In Brief

Fracking's long-term effects unknown, say researchers

Experts say more information is needed to assess the safety of fracking in the UK

THE long-term effects of fracking are "unknown" but it is likely that some wells will suffer "failures" causing air and water pollution, a new study has claimed. Researchers investigating onshore well failures – in which oil, gas and drilling fluids escape into the environment – said data from the US showed that shale gas wells in Pennsylvania had led to pollution. The paper added that well integrity would become an "important issue" for the shale gas industry and concluded: "It is likely that well barrier failure will occur in a small number of wells and this could in some instances lead to some form of environmental contamination." At present there are no operational shale gas wells in the UK, but the study noted that more than 2,000 onshore gas and oil wells had been drilled in the UK since 1902. However, information on failures is not publicly available. Professor Richard Davies of Durham University, who led the research, said that more information on existing wells was needed in order to assess the potential impact of fracking. "The research confirms that well failure... is an issue," he said. "In the UK, wells are monitored by well inspectors but there is no information in the public domain, so we don't really know the full extent of well failures. There were unknowns we couldn't get to the bottom of." The research looked at publicly available data on the four million known onshore hydrocarbon wells around the world to try to assess the safety of "unconventional" oil and gas exploitation, including shale gas extraction, which uses hydraulic fracturing or fracking to free pockets of gas. The report focused on instances of well failure where oil, gas and drilling fluids had leaked into the environment, The Guardian explains. It suggested that more information was necessary before the safety of shale gas could be properly determined. The coalition hopes that fracking may become a key "driver" for the UK economy and the British Geological Survey believes there is an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the north of England, says the BBC.

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