London greenlights shale gas operations

Sept. 23, 2011 at 7:30 AM
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LONDON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- There is only one deposit of shale gas in the United Kingdom but the environmental safeguards are in place to make it worth exploring, the energy minister said.

British Energy Minister Charles Hendry, writing in The Guardian newspaper, said energy company Cuadrilla has drilled two exploratory wells and has plans for a third in the country's only shale deposit , which is near Blackpool.

Hendry notes that hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas out of shale formations, is suspended while investigators look into reports of nearby seismic activity. Nevertheless, he said, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, isn't seen as a significant environmental risk.

He points to the shale gas boom, and corresponding environmental backlash, in the United States as an example of the rigor needed for unconventional reserves. Critics of shale gas exploration note some of the chemicals used in fracking fluid pose a significant risk to groundwater supplies, something energy companies and some state regulators discount.

Hendry, in his article, said fracking fluid is "made up almost entirely of water and sand." Cuadrilla's fluid, he adds, is 99.96 percent water and sand, with the remaining 0.04 percent containing chemicals, some which are found in everyday household items.

He said that, with strict environmental rules already in place in his country, there is no need for a moratorium on shale gas operations.

"The potential for unconventional gas is worth exploring because of the additional security of supply it could provide but it is important to stress it is very early days for shale gas," he writes.

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