This month saw a landmark ruling for hydraulic fracturing in the UK as the Government approved Cuadrilla’s plans for fracking in Lancashire. Putting aside the specific pros and cons that have been at the heart of this debate, one of the most interesting aspects are the differing motivations that led the Government to overrule Lancashire County Council’s (LCC) original decision to refuse permission.
Clearly, for central government the decision has been motivated by a desire to ensure the long-term energy security of the UK. Indeed, figures from DECC show that the UK imported around 60% of its gas supply in 2015. However, the original ruling of Lancashire County Council was actually more a response to the potential noise and traffic impact of operations at the site.
This is an important point. Now that fracking essentially has the green light in the UK it is vital that the environmental impact of any operation is minimised - not just in terms of what happens underground, but also in terms of the surface operations.
As a statement from LCC highlighted: "It is clear the government supports the development of a shale gas industry, but I would ask them to do more to address the concerns of local communities … by supporting the best environmental controls."
When it comes to these environmental controls the Government and operators alike need to ensure that they are taking advantage of the latest technologies in order to address the legitimate environmental and safety concerns many still have around fracking.
In that respect DAS is a vital technology. By providing real time monitoring of downhole operations DAS can deliver significant efficiencies to fracking operations, minimising the chance of leaks and the amount of resource required for each frack. This in turn has an effect on surface operations by reducing the amount of resources that need to be brought to a site – dramatically reducing the traffic and disruption in the local area.
The Government’s desire to secure the UK’s energy resilience is understandable, particularly in the face of a growing population that renewable energy can’t yet sustain. However, there remains a need to ensure that fracking is done as safely and efficiently as possible.
If the Government is serious about expanding the use of fracking, then it cannot ignore the concerns of residents in the vicinity of sites. Mandating the use of technologies such as DAS could go a long way to ensuring people feel more comfortable with fracking.