Skip to main content

M4ShaleGas: Measuring, monitoring, mitigating managing the environmental impact of shale gas

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - M4ShaleGas (M4ShaleGas: Measuring, monitoring, mitigating managing the environmental impact of shale gas)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2017-11-30

M4ShaleGas – Measuring, Monitoring, Mitigating and Managing the environmental impact of shale gas – was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme and aims at addressing the specific challenges related to understanding, preventing and mitigating the potential environmental impacts and risks of shale gas exploration and exploitation. M4ShaleGas has been carried out between June 2015 and November 2017 by 18 European research institutions. The general objective is to develop a science-based knowledge base together with best practice recommendations for minimizing the environmental footprint of shale gas exploration and exploitation in Europe.
Shale gas is a natural gas trapped in shale, a fine grained sedimentary rock mainly composed of clay, quartz and carbonate minerals. Shale gas source rocks are widely distributed around the world. Many countries have recently started to investigate their shale gas potential, while some have initiated shale gas exploitation. The European Commission's Energy Roadmap 2050 identifies gas a critical energy source for the transformation of the energy system to a system with lower CO2 footprint that combines gas with increasing contributions of renewable energy while increasing energy efficiency. It may be argued that in Europe, natural gas replacing coal and oil will contribute to reduction of CO2 emissions on the short and medium terms. The accelerated worldwide development of shale gas is accompanied by growing public concern regarding the impact of shale gas on human health, safety, environment and social acceptance. Local concerns include potential risks of water contamination and induced seismicity that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing operations.
In M4ShaleGas research on potential impacts and risks is clustered in four areas of impact: subsurface, surface, atmosphere and society. Europe has a strong need for a comprehensive understanding of potential environmental, societal and economic consequences of shale gas exploration and exploitation. Knowledge gaps include (1) the understanding of differences between Europe and North America resulting from differences in geological and geopolitical settings, (2) quantitative risk assessments and risk mitigation procedures being specific for Europe, and (3) the identification of best practices in North America and their potential application in Europe. Knowledge should be science-based, should be (co-)developed by research institutes with a strong track record in shale gas studies, and should cover the different attitudes and approaches to shale gas exploration and exploitation in Europe. M4ShaleGas key task was to close knowledge gaps and provide new insights in an accessible scientific knowledge base
M4ShaleGas has provided ca. 90 technical reports which are available on the project’s website and also via the European Commission’s CORDIS information service. In the project, risks and impacts of shale gas exploration and exploitation. The main risks, incidents and impacts for operations in the U.S.A. and Canada have been found to be: (1) Risks associated with reduced general safety mainly related to incidents related to transportation (traffic-related accidents) and well site activities (preparation of fracturing fluids), (2) risks associated with reduced air quality and global climate footprint mainly related to incidents related to emissions of potentially hazardous substances (VOC, NOx, SOx, PM, HAP, O3) and greenhouse gasses (CH4, CO2), (3) risks associated with well leakage mainly determined by incidents mainly related to drilling (borehole damage and leakage) and completions (well barrier or integrity failure) of wells, (4) risks associated with surface spills mainly related to spills and leaks of potentially hazardous substances (fracturing chemicals or fluids) or flowback and produced water, (5) risks associated with landscape disturbance mainly related to well site construction in cultivated and industrialized land, or in pristine natural habitats, (6) risks associated with structural damage due to induced seismicity mainly related to fluid injection for hydraulic fracturing or subsurface fluid disposal, (7) risks associated with reduced water availability and quality mainly related to water use and local conditions (aridity of area), (8) risks associated with loss of geological containment (leakage along hydraulic fractures).
Apart from these technical risks, risks associated with absence of a social license to operate have found to depend on complex relations between public perceptions and shale gas operations, and more systematic studies are warranted. Although direct application to Europe is not meaningful due to a lack of data and different settings, the analysis can prioritize regulations and risk mitigation measures.
Risks assessment was based on a framework that consists of three components: (1) a Markov Chain-type approach to describe the transition from a properly operating shale gas well (base state) to absorbing states where incidents have caused contamination of shallow aquifers or problematic seismicity, (2) a bow-tie approach to describe incidents that lead to a transition between states in terms of its causes and effects with associated preventive and control measures, and (3) a risk assessment matrix that classifies risks according to their probability of incident occurrence and effects. Probabilities of incidents occurrence and effects of incidents are based on the review of data from shale gas operations in the U.S.A. and Canada.
M4ShaleGas gives a comprehensive overview on existing knowledge, knowledge gaps, and best practices related to shale gas exploration, exploitation and research. Beside the study of subsurface, surface and atmospheric impacts, M4ShaleGas as the only project in Horizon 2020 topic LCE-16-2014 also sheds light on the complex relationship between the shale gas industry, politics and public perceptions. Regional focus lies on North America, with the USA presumably providing the greatest experience of shale gas industry, and Europe. The project’s knowledge base will contain approximately 90 technical research reports that are all available for download on the project’s website.
The project team will also formulate best practice recommendations which will be provided as short fact sheets. The factsheet collection contains 19 sheets giving a compact but comprehensive overview on shale gas-related issues of subsurface, surface, atmospheric and societal themes.
Knowledge generated in M4ShaleGas has also been published in scientific peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, including: Nature Energy, Global Environmental Change, Energy Procedia, Proceedings of the US Rock Mechanics / Geomechanics Symposium, Science of the Total Environment.
M4ShaleGas subprograms