* Recommends UK exploration resume with proper monitoring
* Firms would use "traffic light" tremor warning system
* Could boost infrastructure investment, carbon goals -CBI
(Adds responses from Institute of Mechanical Engineers, CBI and
Greenpeace, updates link to factbox)
By Alessandra Prentice
LONDON, April 17 A UK government report on
Tuesday backed the exploration of shale gas, which has
transformed the U.S. energy market, nearly one year after
temporarily banning the drilling method because it had triggered
two small earthquakes in Britain.
An expert report commissioned by the government said it was
safe to resume fracking, in which pressurised water and
chemicals are pumped underground to open shale rocks and release
trapped gas, but with tighter rules on seismic monitoring and
"The risk of seismic activity associated with hydraulic
fracking operations is small, and the probability of damage is
extremely small. We suggest fracking can continue under our
recommendations," one of the report's authors, the British
Geological Society's Brian Baptie, said at a briefing.
Activists on both sides of the Atlantic have lobbied
politicians to ban hydraulic fracturing also on environmental
concerns, including the dangers of pollution of ground water and
leakage of gas into the atmosphere. The report did not address
The energy ministry is inviting public comment on the
report's findings over the next six weeks, after which it will
issue its final ruling on the future of UK shale gas
The experts published their findings after reviewing a
series of post-earthquake studies published by Cuadrilla
Resources, a UK firm that was forced to halt operations near
Blackpool in northwest England after fracking triggered tremors
in May 2011.
They also recommended the use of a "traffic light" control
system, in which operations are suspended if a red light
indicates seismic activity at a threshold of 0.5 or above, well
below a level that could cause structural damage on the surface.
The tremors measured near Blackpool last year reached a
level of around 2 .
UK engineers welcomed the report's safety recommendations,
and the "traffic light" warning system in particular.
"These proposed precautions are a good example of how to
help mitigate the risk of any damage caused by seismic activity
as a result of shale gas activity," Tim Fox, head of energy and
environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in
While the experts agreed with Cuadrilla's studies as a
whole, they also said there was not enough data to confirm the
company's claim that it was unlikely similar earthquakes would
Environmental group Greenpeace said the support for fracking
to go ahead was "bad news", saying hydraulic fracturing could
pose a threat to efforts to diversify away from fossil fuels.
"This would ... be a major blow for the British renewable
energy industry, which would see investment hijacked by a new
dash for gas," Joss Garman, Greenpeace's senior energy
France, which has some of Europe's largest shale gas
reserves, last year banned the use of fracking on worries about
However, shale gas exploration is seen by some as a positive
force in the battle against climate change since the gas
releases less carbon into the atmosphere than coal when used to
"Provided safety standards are observed, shale gas could
unlock significant new infrastructure investments, help meet our
carbon reduction goals and create many new jobs around the UK,"
a representative of the Confederation of British Industry said
in response to the government's fracking report.
In the UK, Cuadrilla has said its site near Blackpool had
200 trillion cubic feet of gas in place, enough to cover UK
demand for generations, although experts have cast doubt on the
In the United States the exploration of shale gas has pushed
gas prices to 10-year lows, and companies such as Cheniere
Energy are gearing up to export the excess fuel.
British gas prices would also come under increasing pressure
if UK shale gas exploration were to take off, a representative
of British energy supplier npower wrote on the
company's energy blog.
(Editing by Karolin Schap and Jane Baird)