FracRisk Press Release from CSIC

FracRisk Press Release from CSIC

FracRisk, an EU Project to assess the risks associated to fracking just started

FracRisk, an EU Project to assess the risks associated to fracking just started

“Fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique to extract gas or oil from very low permeability formations. The technique is the focus of a hot debate. On the one side fracking leads to benefits, enabling local access to reserves of hydrocarbons previously locked in place by the geology and forming a environmentally cleaner source of energy in comparison to coal. The economic advantage this brings is great, providing jobs and boosting the economy of regions that are rich in hard-to-extract oil or gas. On the other hand, environmental groups, based on the USA experience, notably in Pennsylvania, argue that fracking is a dangerous activity which can lead to widespread groundwater and atmospheric pollution. These two points of view do not contradict each other: an activity can be dangerous and profitable.

The real question is whether such activity can be regulated so as to minimize hazard risks and still be financially viable. A key problem lies in the fact that most countries lack fracking specific regulations. Instead, they apply the regulations of conventional hydrocarbon exploitation.

The EU funded project FracRisk has just started with the goal of addressing this limitation. The idea is to evaluate the risks associated with fracking, which is the first step in the development of effective regulations to prevent and mitigate the potential impacts associated to the exploration and exploitation of shale gas reserves in Europe

To this end, FracRisk will expand the understanding of the basic processes controlling rock fracturing and contaminant transport, about which uncertainty is largest. Work will be based on collecting existing data, new experimental work and models of how natural media respond to fracking stresses. Specifically, FracRisk will address six scenarios of contaminant migration, considered as those of maximum risk. These range from leakage of fracking fluids due to failure of the borehole, or through natural faults or excessively long induced fractures. The project will also address induced seismicity.

An iterative modelling and risk reduction approach will be adopted to identify the most dangerous activities and the most effective way to restrict them. The validity of FracRisk models will be tested by comparison with actual data from real sites both in the USA (notably, the Marcellus formation, which has motivated much of the opposition to fracking) and in Europe.

Special emphasis will be placed on responding to the most controversial questions that generate public debate. Therefore, a special effort will be devoted to dissemination. Project results will be available at (www.fracrisk.eu).

The end result of FracRisk will be a set of scientific recommendations and suggestions to EU regulators so as to set a solid basis for the European member states to develop an adequate legislation.

FracRisk will be developed by a consortium of European academic institutions coordinated by the University of Edinburgh (the Spanish partner is CSIC).