The UK will need tougher rules to ensure the shale gas exploration process has minimum health and environmental impacts.
The Task Force on Shale Gas, which is expected to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks, said fracking could be done safely in the country under “rigorous regulations”.
Its report suggests there should be compulsory independent monitoring of wells after fracking takes place – rather than the companies checking themselves – to ensure there are no leaks.
“Currently in the UK there is little monitoring of abandoned wells. Nor is it clear who is responsible for a well once a licence has been relinquished and passed back to the government”, it adds.
It also recommends shale gas operators to provide full disclosure of the chemicals being used in their operations, with the Environment Agency monitoring on site to confirm they are within safe limits.
In addition, the report calls for baseline monitoring of groundwater, air and soil to be established when a potential site is identified and suggests the process of so-called “green completions” where methane emissions are minimised on site should be mandatory for production wells.
The task force is also urging against the disposal of wastewater by deep injection and suggests a National Advisory Committee should be established to monitor data from shale gas operations and provide an independent analysis of potential impacts on public health.
Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas said: “Our conclusion from all the evidence we’ve seen is clear. Only if the drilling is done properly and to the highest standard and with rigorous regulation and monitoring, can shale gas fracking be done safely for local communities and the environment.
“It is therefore crucial that stringent regulations are established in the UK, as set out in our recommendations, in order to meet these legitimate concerns.”
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom added: “Shale gas has huge potential in Britain, with the opportunity to develop secure, homegrown energy supplies which will create thousands of jobs. This report clearly shows that the UK’s robust regulatory system will allow this to happen safely and sustainably.”
The Task Force will publish two more interim reports this year covering climate change and economics before publishing a final cumulative report next spring.