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Seen It. Done It. Got The Hard Hat: Can Onshore Fracking Learn Any Lessons From Offshore?

Seen It. Done It. Got The Hard Hat: Can Onshore Fracking Learn Any Lessons From Offshore?

Guidelines were issued by the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) in February this year to assist operators with understanding their health, safety and environmental obligations in relation to onshore shale gas wells. It is clear that onshore hydrocarbon extraction using high volume hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is a new creature in the UK. So little is known about the pitfalls and consequences of fracking that, at present, these first draft guidelines only relate to the exploration and appraisal phases of shale gas developments. Guidance on the production phases will materialise at a later date after experience is gained from the initial operations. This raises the question, how can energy firms press ahead with these projects, knowing that they are compliant with health, safety and environmental regulations, when so much remains unknown in relation to the consequences?

Although onshore fracking is very much a new creature in the UK, energy firms in other countries and the offshore oil and gas industry have been implementing similar principles for decades, increasingly in extremely high pressure, high temperature formations. Without doubt these decades of experience can offer the UK onshore fracking industry a wealth of wisdom. Operators in the highly regulated onshore fracking industry are subject to a complicated maze of regulation, some of which has been applied to the offshore industry for decades.

Risk assessments on cutting edge technology and techniques are not straight forward. UKOOG has identified the following key risk areas which must be addressed in relation to onshore fracking: groundwater isolation; fracturing containment; and seismic effects induced by hydraulic fracturing. These reflect the main concerns of opponents of the onshore fracking industry. When seismic shifts and water table contamination are possible consequences, the risks must be properly addressed from the outset. Failure to do so could entail disastrous consequences.

With the potential to solve energy supply problems for years to come, collective preparation, planning and assessment with proper mitigation of risk are vital to providing for future generations. The application of lessons learned from offshore may help to provide answers to some of these problems. We think that the offshore gas industry, as the mature big brother, is in a unique position to offer the advice and skills necessary to help keep this boisterous younger sibling safe. After all, in many instances, we have already... Seen it. Done it. Got the hard hat.   

Fran Hutchison