Frequently asked questions
Shale gas is methane, similar to other natural gas extracted from wells in the North Sea.
Fracking is hydraulic fracturing. It is a technique involving pumping water, sand and other chemicals into the rock at high pressure in order to fracture the rock to extract gas or oil held in the rock formation. The technique has been used for many years (since the 1940’s) on different types of wells. It is seen as ‘new’ to the UK as the pressure necessary to fracture rock is greater than that used in other wells to stimulate the flow of gas or oil from a reservoir.
Fracking allows drilling access to difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. It is also the only known way to extract the gas from this type of rock.
DECC say Shale Gas could be a useful stop-gap substitute for more conventional fossil fuels providing a means of reducing carbon emissions along with providing economic benefit and energy independence. More on Fracking can be found on the Government website.
The British Geological Survey report that the exact amount is not known but it estimated that there could be ‘considerable’ amounts of Shale Gas in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) role is to ensure that operators of shale gas activities are adequately managing and controlling risks to the health and safety of people, whether workers, contractors, or members of the public. The operator must work to ensure these risks are as low as is reasonably practicable (ALARP).
The main hazard from shale gas operations is the uncontrolled release of hydrocarbon gas due to a failure of the well structure, which may then reach a source of ignition leading to a fire or explosion.
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 or offshore oil and gas). People are generally working in conditions with traditional health and safety risks comparable to a construction site, including slips, trips and falls, being hit by something or using equipment.
Yes, HSE’s Energy Division is staffed with a range of experienced specialist well engineers and has sufficient specialist inspector resource available to regulate the current exploration stage of shale gas development.
If a large number of wells are drilled in order to produce shale gas HSE may need to increase resource accordingly. HSE has plans in place to review its resource at the relevant times.
Yes, HSE has over 20 years’ experience of operating its current safety regime for petroleum wells onshore where more than 350 wells have been drilled since 2000.
DECC say countries include, United States of America, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Germany.
Have the HSE consulted with these other countries about regulating the industry and the problems it could bring?
Yes, there are a number of regulators groups that HSE are involved with internationally.
HSE has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environment Agency (EA) to joint regulate shale gas sites to ensure that shale gas operators are managing and controlling health, safety, and environmental risks. There are arrangements for joint inspections with EA during the exploratory phase of shale gas development.
Also, HSE is a member of the cross-Government Shale Gas Strategy Group established by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC's) Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO). This ensures that the regulatory regime for shale gas operations is robust and coordinated.
Please see DECC’s report entitled ‘Fracking UK Shale: regulation and monitoring.’
HSE is committed to visiting all sites along with the Environment Agency during the current exploratory stage. As wells are deep underground and complex in their construction most of the structure is not accessible to visual inspection. So, alongside inspections at the extraction site, HSE focus on ensuring the operator is managing risks effectively throughout the life-cycle of the well.
Monitoring of well operations during construction is based on weekly reports submitted to HSE by the well operators. This provides HSE with the assurance that the well is being constructed and operated as described by the operator in the notification. If not, HSE can take appropriate action.
This is supplemented by a requirement for an independent well examiner to assess design, construction and maintenance.
Please see DECC’s report entitled ‘Fracking UK shale: understanding earthquake risk.’
This is decided as part of the planning process. In most cases the land will be restored as closely as possible to pre-drilling conditions.
Each proposed onshore well is consulted upon through the planning process.