Shale gas exploration has no significant effect on the environment

The results of comprehensive studies carried out in 7 shale gas drilling areas (Pomeranian and Lublin Provinces) have been for the first time publicly presented at the Conference “Shale Gas: Safety and Responsibility – Research Study Results”, held on 24 March 2015.

In 2012, the Minister of the Environment entrusted to General Directorate for Environmental Protection a project on environmental on shale gas production in Poland. Field surveys made under the project were intended to establish the effects of shale gas exploration of the environment and human health.

In his opening address, Mr. Sławomir Brodziński, Poland's Chief Geologist and Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of the Environment, noted: "- Crude oil and natural gas have been produced for over 100 years in Poland. Therefore, until recently oil and gas extraction did not raise any concerns in Poland. That situation has changed following the publication of initial estimates of domestic shale gas resources and of quasi-scientific, mostly foreign studies that predicted almost total destruction of the environment. Today, we are the first in Europe to possess the knowledge that will dispel the myths and help to deliver exploration and production operations safely in the future. Not only for shale gas, but also tight or conventional gas."

Mr. Michał Kiełsznia, Director General for Environmental Protection, expanded on project delivery: "- In recent years, the mass media have speculated about potential environmental effects of entrepreneurs' gas extraction operations. These conjectures or speculations were made in the absence of unbiased reliable information and related studies. The purpose of the project was obvious – to meet public expectations by providing a unique source of data from tests made in the field."

The tests were made in exploration areas and their immediate proximity by several tens of experts from such institutions as: Polish Geological Institute – National Research Institute (overall project coordinator), Stanisław Staszic AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Gdańsk University of Technology and Katowice-based Chief Mining Institute.

Surveys and tests were made at all stages of operations: before, during and after fracture stimulation.

The scope of the survey included:

  • an investigation of the local conditions and planning for field tests,
  • investigation of background/existing status prior to the commencement of exploration,
  • tests while vertical/directional well drilling,
  • tests while well kicking, including hydraulic fracture stimulation and flow testing operations,
  • environmental monitoring on completion of drill site operations,
  • long-term environmental monitoring on completion of operations.

The scope and methodology of the tests have been adapted to the local conditions and the companies' schedules of work, which meant a serious challenge for both parties.

The tests have revealed that exploratory operations, including hydraulic fracture stimulation, had no any significant effect on the environment.

During the study, 21 soil and 669 soil air samples were collected (and tested for hydrocarbons, isotopes and radon concentration), along with 77 samples of wastes and process fluids. Ground and surface water was tested in 199 test points and seismic vibrations in 36 points.

The survey of the initial (background/existing) status included:

  • ground and surface water quality and quantity,
  • soil quality and soil air composition,
  • background noise level,
  • concentrations of gas pollutants and particulates in the ambient air.

Studies of landforms and potential dislocations in a scarp adjacent to a drill site have been made in two locations.

At the drilling stage, studies of pressure to selected environmental compartments have been made: ecotoxicological tests and drilling waste composition determinations, noise measurements and ambient air status monitoring.

Exotoxicological tests, fracturing and flowback fluid composition determinations and shale gas tests have been made throughout fracture stimulation operations, along with noise measurements and ambient air status monitoring.

On completion of fracture stimulation operations, the status of the environment was established using the same methodology as for the initial/existing status. Furthermore, long-term environmental monitoring has been carried out on lapse of 1 and 2.5 years following the fracture stimulation operations.

Seismic vibrations have been monitored continuously in the proximity of 3 wells (Syczyn OU 2K, Zwierzyniec-1, Gapowo B-1/B1A). A network of seismometering points was established to record any potential vibrations from hydraulic fracture stimulation jobs.

The tests have revealed that exploration operations, including fracture stimulation, has no any significant effect on the environment.

Permanent or significant changes in the chemistry of ground and surface water were not detected. Soil quality for farming purposes did not deteriorate and higher soil concentrations of radioactive elements were not found. Exploration had no effect on the groundwater status (the groundwater table did not decline). In some cases, higher values of the analyzed soil air parameters were found. It has been established that they are due to concentrations of products from natural biological processes or (in one case) from Carboniferous coal deposits beneath the soil sealing sheet.

The permitted noise levels have been exceeded intermittently and concentrations of some of the analyzed air parameters (oxides and organic compounds) have risen momentarily during the operation of high output combustion engines and pumps.

The operations had a relatively short-term impact on the landscape and left no major imprints on the landscape.

Seismic shocks induced by rock mass breaking as a result of fracture stimulation operations were not reported, although there was a case of soil vibrations caused by operation of fracturing equipment (the pumps), but even they were within the permitted levels of vibration.

The conclusion from survey results is that strict compliance with laws and regulations, procedures governing the delivery of geological works (drilling, fracture stimulation, etc.) and transport/management of drilling and fracturing wastes is essential for ensuring public and environmental safety.

Details of survey methodology,  tested areas, as well as results and conclusions are presented in two reports, of which one contains recommendations for environmental monitoring and delivery of operations by the companies.

Survey results will also help to develop a set of good environmental practice guidelines for delivery of shale gas operations Directorate General for Environmental Protection is in charge of the “Assessment of environmental risks from exploration, appraisal and production of unconventional hydrocarbons” Project, as commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment.

The Project, delivered from 2012 to 2015, is financed from National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management under the priority programme „Environment Minister's support to National Environmental Policy”.


source: GDOŚ


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