The advice of the first official British government report into fracking, published on Tuesday, is all but certain to be accepted by ministers, with the result that thousands of new wells could be drilled across the UK.
The experts say hydraulic fracturing, whereby a well is drilled hundreds of metres deep and pumped full of water, sand and chemicals in order to release methane gas, should be allowed on a wide scale, although they accept that two small earthquakesin Blackpool last spring were caused by the first stages of fracking activities in the only British plants operating.
The government’s own data revealed serious questions around the safety of fracking in areas of known seismic activity, such as the two wells in Lancashire, because of evidence that the resulting earthquakes have damaged the integrity of at least one well. There is also apparent confusion over which government agencies should be overseeing the process to ensure its public safety, with the responsibility shared among several bodies that appear not to be co-ordinating.
The report, written by Peter Styles, professor at Keele University, Brian Baptie of the British Geological Survey, and Christopher Green, an independent fracking expert, found that fracking “should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage”, which did not take place at the existing sites, and called for “an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events [as] part of any future fracking operations”.