Evaluation, Quantification and Identification of Pathways and Targets for the assessment of Shale Gas RISK (EQUIPT4RISK)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

The project will identify, characterise and parameterise the multiple direct and indirect pathways within the shallow subsurface and the atmosphere (and across interfaces), which link sources of contamination and hazards associated with shale gas (SG) operations to human and sensitive environmental receptors, and surface infrastructure.
For each component of the domain (Water, Air, Solid Earth), Source-Pathway-Receptor combinations will be examined and then integrated in a probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) framework for quantification of the risks to humans, infrastructure and the environment. A key aspect of the study will be to understand how the risk profile evolves over the life cycle of shale gas operations - from single site to multiple operations across an area.
The focus will be on investigating the processes that affect and influence the near-surface (i.e. <400 m bgl) Source-Pathway-Receptor combinations (and their interactions). Processes that will be investigated include; hydro-geochemical controls on contaminant behaviour and transport, climatological and chemical controls on air quality, and attenuation of ground motion e.g. from seismic events. The on-going environmental monitoring at the shale gas sites in North Yorkshire and Lancashire, along with their detailed conceptual and geological models will provide rich and continuous quality-assured high precision datasets and information. The sites represent different types of shale gas operation in different geo-environmental settings. Information from these sites, along with other non-UK sites where project partners have worked, will be a starting point, with additional data from UKGEO supplementing the evidence base. Analysis of these data will then support the design of experiments at UKGEO and other sites to improve confidence in process understanding and test different aspects of the risk model under controlled conditions, quantifying properties and better characterising/quantifying uncertainty through evaluation of the sensitivity of environmental and human receptors. The experiments will also consider non-shale gas-related activities such as analogues and crowd-sourcing of information on ground movement. Attention will be given to identifying the key indicator parameters and techniques required to detect environmental changes arising from shale gas activity in both the short-term, providing early warning, and the long-term. This will include new technology tested as part of the experiments and case studies that will allow differentiation of stimulated reservoir source fluids and other contaminants from extraneous natural and anthropogenic sources in measured groundwater, soil gas or atmospheric samples. Improved measurement, monitoring and quantification will be critical to effectively evaluating and managing the risks arising from shale gas development and supporting the integrated risk model developed as an outcome of this project.

The project will address the following scientific questions:
1) What properties, parameters, and processes (biogeochemical and physical) of the shallow subsurface and atmosphere are most important for characterizing the key Source-Pathway-Receptor linkages and combinations?
2) What are the contaminant fluxes and physical hazard characteristics of a UK shale gas play and how do these evolve over time? What are main sources of uncertainty in such quantification?
3) What proxies/indicators/measures of environmental change/impact are most sensitive to the stresses induced by shale gas operations in the shallow subsurface and in the atmosphere?
4) How can the risks quantified for a single site be scaled up to assess the overall risks for a fully developed wellfield comprising multiple wells and the full lifecycle of operations?

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
This project will bring together experts in air quality, groundwater and seismicity along with risk modelling and model integration to define the different Source-Pathway-Receptors (SPRs) for a Shale Gas play. The outputs from the proposed research are relevant to POLICY-MAKERS, REGULATORS, INDUSTRY, members of the PUBLIC and the ACADEMIC community. We have ensured that the project partners represent these differing groups and have representatives from POLICY-MAKERS (BEIS, Defra), REGULATORS (OGA, Environment Agency), INDUSTRY (UKOOG, RSKW, Golders) and the ACADEMIC community both in the UK and Internationally as project partners.
The project outcomes will enable POLICY-MAKERS at BEIS and Defra to appreciate better the likelihood and nature of impacts from Shale Gas (SG) operations by increasing the UK-relevant evidence base. The improved understanding of the risks to receptors, particularly humans, infrastructure, the water environment and the atmosphere will also assist the REGULATORS, the Environment Agency and OGA, in management of the environmental risks arising from Shale Gas exploitation, delivery of effective industry regulation and environment protection. Accessible information presented in a straightforward way will also inform INDUSTRY and the PUBLIC.
The scientific outputs of the proposal will benefit the international ACADEMIC community by furthering scientific understanding of SG in the areas of air pollution, groundwater quality and modelling, seismic risk and risk assessment based on integrated modelling. This integrated project will be the first of its kind.
How will they benefit?
This proposal will assist the nascent Shale Gas INDUSTRY by providing them with a clear risk framework (based on ISO31000) that will enable them to both understand the risks associated with their activities and to communicate the risks to the REGULATOR and the PUBLIC. The development of a risk framework will help PUBLIC understanding of risk by allowing the relative magnitude of risks to be determined and effectively communicated. Further, the science proposed will enable an assessment of the impact of a SG play to be derived that is independent of those funded by the operator and regulators. This will feed into the PUBLIC debate and allow a more reasoned discussion on risks and impacts, and what needs to be done to achieve "safe and responsible" shale gas development.
The scientific advances envisaged in this proposal will be both domain specific but also related to their application to a SG play. The project will interface with the other Challenges within the NERC Unconventional Hydrocarbon Research Programme. We will work closely with colleagues in the Challenge 1 project to ensure our knowledge and experience is communicated effectively to the wider research group. Further, we will use the results of Challenge 2 and 3 to provide supporting inputs to our SPR approach. Where applicable we will liaise with colleagues in Challenge 5, examining the Socio-Economic impacts, to set our SPR approach in context and to maximise stakeholder impacts. Publishing within an academic environment will build trust in the impartiality of the results for the DECISION-MAKER, REGULATOR, ACADEMIC community as well as the PUBLIC.
The proposed outputs will be made available using NERC's metadata portals for data and for models as well as giving the datasets "doi" labels to enable them to be properly referenced. The data will be made available in real-time by extending BGS current web-based output for the Vale of Pickering and for Lancashire baseline monitoring.

Publications

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Description We have explored the impact of non-conventional hydrocarbon extraction (fracking) on air pollution over the UK as a whole (we have not focused on local <50km impacts). We have performed some preliminary simulations looking at the impact of a single drilling site on UK emissions. They appear minor. However, if scaled up significantly there may be the potential for a large impact. This work is currently not published.
Exploitation Route We are feeding into the wider project which will be dealing with this.
Sectors Energy