Skip to main content

Managing shale gas risk

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Controversy and conflict surrounds the debate on shale gas and DNV has developed a ‘Recommended Practice’ (RP) to ensure the contentious issues are managed in an accurate, balanced, transparent and traceable way. It aims to serve as a common reference point and help bridge the gap between opposing parties.

Shale gas is a game changer in the global energy industry. The North American boom has awakened potential shale gas nations around the world, including the UK, Poland and China, but there are a number of challenges to face in safety, health, the environment and resources.

A need for consistency

The emerging nature of this industry is evident in the lack of a global standard for practice. While regionally there may be measures in place to regulate, a complete framework is not there. This is required to level the playing field across operators and countries.

DNV has taken the initiative to develop a RP to address risks associated with the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction. The RP aims to form the foundation for future development of a globally recognised standard for safe and sustainable shale gas extraction. The framework was developed over an 18-month period, which included collaboration with stakeholders and a review of existing practices and guidelines.

Managing the risks

DNV’s position is not to be for or against shale gas, but to develop risk-based systematics for the risks of shale gas activities. DNV will also provide quality standards and a third party view. This will establish proper points of reference and consistent monitoring prior to, during and after operations. The RP advises carrying out extensive baseline surveys prior to the commencement of any shale gas activities. The information gathered should be openly disclosed to all stakeholders, including the general public.

Nothing is risk-free, and if you want to create value for your country then some risks have to be taken but they have to be professionally managed. Key risks must be identified upfront and mitigating actions put in place, and the level of risk should be as low as reasonable practicable (ALARP).

There are a number of challenges to be tackled in shale gas, including issues of public acceptance, effects on local communities and environmental risks, such as water contamination and fugitive emissions.

Geology and wells

Unconventional gas is usually tightly trapped in rock formations, and fracking can be required. Although the oil and gas industry has used fracking on tens of thousands of wells for the last 40 years, there is concern regarding contamination of groundwater in new shale gas developments.

The distance between the tip of the induced fracture and ground water supply must allow enough of a barrier to mitigate the risk of contamination. This means that fracking must be done within the safest calculated parameters of pressure, fracture propagation and the amount of fluids used. The best prediction tools are needed to ensure this.

Ensuring effective well barrier management is essential to tackling cross flow and ground water contamination. It is also important to bear in mind the geological risk of induced seismic events, even if industry experience shows this is rarely an issue.

The public environment

There is huge public interest around the environmental aspects and the RP aims to help mitigate the environmental footprint of shale gas operations, on site as well as in areas indirectly affected. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool to do this and should be done as soon as possible in the project.

One of the main risks to the future of the shale gas industry is public and political acceptance. This can hamper attempts to gain permits and also impacts regulation and the permit process itself. DNV further recommends that shale gas operations are monitored and publicly reported. This will contribute to increasing trust and confidence by proving activities are being executed in a safe and responsible manner.

Infrastructure and logistics have the potential to pose the biggest challenge, including water and waste services, the potential overstraining on local infrastructure, as well as contingency planning in the local area. Safety is paramount to the RP, from the environment to people, whether related to the site itself and its employees, or the wider region and communities.

Next steps

The RP is a model framework for risk management and the next step is to make this a global standard. DNV launched the RP in Houston in January 2013 as an invitation for dialogue and are now calling on input from industry, regulators, NGOs and other interested parties.

Adoption of the standard should be simple as the recommended practice combines the best existing guidance into one framework.

Written by Vicky Florence on behalf of DNV.

Read the article online at:


Embed article link: (copy the HTML code below):