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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...

Regulation and best practice are the key to safe fracking

Fracking can be undertaken safely if best practice and effective regulation are enforced, report concludes.  Adler deWind reports.

Geoscientist Online Friday 29 June 2012

SelleyPicture: Shale gas production plant in the Appalachians. Photo © J.B. Earl & Statoil.

Hydraulic fracturing can be managed effectively in the UK, as long as operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced through regulation. That was the conclusion of a review by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering published on 29 June.

Professor Robert Mair FREng FRS, Chair of the working group said: “There has been much speculation around the safety of shale gas extraction following examples of poor practice in the US. We found that well integrity is of key importance but the most common areas of concern, such as the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating drinking water, were very low risk.”

He went on: “Strong regulation and robust monitoring systems must be put in place and best practice strictly enforced if the Government is to give the go-ahead to further exploration. In particular, we emphasise the need for further development and support of the UK’s regulatory system, together with Environmental Risk Assessments for all shale gas operations and more extensive inspections and testing to ensure the integrity of every well.”


The review examined the scientific and engineering evidence relating to the environmental and health and safety risks associated with the onshore extraction of shale gas. The group concluded that hydraulic fracturing was an established technology used by the oil and gas industries for many decades in the UK, and that the risks of contamination of aquifers from fractures was very low, provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres.

The seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing, the report said, was likely to be smaller in magnitude than the UK’s natural earthquakes, and than that related to coal mining, which are also low by world standards. The report also pointed out that using open ponds for storing wastewater (historically used in US fracking operations) is not permitted in the UK, which possesses numerous treatment facilities. Similarly, procedures for the disposal of naturally occurring radioactive materials (present in the hydraulic fracturing wastewaters) have been developed already.

The report’s authors noted that a particular cause for concern was poor cementation and casing failures, which could potentially lead to leakages and wider environmental contamination. This has happened in some US cases. The review therefore urged that priority be given to ensuring the integrity of every well throughout its lifetime. 


If shale gas extraction were to be undertaken commercially in the UK, the report said, there should be strengthening of UK regulators, and lead responsibility for regulation of shale gas extraction should be given to a single regulator. The well inspection system should be strengthened to ensure that well designs are considered from an environmental as well as H&S perspective. Appropriate well-integrity tests should be carried out as standard practice, and Environmental Risk Assessments should be carried out for all shale gas operations and submitted to the regulators for scrutiny. Groundwater should be monitored for methane in groundwater before, during and after hydraulic fracturing is carried out, the report urged.

Professor Mair added: “As we made clear at the start, this review is not an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas and we have highlighted a number of issues that we believe merit further consideration, including the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of shale gas, and the public acceptability of hydraulic fracturing.” 


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