Prevention of and Response to Shale Gas Well Incidents: An Assessment of the Current UK Regulatory Framework for Shale Gas Activities

Tina Hunter, John Paterson

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The seismic events at Preese Hall, near Blackpool in the UK, in April and May 2011 were induced by hydraulic fracturing that was undertaken during shale gas exploration activities. As a result of these events, the UK government imposed a temporary moratorium on shale gas activities while the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering undertook a review of the risks related to hydraulic fracturing, and considered whether and how these could be managed. This Review made a series of recommendations that have been accepted by government and are being implemented by the regulators. In particular, the Review recommended that the regulatory framework relating to well integrity should be strengthened, and that a 'traffic light' monitoring system to assist in the mitigation of hydraulic fracturing induced seismicity should be implemented.

Shale gas exploration activities to date in the UK have been minimal, in part due to public concerns about the technologies involved and the adequacy of the current regulatory framework to prevent environmental harm, including groundwater contamination. As such, there has been little opportunity to test the quality and efficacy of the regulatory framework. By applying the current UK framework to real-life shale gas extraction incidents that have occurred in the USA, it is possible to offer a preliminary assessment in this regard in relation to the prevention of and response to loss of well control and hydraulic fracturing induced seismicity.

The current UK shale gas regulatory framework was assessed against the Cherry Creek well blowout event in North Dakota, and the hydraulic fracturing induced seismicity in Ohio. This brief preliminary assessment found that the UK's approach to well design, construction and operation, being risk-based and placing considerable responsibility on the operator to identify hazards, assess risk and implement mitigation offers the possibility of avoiding some the problems encountered in the US. Similarly, it found that the UK's approach to hydraulic fracturing induced seismicity is considerably more cautious than that found in Ohio, to the point indeed where operations must be suspended at levels well short of what could actually be felt at the surface.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3473
JournalOil, Gas & Energy Law Intelligence
Issue number3
Early online dateJun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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