Observer: “Hundreds of government-funded boreholes are set to be drilled across Britain to try to persuade the public that a looming shale gas boom can be developed safely, the Observer has learned.”
“Sensors in the boreholes would detect possible water pollution or earthquakes caused by fracking and the information would be made public.”
“We will be taking the pulse of the sub-surface environment and will reveal if things are going wrong, but also if they are going right,” said Professor Mike Stephenson, director of science and technology at the British Geological Survey, which would drill the boreholes. “The aim is to reassure people that we can manage the sub-surface safely.”
The plan, called the energy security and innovation observing system, will cost taxpayers £60m-£80m. It is awaiting final approval from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, where energy minister Matthew Hancock, afracking enthusiast, holds another ministerial post.
….David Cameron has said the government is “going all out for shale”, but the issue remains highly controversial, with protests across the country. Ministers see shale gas and oil, which have transformed the American energy market, as providing an important economic opportunity for the UK.
….Most experts say it will not lower UK energy prices.
“There would be many, many tens of boreholes in each shale gas area,” said Stephenson, with deeper ones monitoring for earthquakes and ground movement and shallower ones monitoring for water pollution. “Groundwater contamination is the big worry people have. Companies are required by law to monitor at their sites, but our interest is wider. For example, several kilometres away, are we sure groundwater is untouched?”
Stephenson said that a “step-change” was needed in underground monitoring: “We don’t know the health of the sub-surface because it is very little monitored at the moment.” The data gathered would also assist plans to dispose of nuclear waste underground and bury carbon dioxide captured from coal-fired power stations.
It would also be appropriate to use taxpayer funds to help develop the shale gas industry, he argued. “It is a good use of government money if we can monitor the environment but also make it more efficient to develop whatever we want to develop. I don’t think the fracking companies paying for the whole caboodle would play well with the public.”
Lucas countered: “The government is increasingly indistinguishable from the fracking industry it’s supposed to regulate. No amount of monitoring can make fracking safe. The only safe and responsible thing to do with shale gas is leave it in the ground.” She said ministers should pursue energy efficiency and community-owned renewable energy instead.
….Stephenson said: “America did not do it right, so let’s do it right here. If we found it was impossible to frack in the UK because, say, there are lots of faults in the rocks, that would come out”.”