Friday, 21 November 2014

Statement from the European Academies Science Advisory Council

This week the European Academies Science Advisory Council released a statement on shale gas in Europe. EASAC is formed from the national science academies of EU member states. You can read the full statement here, and an executive summary here

A spokesman for EASAC stated:
"While there is no scientific or technical reason to ban hydraulic fracturing, there are clear rules to be followed: Companies must work harder to obtain societal approval to operate, by engaging stakeholders in constructive dialogue and working towards agreed outcomes. Trust is critically important for public acceptance; requiring openness, a credible regulatory system and effective monitoring. Data on additives used and the results of monitoring to detect any water contamination or leakages of gas before, during and after shale gas operations should be submitted to the appropriate regulator and be accessible for the affected communities. The same openness to discuss on the basis of factual evidence must, however, also be expected from the other stakeholders." 
Key passages in the statement include the following:

  • This EASAC analysis provides no basis for a ban on shale gas exploration or extraction using hydraulic fracturing on scientific and technical grounds, although EASAC supports calls for effective regulations in the health, safety and environment fields highlighted by other science and engineering academies and in this statement. In particular, EASAC notes that many of the conflicts with communities and land use encountered in earlier drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations based on many single-hole wells have been substantially reduced by more modern technologies based on multiple well pads, which can drain up to 10 km2 or more of gas-bearing shale from a single pad. Other best practices, such as recycling of flow-back fluid and replacement of potentially harmful additives, have greatly reduced the environmental footprint of ‘fracking’. Europe’s regulatory systems and experience of conventional gas extraction already provide an appropriate framework for minimising disturbance and impacts on health, safety and the environment.
  • Overall, in Europe more than 1000 horizontal wells and several thousand hydraulic fracturing jobs have been executed in recent decades. None of these operations are known to have resulted in safety or environmental problems.
  • Regulations intended to ensure safe and environmentally sensitive drilling activities are already in force in those European countries with their own oil and gas industry.
  • The reservoir volume accessed from a single site has increased substantially through such multi-well pads and longer horizontal laterals, offering a potential extraction area of 10 km2 or more from one pad and reducing surface land use area accordingly. Unconventional gas fields thus no longer have significantly higher well pad densities than conventional fields. Technically, horizontal wells with a reach of up to 12 km are possible (although such wells would at present be uneconomic), but even with clusters of only 3 km radius, it becomes viable
  • to produce unconventional gas in heavily populated areas.
  • A recent meta-analysis (Heath et al. 2014) of the scientific publications on this issue [shale gas and CO2 emissions] came to two conclusions: (1) that emissions from shale gas extraction are similar to those from conventional gas extraction and (2) that both when used in power generation would probably emit less than half the CO2 emissions of coal.
  • Regarding potential sources of emissions from shale gas extraction, flaring and venting in conventional exploitation in Europe ceased during the 1990s (with the exception of initial flow tests in successful exploratory drilling); industry therefore possesses the necessary expertise to avoid this problem. ‘Green’ completion technologies are also widely used to capture and then sell (rather than vent or flare) methane and other gases emitted from flow-back water (they can be recovered at low cost by taking out the gas within a confined separator). This will be mandatory for hydraulic fracturing of all gas wells in the USA from 2015 onwards. Ensuring ‘green completion’ is fully applied in Europe is thus an essential prerequisite for maximising benefits from shale gas to climate change policies.
  • General industry practice in conventional wells (which typically have higher pressures and gas flow rates and longer lifetimes than shale gas wells) has solved the problems of gas migration. By pressure testing, the tightness of the well can be verified. Hydraulic fracturing also uses external casing packers to separate individual fracked zones from each other, creating mechanical barriers in the lowermost part of the well against gas migration outside of the casing.
Finally, I can only conclude that the EASAC are avid readers of Frackland, as they illustrate how lateral well drilling allows a substantial reduction of the surface footprint, as I have done numerous times on this blog. 
Figure 2 Innovation in well design and operation (source: Range Resources Ltd.). Left: old single well spacing (Texas); right: modern multi-well cluster configuration accessing gas from an area of up to 10 km2 (Pennsylvania).


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It is to be imagined that multipad wells will generate considerably more noise, light, pollution and tanker movements than single pad wells. Although the technology might exist to drill 15km long laterals as you say, this is uneconomic. The likelihood of drilling of very long laterals is also reduced by the fractured nature of the UKs geology. Multiwell pads will be used mostly to drill laterals to at different depths (particularly in the Bowland shale). The result will be well pads at same centres (average 3km) but vastly increased activity at each pad.

    The US does not have legislation limiting how closely wells can be drilled to people's home sand as a result wells have been drilled with 500 feet of homes and even schools. Unsurprisingly US communities are increasingly attempting to ban fracking within their jurisdictions (Denton, the home of fracking in Texas has just succeeded).

    As far as I can see the UK, despite alleged 'gold standard' legislation has set no limits on the distance drilling can occur from our homes and communities either.

    As there is no doubt large scale and intensive fracking in the countryside will greatly decrease the rural amenity of many of its inhabitants, will the use of multi well technology not just make this a lot worse?

    1. It doesn't add up...19 December 2014 at 06:37

      It seems unlikely that a multipad well will generate more noise, light, pollution and tanker movements than the same number of single pad wells. For a start, the drilling rig stays on site, and simply shifts a couple of metres to drill the next well: likewise all the other kit such as water tanks can be re-used well by well, instead of having to be shipped in for each well - and it may even be economic to consider installing pipelines to reduce truck movements for water supply and disposal to a treatment facility. Given the extent of the Bowland shale resource, there is probably little need to operate with a simultaneous closer spacing of drilling pads: sites can be remediated and relinquished as production progresses.

      Secondly, the mere fact that a multiwell site can be established makes it possible to locate the site so as to reduce if not minimise its impact on nearby residents. That may not necessarily mean locating them a given distance from housing, since the degree of noise and other nuisance depends on local features. The planning process already has mechanisms for dealing with these issues.

      The economics of horizontal drilling depend on the resource being drilled. In the case of Wytch Farm, which had the world's longest reach well for many years at over 11km (no intervening fractures), the target was a conventional oil reservoir offshore: it was cheaper to drill the well from shore than establish an offshore oil platform. In the case of shale, most of the horizontal length would be in a producing stratum, and the longer than can be saves on non-productive drilling down to the producing stratum. The economic length is a matter of the local geology and of technology, which can be expected to improve.

      The whole point about multiwell drillpads is precisely to reduce the environmental and rural amenity impact. Ten wells can be drilled from a site that is little different in size from that required to drill a single well.

  3. It doesn't add up...19 December 2014 at 05:57

    Are you planning to make a submission to this:

    I think you should, and also consider being a witness at the oral sessions.

  4. Thanks for the clear explanation. It take your point about length of laterals but suspect that the length of laterals may often be constrained by the UKs faulted geology. This suspicion is reinforced by the results of UK's one and only shale frack which resulted in a deformed well casing (suspected by some to be cracked and leaking) and two seismic disturbances... due it seems to the proximity of an unrecognised fault.

    I'd still be a lot happier if wells were not allowed to be constructed within a certain distance of dwellings and community buildings. This of course becomes even more important in the case of multiwell pads.

    I'm very interested to know why multilateral well technology is not being considered. Is it not appropriate for hydrofracking shale?

    Since I first wrote New York Sate has banned fracking. The report Cuomo commissioned states that more evidence is required that fracking can be carried out safely. This seems to me to be a reasonable position. The UK has no need to frack now. It might be best to wait till the dust has settled in the US first.

    I am aware of enquiry. I submitted to the recent public consultation on changing the law of trespass to allow fracking under our homes without our permission. Although 99% of respondents disagreed with the change the government went ahead anyhow and so my faith in our democratic processes is dimmed.

    1. It doesn't add up...19 December 2014 at 15:35

      Your contribution seems slightly at cross-purposes: are you BarcombeBoy (top post) as well? My post directly above yours was to encourage the site's host to consider giving evidence to Parliament - he is after all something of an expert in these matters.

      I suggest you read his posts under the Earthquakes tag (see Earthquake in the cloud tag top right, or)

      I think it's to be expected that where shale formations are thick strata (as they are in Bowland), multilateral wells at different levels will be the norm, as each horizontal can only tap a cylinder a few hundred feet or so in diameter: many US shales are narrower strata. I particularly recommend the first post under that tag - do click through to read the whole thing. Actually, read them all.

    2. @SimonTurner

      The UK's one and only frack did suffer a deformed casing. But this was in the producing part of the well in a part where the casing had already been perforated. The anti frackers case is the equivalent of saying that because someone folded a paper disc that had been used for target practise (and so had lots of holes in it) that the whole target range was damaged.

      Wells cannot be drilled close to homes and buildings as that would be against planning regulations. Planning has rules about noise and disturbance. Even though wells are temporary (sometimes taking less time than major road works) companies still have to lessen any noise & disturbance unless there is no other option.

      If Cuomo was really bothered about safety he'd ban all the gas coming in from Pennsylvania to reinforce his point about safety. People call for boycotts of goods on lesser grounds, so Cuomo wouldn't be doing anything unusual if he did ban Penn's gas. That New York is happy to use gas, just not get any benefit to it from the jobs and increase in air quality shows that Cuomo's stance is nothing more than politics.

      I'm all for fracking under my home. Am I worried? Nope. It'll happen thousands of meters below ground. It's like the noise & traffic from a busy industrial park a few miles away from home disturbing me - it can't. Well not unless I was worried about silly things like WiFi waves or believed that fracking changes the crystalline structure of water. But then a 5cm hole 5000m below ground could upset such people.

    3. It doesn't add up...22 December 2014 at 07:09

      I see Nick Grealy has been visiting Dimock to find out what all teh fuss is about:

    4. It doesn't add up...22 December 2014 at 11:30

      Perhaps I should also have mentioned the well in Southampton about 200 yds from the Southampton Central station in the Toys 'R' Us car park. It's a geothermal well - or rather, three of them so the return water can be reinjected - but it required drilling in the first place, and produces lots of formation water. You can find it here:

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