A set of guidelines for managing the risks associated with shale gas extraction has been published by safety experts Det Norske Veritas. DNV said that over time the guidelines could form the basis of globally recognised standards which are needed to push the industry forwards.
In the UK and across Europe the shale gas industry is struggling to win public acceptance as developers and regulators grapple with the potential environmental risks associated with the process.
The hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale gas extraction – or fracking as it is widely known – has come to a standstill at the UK’s only active site near Blackpool after it was deemed to be the “highly probable” cause of two earthquakes in 2011. Reports from the US of groundwater becoming contaminated by the chemicals used in fracking have also raised public concerns.
As yet no industry standards have been established. According to Remi Eriksen, chief executive officer of DNV maritime and oil and gas, adopting industry best practice will be central to gaining public acceptance. Eriksen said: “These recommendations should move the discussion about shale gas from an emotional discussion to a fact-based discussion. This is the first step in creating a new international standard.”
Other guidelines and documents covering individual activities within the shale gas industry do exist. But so far no one has developed a complete framework on how to mitigate the potential risks that spans the entire development and operation of shale gas sites.
The DNV guidelines cover areas including health and safety, well integrity, waste, water and energy management, infrastructure and logistics, and public engagement. To help prevent the risks of groundwater contamination, the guidelines suggest best practice for the design, construction and operation of shale gas wells, as well as how to manage wells after use.
Steinar Thon, associate director, DNV maritime and oil and gas, said that the cement casing of the well should be designed to ensure that the entire formation is fully filled. Consideration should be given to bonding and curing properties, and potential shrinkage. The well should also be strong enough to withstand the pressures reached during the fracking process.
The recommendations are now open to review by experts from oil and gas companies, regulatory bodies and academics. DNV hopes to issue a revised document by the end of the year.
Previous guidelines issued by DNV in other areas have been widely adopted by industry. Around 65% of the world’s offshore pipelines are designed and installed to DNV standards, for example.
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