|Since this article was published, AEA Technology plc’s business, operating assets and employees were acquired on the 8 November 2012 by Ricardo plc and transferred to a new subsidiary, Ricardo-AEA Ltd. All employees were transferred to Ricardo-AEA Ltd as part of the acquisition and remain available for the execution of all projects via the new company, as are the entire capability and resources previously represented by AEA Technology plc. All individuals remained at previous locations with all offices being retained.|
Exploration and extraction of shale gas uses a technique known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or fracturing. At present, exploration in the UK is on hold because of concerns that exploration of a site in Lancashire operated by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd could have given rise to minor earth tremors in the spring of 2011.
On 2 November 2011, Cuadrilla published its investigation of these incidents. The study found that: “Most likely, the repeated seismicity was induced by direct injection of fluid into the same fault zone.” However it went on to conclude that “measurable seismicity is unlikely to occur in the next wells.”
This is not a finding that will inspire confidence amongst those concerned about the potential environmental and health consequences of hydraulic fracturing. But it is encouraging to see an industry operator producing a report that doesn’t completely exonerate the company’s activities from causing the issue of concern. Furthermore, experience in the United States and Canada suggests that earth tremors are not a significant problem for this kind of activity, and indeed the tremors recorded in Lancashire were not detectable at the surface.
Of greater significance are the questions which still surround hydraulic fracturing linked to issues such as use of water resources, well integrity, fugitive emissions of methane, and disposal of contaminated water: see my Utility Week article 'the shale gas trail', 12 October 2011. Together with ERG, our US business, AEA is working with regulatory authorities to assess, regulate and manage these environmental risks.
Mark Broomfield is a Knowledge Leader, Air and Environmental Management Practice. He is an air quality, odour and health impacts specialist with a BA in chemistry from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in atmospheric chemistry. He has worked in these areas since 1992, both within the consultancy sector and as an industry specialist. He provides technical, strategic and research support to industry and regulatory bodies. He has contributed to over 250 industrial permitting applications and follow-on support projects. He also works closely with clients to deliver obligations under the land-use planning and local air quality management frameworks.