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NERC fracking

Setting the ground rules

Published on: 20 June 2018

Newcastle part of an ambitious £8m research project to improve our understanding of the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of fracking in the UK.

Bringing together leading scientists and engineers with key stakeholders, the aim is to provide independent, scientific, evidence-based understanding of the extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), the project will address five key programme challenges:

  • The evolving shale gas landscape.
  • Shale resource potential in the UK.
  • Transportation of the shale gas from reservoir to surface.
  • Contamination pathways.
  • Socio-economic impacts.

UK fracking set to begin

Leading the research on ‘the evolving shale gas landscape’, Newcastle University’s Professor Richard Davies says the aim is to make sure we fully understand the public perceptions, hazards, impacts and gas resources associated with fracking as we prepare to resume the process in the UK.

“Exploiting unconventional hydrocarbon resources through fracking is seen by some as an opportunity - a new source of energy, jobs and tax revenue - and by others as a threat, both to us and the environment.

“It is very likely that drilling and fracking of shale is about to resume in England for the first time since 2011, when fracking in Lancashire triggered earthquakes.

“And because of this, monitoring both the social and technical aspects of fracking as they evolve over the next few years will be critical if we are to understand future impact and respond quickly if circumstances change.”

Listening to the earth

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is the process of injecting pressurised fluids into drill holes in a bid to create cracks in the deep-rock to facilitate access to natural gas and oil.

Starting as an experiment in 1947, the first commercial operation started two years later in the US. Large-scale use of fracking in the North Sea started towards the end of the 1970s but on land, the only hydraulic fracturing of shale ever done in the UK was in 2011 when Cuadrilla Resources carried out tests at Preese Hall in Lancashire.

Operations were suspended due to earthquakes being felt near Blackpool in 2011. However, Cuadrilla is now hoping to exploit shale gas from its site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Professor Davies, who leads ReFINE, an international research consortium on fracking led jointly by Newcastle and Durham Universities, explains:

“No form of energy is totally safe or lacking any environmental impact and fracking shale for gas is no different.

“We have a good understanding of the impacts of fracking and this has informed our government’s decision to go ahead, but now that fracking appears to be proceeding, we need to listen to the earth and people’s concerns and learn from experience.

“Unfortunately, even with all the best science we cannot fully anticipate what will happen when a fracking operation takes place and, understandably, there are several areas of environmental concern that have been expressed.  

“But what the past five years have taught me is that this is not all about science, it’s as much about issues of trust, language and genuine consultation and that will play a key role in this latest project.”

Led by Professor Davies, Professor Rob Ward, of the British Geological Survey, and Professor Mike Bradshaw, from Warwick University, the project will also involve Anthony Zito, Professor of Public Policy, at Newcastle University,

Newcastle University’s Professor David Manning and Dr Jean Hall will form part of the team researching ‘contaminant pathways and receptor impacts’.


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