What are the Research Gaps Around Induced Seismicity and Shale Gas? A Summary of the Findings of the First UKUH Integration Event (May 2019)

Brown, Rachel and Clancy, Sarah and Roberts, Jen and Gibson, Hazel (2020) What are the Research Gaps Around Induced Seismicity and Shale Gas? A Summary of the Findings of the First UKUH Integration Event (May 2019). Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System (UKUH), [Newcastle].

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Executive Summary: The NERC-ESRC Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK (UKUH) Energy System Programme (the UKUH Programme) comprises five Challenges. The ambition of which is to deliver a holistic programme for researching the shale gas system in the UK from the resource potential through to potential environmental and social impacts. Challenge 1 is responsible for the coordination, integration and synthesis of the six research projects that comprise the other four Challenges. A series of workshops is one of the primary channels to integrate the social science and geoscience elements of the UKUH Programme. The inaugural workshop of this integration series was held on 9 May 2019 in The Shard, London on the topic of induced seismicity. This publication summarises the outcomes of this workshop. The inaugural Challenge 1 workshop aimed to discuss the key unknown and uncertain research questions (issues) relating to induced seismicity caused by hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction, with the objective to collectively identify potential research gaps within the deliverables of the UKUH Programme. The workshop theme (induced seismicity) was chosen by the Challenge 1 team as the focus as it was deemed timely and important to all research projects within the UKUH Programme. It is intended that future workshop topics will be identified by other Challenge members. The workshop led to the identification of three priority areas for further research that are relevant to the UKUH Programme. These topics include reliable predictions around induced seismicity, issues around scaling-up shale gas development and the associated cumulative impacts, and the need for common and consistent language and terminology around induced seismicity. This publication is particularly timely as it follows the UK Government’s decision (announced 2nd November 2019) to suspend hydraulic fracturing activities in England1 until further notice. The moratorium follows a series of seismic events up to Magnitude 2.9 associated with hydraulic fracturing activities by Cuadrilla at the Preston New Road 2 (PNR-2) well as well as the publication of an Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) report1 summarising the results of scientific analysis of data from Cuadrilla’s operations at Preston New Road 1 (PNR-1). This scientific analysis, commissioned by OGA, has led to the publication of four independent studies1 and two overview reports1. The interim report prepared by OGA (published on 1 November 2019) concludes that it is not currently possible to predict with certainty the maximum magnitude of seismic events of UK hydraulic fracturing operations1. Specifically, the OGA’s report3 states that ‘the possibility of larger [seismic] events could not be excluded, and these could cause damage and disturbance unacceptable under the current BEIS policy guidance’. The overarching implications of the report are that the methods for predicting maximum magnitude cannot be relied on with certainty and further research is required to have confidence in future predictions. The topic of uncertainty of making reliable predictions of maximum magnitude was identified and discussed at this inaugural integration event. As such, the Challenge 1 team will work with the other academics and researchers across all Challenges to identify where additional research could be carried out, supported by the Challenge 1 flexible fund, to address this uncertainty. Furthermore, research into potential cumulative impacts and communication and language challenges around induced seismicity will become foci for future flexible fund projects.