Critical Resource sets out draft principles for the responsible development of shale gas.
The debate around shale gas in the UK and other European countries has become increasingly polarised. Supporters of the industry see domestic shale gas extraction as a means of promoting lower-carbon alternatives to coal, boosting employment and government revenue, reducing dependence on gas imports and lowering energy prices. Opponents fear that ‘fracking’ could undermine the transition to renewable energy sources, trigger large-scale methane emissions and cause damage to local eco-system and livelihoods.
In recent years, various organisations have attempted to formulate minimum standards for the shale gas industry. Continued opposition to shale gas from some groups however shows that governments and companies will need to go above and beyond the basics to build common ground.
Drawing on extensive experience in dealing with ‘license to operate’ issues in extractive industries around the world, as well as consultation with a broad range of domestic stakeholders, Critical Resource is exploring a set of initiatives and recommendations to determine whether shale gas can be responsibly developed, and if so, whether greater public acceptance around the industry can be built.
Through independent research, Critical Resource is promoting open, fact-based debate. Below are an initial set of principles, which could form the foundation of further initiatives to build common ground on shale gas. In coming months, Critical Resource will engage with NGOs, shale gas companies and other key stakeholders to develop these further. Please note that one member of Critical Resource’s senior advisory panel, Lord Browne, is also a director of Cuadrilla. Lord Browne provides general strategic guidance to Critical Resource, but is not in any way involved with this specific initiative.
Draft principles for responsible shale gas extraction
- Environmental protection: Companies should commit to best practice standards in the construction of well casings and flowback storage tanks, conduct thorough geological surveys to reduce the risk of seismic activity, implement minimum depth requirements and reduce the use of chemical additives.
- Protection of groundwater resources: Shale gas extraction requires large amounts of water. Companies should follow industry best practice on treatment of waste products (especially flowback water), invest in research on maximizing efficient water usage, and recycle water where feasible.
- Environmental monitoring: In order to instill public trust, companies need to monitor and disclose all data on water use, emissions and chemical additives. Monitoring should occur in a participatory manner and be independently verified.
- Climate change: Governments should devise strategies to ensure shale gas is a bridging fuel in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Shale gas companies should take steps to reduce GHG emissions at each stage of the production process by eliminating venting, minimising flaring and preventing fugitive methane emissions. Investment in accurate methane measurement techniques is crucial to tracking progress on emissions reduction.
- Consultation: Local authorities and shale gas companies should provide forums for public debate at each stage of the development of an asset, including before exploration begins. Public concerns, particularly around well site location, should be integrated into development plans.
- Minimise adverse local impacts: Well sites need to be carefully selected to reduce impacts on local livelihoods, heritage and ecology, including through noise and visual pollution.
- Local benefits: Social investment programmes (including training schemes or local trust funds) and infrastructure investments should act as means of conferring direct benefits to those people living in the immediate vicinity of shale gas operations.
- Preparedness: Companies need robust, publicly-available emergency response plans, through which they commit to quick response, full remediation and compensation in the case of an accident.
- Collaboration: Shale gas companies should use industry bodies to strengthen best practice standards and facilitate intra-industry learning.
- Fact-based communication: Companies and governments need to accurately communicate the potential benefits of shale gas extraction to the public. To foster a facts-based debate, realistic estimates of the impact on revenue, job creation and energy prices must be given.