Scientists assess fracking risks

The risks associated with shale gas recovery by fracking are to be assessed in a new project by EU scientists.

Researchers will examine various aspects of the technique, as a contribution towards the development of new European regulations.

Experts say existing regulations for oil and gas recovery are not suited to fracking. Regulations specific to the emerging technology should be developed, they add.

European law

Scientists will make recommendations to EU member states to develop legislation that mitigates the likely impacts of gas exploration and recovery.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is an engineering technique to extract gas or oil from very low permeability rock formations, normally on land.

It involves drilling to depths of over 1 km and high-pressure injection of fluid into the ground, to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas.

Critics of the technology say that it can lead to widespread groundwater and atmospheric pollution.

Technical analysis

The international team, led by Edinburgh scientists, will carry out research aimed at improving understanding of the subsurface geological, mechanical and chemical processes involved.

These will include how rocks fracture in these environments and how gas particles move during the process.

Research will be based on collecting data, carrying out experiments and creating computer models of how natural materials respond to fracking stresses.

Models will be validated by comparing them with data from fracking sites in the US and proxies in Europe.

Loss of fluids

Scientists will examine key ways in which contaminants could be lost.

This ranges from leakage of fluids from faulty boreholes, through natural faults, or from excessively long induced fractures.

The project will also consider the impact of any minimal seismic events induced by fracking.

Partners principally from across Europe will take part in the three-year project, funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 programme.

Results from the study will be shared online.

Related Links

Fracrisk project website