clean it up at the drill site so that it can be reused by fracturing at another stage in the well."[321] The DECC Strategic Environment Assessment said that "if on-site treatment and recycling could occur, wastewater volumes … could be reduced."[322]

158.  In the US, disposal of flowback water after hydraulic fracturing has in recent years aroused some environmental concerns, now being addressed. In the UK, by contrast, flowback water is subject to the regulations on mining waste and its disposal and treatment is carefully controlled.

Demands on UK water supply

159.  Hydraulic fracturing requires water. WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were concerned about possible demands on the UK water supply.[323] Ms Rothery said that "you are using four Olympic-size swimming pools per frack, per well … it is an awful lot of water."[324]

160.  DECC's recent Strategic Environment Assessment predicted that under a high activity scenario, annual water use could be up to 9 million cubic metres.[325] This would represent an increase of nearly 18.5 per cent on the current amount of mains water supplied to the energy, water and waste sectors annually but was "substantially less" than 1 per cent of total UK annual non domestic mains water usage.[326] Mr Wright told us that water usage in the US was "quite modest … water consumption for fracturing is 0.13 per cent of Colorado total water usage."[327] Mr Roberts said RAFF would "not want to overstate this problem" as they believed it was the South East of England that was most at risk.[328]


161.  The Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) published an independent report in January 2014 which considered the implications of shale gas development for water resources. The report described claims that the shale gas industry represents a threat to the security of public water supplies as "alarmist."[329] It suggested that if a large industry developed, there would be greater pressures on water that could lead to issues with water sourcing, particularly in the South East, although water usage would be comparable with other industrial users. UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) and Water UK believe that the risks can be mitigated with appropriate regulation.[330]

162.  Dr Grayling said that

"it is very important to understand that if you want to take large amounts of water from the environment, you require a licence from the Environment Agency … we would not license levels of abstraction beyond that which would be environmentally safe."[331]

Professor MacKay told us that

"there is no potential at all for a shortage … planning permission will be granted and permits will be issued … only when there is a plan that will ensure that the water requirements are sustainable and that there will no impact on the security of supply to existing customers."[332]

Water UK and the UKOOG have a memorandum of understanding which is intended to identify and address any potentially locally significant effects on water resources.[333]


163.  Professor Mair told us that technological advances could enable water use to be minimised by replacing it with flowback water.[334] Mr Petts agreed. He also thought there would be a "move to waterless fracturing systems using inert gases instead of water to reduce that water demand."[335] Professor Muller said that some operators in the US have started to use saline water instead of fresh water.[336]

164.  Fears of water shortages arising from shale gas development have been overplayed: demand for water from onshore shale operators, even at high levels of activity, would be comparable to demand by other industrial users; regulators will not permit levels of water consumption that threaten household supplies; and technological advances such as the substitution of saline water and recycling of flowback water are likely to reduce demand for fresh water.

Seismic activity


165.  On 1 April and 27 May 2011, two earth tremors measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter Scale were detected in the Blackpool area. A link was suspected to hydraulic fracture injections at a well at Preese Hall, Lancashire, operated by Cuadrilla Resources Limited. This well was hydraulically fractured during exploration of a shale gas reservoir in the Bowland basin.[337] Operations were suspended and Cuadrilla commissioned a number of studies into the relationship between the earth tremors and their operations.[338]

166.  As a result of these tremors, earthquakes are perceived in the public consciousness as one of the major environmental risks associated with shale gas development.[339] Ian Roberts from the RAFF group told us they were "a concern".[340] A section labelled "Our Concerns" on the RAFF website says "we have already had two notable earthquakes and numerous small ones … What more is to come?"[341]


167.  Natural seismicity in the UK never exceeds magnitude 5 on the Richter Scale.[342] Coal-mining operations can produce seismic tremors up to magnitude 4.[343] Professor Mair told us that it was "very unlikely" that any tremor produced by shale gas operations would be greater than magnitude 3, an event he described as "no worse than a heavy lorry driving past the house".[344] He said the two tremors at Preese Hall were "very, very small events" and that the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering were "quite clear that there is no material risk from earthquakes."[345]

168.  Mr Petts said that "there was one in Wigan in Lancashire last month or the month before that was a magnitude 1.5.[346] We have not heard anything about that in the press; there has been no discussion of that."[347] Mr Wright said the Preese Hall tremors were "far below the magnitude able to be felt at the surface."[348] The Secretary of State for the Environment told us the tremors probably caused "the same drama in someone's house as a bus going past."[349] FFBRA said that in relation to the issue of groundwater contamination, "the question of earthquake triggering is but a sideshow."[350]


169.  The Government announced in July 2011 that following discussions between DECC and Cuadrilla, there would be a pause in hydraulic fracturing operations to enable further study of the seismic events.[351] A report by three independent experts was commissioned by DECC.[352] It agreed with the reports commissioned by Cuadrilla that the tremors were caused by the direct injection of fluid in a tremor zone. It made a number of recommendations for the mitigation of seismic risks in the conduct of future hydraulic fracture operations. The report concluded that there was "no reason why Cuadrilla Resources Ltd should not be allowed to proceed with their shale gas exploration activities" and they recommended "cautious continuation of hydraulic fracture operations".[353]

170.  On 13 December 2012, DECC announced that exploratory hydraulic fracturing could resume in the UK subject to new controls to mitigate the risks of seismic activity:[354] These controls would require the operator to:

·  carry out, prior to the start of activity, an assessment of stress fields and historical seismicity to identify what stress faults might exist in the area;

·  submit a hydraulic fracturing plan to DECC showing how the identified seismic risks would be addressed, ensuring no intention to frack near active faults;

·  carry out seismic monitoring before, during and after hydraulic fracturing;

·  put in place a traffic light system which has a trigger mechanism to stop hydraulic fracturing operations under certain conditions.[355]

171.  Ms Harvey said the measures were "probably the most stringent anywhere in the world for induced seismic activity"; Professor Mair agreed.[356] Professor Stephenson thought these measures were "important" for public reassurance.[357] Mr Egan said that Cuadrilla "will put in an exhaustive seismic monitoring array around each well site".[358] In relation to the introduction of monitoring systems, Mr Roberts said that, "I think we have to acknowledge that that might mitigate further problems."[359]


172.  Mr Roberts said that the particular concern of RAFF was the damage seismic activity could cause to well integrity.[360] FFBRA also raised this issue.[361] The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report recommended that attention should be given to any damage to well integrity following seismic activity; well integrity should be reviewed by the independent well examiner.[362] The UK Onshore Shale Gas Guidelines provide that operators should include in their well examination scheme arrangements for the examination of induced seismicity risks in well design.[363]

173.  The Government have introduced stringent planning and monitoring requirements governing the activities of onshore oil and gas operators which might lead to induced seismicity. On the evidence we have heard, there should be no risk that seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing would be of sufficient magnitude to constitute any risk to people and property.

Dangers to public health

174.  Opponents of fracking expressed concerns about the dangers of emissions into the atmosphere arising from on-site machinery, HGV movements, drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flaring. They feared that communities living close to shale gas developments would be at a higher risk of health problems as a result of atmospheric pollution. These fears are based on studies from the US that appear to point to health risks for people living close to unconventional gas and oil production sites.


175.  The most detailed human-health assessment to date in peer-reviewed literature is a study by McKenzie and others of the Colorado School of Public Health.[364] This research looked at the impact on a local community of a large shale gas development site. It estimated that health risks were greater for those living within half a mile of a well site than those living more than half a mile away.[365] Another study highlighted to us found that the concentration of carcinogenic pollutants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) near an unconventional gas field in Colorado were over 60 times the legal limit in the UK.[366]


176.  Both the US studies were addressed in the draft report by Public Health England (PHE) into the public health impacts relating to shale gas extraction.[367] It noted that the McKenzie paper was preliminary and further research was required; it took the view that the McKenzie study had limitations and uncertainties, that the results were not easily applicable to other areas and that the methodology was not recommended for use in the UK. PHE concluded that "the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated."[368]

177.  Dr Grayling emphasised that "there are practices permitted in the United States … that we would not permit in [the UK]".[369] Mr Figueira said that under licence conditions venting of methane would only be allowed in case of a safety requirement and flaring of methane would be kept to the technical and economic minimum.[370]

178.  Dr Grayling suspected that part of the air quality issue identified in Colorado arose at production stage with a higher density of operations.[371] The UK would "certainly need to be mindful of the cumulative risk that you might get when operations scale up, and we will adapt our regulatory approach accordingly to ensure that you do not get unacceptable levels of pollutants going into the atmosphere."[372] The DECC Strategic Environment Assessment considered that regulatory controls through the planning system and environmental permitting would reduce the risk of impacts on air quality.[373]


179.  The Trades Union Congress expressed fears over the impact of air emissions on the health of workers.[374] It cited a study of 2012 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US which found that workers may be exposed to dust with high levels of "respirable crystalline silica", a cancer-causing substance, during hydraulic fracturing.[375] The reports of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering and of Public Health England do not refer to this study. The Health and Safety Executive told us that the occupational health and safety risks to workers from shale gas pilot activities are "considerably lower than for other mineral extraction industries (e.g. coal mining and offshore oil and gas)."[376]

180.  Public Health England (PHE) has recently reviewed all the available evidence on the risks to public health arising from air emissions from shale gas activities, including US studies brought to our attention by opponents of shale gas development. We find persuasive the conclusion of PHE's preliminary report that the risks to public health from shale gas exploration and production are low with proper regulation.


181.  Dr David Lowry told us that shale gas "would have to be stored for at least a month before being distributed to people's homes to allow for this radioactive decay of radon."[377] He cited a US report that "some shale gas deposits contain as much as 30 times the radiation that is found in normal background."[378] Professor Stephenson did not regard the presence of radon in gas as "a serious risk."[379] He told us that shales are "weakly radioactive … much less than you get in somewhere like Aberdeen or Cornwall … This is quite a well known phenomenon".[380] Public Health England's interim report took account of the US study and "considered very unlikely that shale gas activities would have any significant effect on radon levels in homes."[381] We find persuasive the view of Public Health England that shale gas development would be very unlikely to have a significant effect on radon levels in homes.

Traffic and noise pollution


182.  Opponents of fracking expressed concerns about the impact of increased traffic resulting from shale gas development, particularly in rural areas. The RAFF website warns that "the Fylde will be turned into an industrial zone and will have a negative knock-on effect on our main industries—tourism and agriculture."[382] FFBRA said villagers at Balcombe were "plagued by heavy traffic" as a result of activity by Cuadrilla.[383] Mr Grealy told us that "the number one concern" from Balcombe residents was traffic.[384] Citing a recent report from the Institute of Directors, EDF wrote that a typical 10 well shale gas pad would require 8,000 truck movements over the course of its life.[385]

183.  The DECC Strategic Environment Assessment estimated the expected traffic levels at a well pad site during three different stages of shale gas development:[386]


Estimated Vehicle Movements
Development phase Vehicle movements/day Duration of vehicle movements
Exploratory drilling 14-36 12-13 weeks
Production development 16-51 32-145 weeks[387]
Production and operation 10-45[388] Dependent on well productivity

Source: DECC (2013)

184.  The Strategic Environment Assessment concluded that any adverse effects of traffic on local communities could be mitigated by planning controls.[389] The Department for Communities and Local Government also told us that consideration of applications for planning permission would take account of expected traffic movements.[390] Planning controls could cover the development of a transport plan, the scheduling, timing and frequency of movements, speed restrictions and the use of alternative routes to and from the site.[391] INEOS welcomed the industry's proposed community benefit scheme because of the inconvenience that could be caused to local communities by increased traffic.[392]

185.  The Committee recognises that development of shale, like any other industrial activity, would cause an increase in traffic and disruption in some places, especially during periods when wells were being drilled. Although planning controls may mitigate disturbance, there should be a role for the industry's community benefits scheme to compensate those affected individually.



The Decibel Scale

Source: Reproduced by permission of HSE

186.  Noise requirements around operating sites are put in place as part of the planning approval from the local authority and of the environmental permit issued by the environmental regulator.[393] Lord Smith told us that the Environment Agency had received complaints from residents about the noise from Cuadrilla's site at Balcombe.[394] Mr Egan said that Cuadrilla had received a complaint which they investigated[395] and measured 52 decibels, whereas the night time limit was 48 decibels,[396] a difference he described as "less than a whisper."[397]

187.  Balcombe residents made representations that the breach was more significant than a whisper. On the basis of analysis from acousticians at Salford University, the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology understands that it was probably misleading of Mr Egan to assert that the difference between 48 and 52 decibels was less than a whisper, but the increase could be considered modest. Figure 13 above shows where some common sounds would register on the decibel scale.

188.  Spectrum Acoustic Consultants were monitoring noise levels at Balcombe over the 10 week period these events took place. They found that there were some occasions when noise levels increased slightly above the night time limit, "occasional short term 'spikes'… to above 50 decibels".[398] They noted that sound levels prior to drilling were shown to be above the noise limits and that the minor excesses would not be significant. They concluded that "the noise limits during well site operations are being met."[399]

189.  On the evidence available to us, Cuadrilla's operations at Balcombe appear usually to have observed prescribed noise limits, with occasional minor lapses.


190.  Ms Rothery told us that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had upheld complaints about a number of claims that Cuadrilla had made in an advertising brochure, published in summer 2012.[400] We received representations from Balcombe residents that also drew attention to the ASA ruling on the brochure. The ASA examined 18 complaints against advertising by Cuadrilla.[401] It rejected 12 of these. The remaining 6 complaints that were upheld by the ASA were matters of nuance and modest misstatement rather than blatant attempts to mislead. The ASA ruled that the brochure must not appear in the same form again.[402]

191.  It is widely believed, by opponents and others, that exploration and production of shale gas in the UK would pose dangers to the environment and to public health. Government, regulators and the industry need to take these fears, legitimate and exaggerated, seriously and tackle them. We heard an impressive amount of scientific evidence that with a robust regulatory regime the risks to the environment and public health are low. With such a regime in place, we consider the environmental risks to be small, whereas the benefits if shale gas development takes place are substantial.

245   Q 161. Back

246   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

247   IbidBack

248   A carcinogen is a substance that may lead to cancer. Substances labelled as carcinogens will have different levels of cancer-casuing potential; some may cause cancer only after prolonged, high-levels of exposure (American Cancer Society, Back

249   United States House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce (2011) Chemicals Used In Hydraulic Fracturing, 18 April. Back

250   See for the Committee on Energy and Commerce press release, 16 April 2011. Back

251   Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (2011) Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Second Ninety Day Report, US Department of Energy, 18 November. Back

252   Chris Wright. Back

253   Mair, R. et al (2012) Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing, Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. Back

254   Q 167. Back

255   Q 211. Back

256   Q 187. Back

257   Q 188. Back

258   IbidBack

259   Q 211. Back

260   Q 82. Back

261   Chris Wright. Back

262   Professor Richard Muller. Back

263   Chris Wright. Back

264   UKOOG. Back

265   Q 70. Back

266   DECC (2013) Developing Onshore Shale Gas and Oil - Facts about 'Fracking'Back

267   Q 30. Back

268   Q 26. Back

269   Professor David Smythe. Back

270   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

271   Mair, R. et al (2012), Op. CitBack

272   Q 69. Back

273   Q 130. Back

274   Chris Wright. Back

275   Environment Agency (2013) Onshore oil and gas exploratory operations: Consultation Draft, August 2013. Back

276   IbidBack

277   Q 160. Back

278   Q 31. Back

279   Mair, R. et al (2012), Op. CitBack

280   IbidBack

281   Q 192. Back

282   Q 181. Back

283   Q 30. Back

284   Q 30 and Professor Smythe. Back

285   Q 30. Back

286   Jackson et al (2013) 'Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction', Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 110, No 28. Back

287   Q 30. Back

288   Q 26. Back

289   Q 69. Back

290   Q 181. Back

291   Q 71. Back

292   Q 181. Back

293   Chris Wright. Back

294   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

295   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

296   See for Professor Vengosh's discussion of the study's results. Back

297   Warner, N., Christie, C., Jackson, B. and Vengosh, A. (2013) 'Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania', Environmental Science & Technology, 47 (20). Back

298   Chris Wright. Back

299   Q 236. Back

300   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

301   Professor Richard Muller. Back

302   Q 49. Back

303   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

304   Q 210. Back

305   DECC (2013) Strategic Environmental Assessment for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing, AMEC Environment and Infrastructure UK Limited for DECC. Back

306   IbidBack

307   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

308   Q 187. Back

309   Preese Hall was a well near Blackpool, Lancashire that Cuadrilla hydraulically fractured in 2011. See paragraph 165 for more detail. Back

310   An area of Trafford in Greater Manchester. A wastewater treatment works, operated by United Utilities, is located there. Back

311   Q 187. Back

312   Q 188. Back

313   Q187. Back

314   Q 187 & Q 188. Back

315   Remsol Limited (supplementary written evidence). Back

316   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

317   DECC (2013) About shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), 19 December. Back

318   DECC (2013) About shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), 19 December. Back

319   IbidBack

320   Professor Richard Muller. Back

321   Q 188. Back

322   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

323   WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Back

324   Q 190. Back

325   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

326   IbidBack

327   Chris Wright. Back

328   Q 190. Back

329   Grant, L. and Chisholm, A. (2014) Shale Gas and Water, The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). Back

330   See for Water UK's policy position (27 November 2013) on shale gas extraction. Back

331   Q 166. Back

332   Q 212. Back

333   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

334   Q 69. Back

335   Q 190. Back

336   Q 47. Back

337   Green, C., Styles, P. and Baptie, B. (2012) Preese Hall Shale Gas Fracturing, Review and Recommendations for Induced Seismic Migration, commissioned by DECC. Back

338   Eisner et all (2011); Harper (2011); GMI (2011); de Pater and Pellicer (2011); Baisch and Voros (2011) Back

339   Q 119; Q148. Back

340   Q 189. Back

341   See  Back

342   Q 70. Back

343   IbidBack

344   IbidBack

345   IbidBack

346   An earth tremor of magnitude 1.5 was recorded by the British Geological Society on 20 October 2013 in Wigan:  Back

347   Q 189. Back

348   Chris Wright. Back

349   Q 268. Back

350   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

351   House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, Shale Gas: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2010-12' (7th Special Report, Session 2010-12, HC Paper 1449). Back

352   Green, C., Styles, P. and Baptie, B. (2012), Op, CitBack

353   IbidBack

354   See for the DECC press release announcing that shale gas exploration can resume and introducing the new controls. Back

355   Ibid & Q 31. Back

356   Q 31 & Q 70. Back

357   Q 29. Back

358   Q 86. Back

359   Q 89. Back

360   Q 189. Back

361   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

362   Mair, R. et al (2012), Op. CitBack

363   UKOOG (2013) UK Onshore Shale Gas Well Guidelines, Issue 1, February 2013. Back

364   Kibble, A. et al (2013) Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction: Draft for Comment, Public Health England, 31 October. Back

365   McKenzie LM, et al (2012) 'Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources', Science of the Total Environment, 10 February. Back

366   Colborn T, et al (2011) 'Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective', Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal, 20 September. Back

367   Kibble, A. et al (2013), Public Health England Op, CitBack

368   IbidBack

369   Q 167. Back

370   Q 164. Back

371   Q 167. Back

372   IbidBack

373   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

374   TUC. Back

375   IbidBack

376   Health and Safety Executive. Back

377   Dr David Lowry. Back

378   Ibid. The report by Marvin Resnikoff from the Radioactive Waste Management Associates is available here:  Back

379   Q 32. Back

380   IbidBack

381   Kibble, A. et al (2013), Public Health England Op, CitBack

382   See  Back

383   Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association. Back

384   Q 1 42. Back

385   EDF. Back

386   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

387   32 to 73 weeks under a low activity scenario, 32 to 145 weeks under a high activity scenario Back

388   Dependent on the assumed duration of fracturing per site and management of flowback water Back

389   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

390   Department for Communities and Local Government. Back

391   AMEC for DECC (2013), Op, CitBack

392   INEOS. Back

393   Q 168. Back

394   IbidBack

395   Q 81. Back

396   The night time limit was actually 42 decibels. Back

397   Q 81. Mr Egan asked to make a correction to the transcript following the evidence session: the night-time limit was 42 decibels, the day-time limit was 55 decibels and the noise level measured, following a report, was "varying between 45 and 48 decibels with occasional short duration peaks to 51 decibels". He added: "Cuadrilla accepts that a 50Db noise level is louder than a whisper and noise at a level of 50 Db has been compared to a "quiet suburb" or a "conversation at home"." Back

398   See for the report by Spectrum Acoustic Consultants entitled 'Noise monitoring during operations: Lower Stumble Well Site, Balcombe, West Sussex'. Back

399   IbidBack

400   Q 186. Back

401   See for the April 2013 adjudication of the Advertising Standards Authority. Back

402   IbidBack

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