Dangers from fracking 'very low' if done correctly


GAS DRILLING:THE DANGERS from fracking if done correctly are “very, very low”, according to one of the authors of a report commissioned by the British government.

Prof Zoe Shipton said unconventional gas drilling was not altogether different from conventional gas drilling, and had been used in the UK since 1969.

Prof Shipton, from the University of Strathclyde, was one of the speakers at the Euroscience Open Forum discussion on fracking yesterday, which attracted a capacity crowd.

No one on the panel was opposed to fracking.

A small protest by anti-fracking campaigners took place outside the Convention Centre Dublin.

Prof Shipton believed it was theoretically possible for fractured shale gas to seep into aquifers, but the amounts involved would be very small because the fissures in the rock are narrower than a grain of sand.

She said much of the problems in the United States occurred because the well casings were not secure enough.

Prof Shipton was commissioned with a number of other authors by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, to examine the safety of fracking in light of an earthquake in Blackpool last year.

Prof Shipton said the earthquake was the only one recorded to date as a direct result of fracking.

She maintained the key to public confidence in fracking was establishing baseline values for water quality and ensuring that such procedures were properly monitored.

Ivan Pearson, a scientific officer in the European Commission’s energy security research unit, said that unconventional gas could account for 200 trillion cubic metres worldwide, increasing the amount of gas reserves by 50 per cent.

However, there was still a “huge amount of uncertainty around those figures” because extraction was not as efficient in unconventional gas.

He said the European Commission was putting forward a comprehensive report on the environmental and climate aspects of fracking which he did not want to prejudice, and he wanted to stick to the energy security of natural gas.

Europe has reserves of 16 billion cubic metres for fracking gas, enough to satisfy the continent’s gas needs for 30 years.

He warned that without unconventional gas, the percentage of Europe’s energy needs met by imported fuel would rise from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

He said the problems in 2009 when gas was cut off to Ukraine by Russia – and similarly countries in southeastern Europe when Italy suffered gas shortages because of the Arab spring in Libya – underlined the vulnerability of Europe to outside energy supplies.

Mr Pearson said natural gas was now as cheap in the United States as it was in the Middle East as a result of unconventional gas drilling.