Tenders invited for research on fracking

Date released: Nov 22 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today invited tenders for a two-year research programme to further the understanding of the potential impacts on the environment and human health from Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (fracking) projects and operations, including construction, operation and aftercare. 

While there is currently no exploratory or commercial drilling underway in relation to Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction on the island of Ireland, it is an emerging issue. The research programme has been designed to produce outputs that will assist regulators – both North and South - in fulfilling their statutory roles regarding any potential fracking activity.  Research will involve an extensive desk-based literature review of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction practices worldwide and some baseline-monitoring. 

In January 2013, there was a full public consultation on the Terms of Reference for the research and more than 1,300 submissions were received.  The Terms of Reference were strengthened as a consequence of this consultation.  The research programme now being commissioned will be funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

Key Points:

  • Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction involves high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of low permeability rock to permit the extraction of natural gas on a commercial scale from unconventional sources such as shale gas deposits, coal seams and tight sandstones.    
  • The EPA launched a public consultation on a draft Terms of Reference on the 11th January 2013.  A total of 1,356 submissions were received following the public consultation.
  • A large number of submissions expressed concerns and general opposition to fracking, calling for a ‘ban on fracking in Ireland’ until more information is available about the potential environmental and health impacts. 
  • Many concerns were raised in the submissions regarding the potential impacts from Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction such as water resource depletion, water contamination, air and noise emissions, traffic, farming and tourism.
  • The draft Terms of Reference were amended and strengthened after this public consultation.
  • This research programme is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
  • The research programme, which is expected to last two years, will be managed by a steering committee comprising the EPA, Department of Environment, Community & Local Government; DCENR; Geological Survey of Ireland; the Commission for Energy Regulation; An Bord Pleanála; Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Health Services Executive (nominated, following the Public Consultation).

 

The following documents are available for download from the EPA website in the Research area, Water Research, under the sub-heading UGEE Research:

  1. Revised Terms of Reference (Appendix 1 of the Tender) document.
  2. Summary report of the major issues that were raised by the submissions and an explanation as to how the EPA has responded to them.
  3. All valid submissions made during the consultation period. Personal information on the submissions has been blacked out for privacy reasons.
  4. Draft Terms of Reference.


Notes to Editors:
The aim of the Research Programme is to further our understanding of the potential impacts on the environment and human health from Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) projects/operations.

Projects A1 and A2 cover baseline characterisation of groundwater, surface water and associated ecosystems, as well as baseline characterisation of seismicity, required to assess potential impacts.  Project-A3 will assess the requirements and needs for additional Air Baseline Monitoring in the context of providing guidelines for Environmental Impact Statement(s) (EIS).

This research (especially Projects B and C) has been designed to produce outputs, which will assist regulators (North and South) in fulfilling their statutory roles regarding this activity.

The tender notice, including full details of the requirements of the research programme, has been published on the eTenders public procurement website.  A summary of the research programme is listed below.  


Project-A1 (Groundwater, Surface Water and Associated Ecosystems)

Baseline characterisation of groundwater, surface water and associated ecosystems  is required to enable potential impacts to be assessed. Therefore, particular research issues for consideration in this area would, inter alia, include:

  • The importance of geology and hydrogeology in environmental protection and considerations of human health (e.g. drinking water);
  • Assessment of existing baseline monitoring in order to inform best practice in the island of Ireland context;
  • Increasing geological and hydrogeological knowledge and developing a conceptual understanding, in the context of the three case study areas;
  • Evaluation of the connectivity between the shale gas source rocks and the groundwater in the overlying groundwater bodies; and
  • Evaluation of the water requirements of UGEE projects/operations (for an individual, typical pad and for each permit area) and if the local catchments could meet these requirements without adverse environmental impacts

Tasks/Outputs

Based on the above, ten specific tasks relating to groundwater, surface water and associated ecosystems are required which are listed in the tender. The outputs will include five interim reports, one final report and one short summary type report which shall be written in a style accessible to non-technical readers


Project-A2 (Seismicity)

Baseline characterisation of seismicity is required to enable potential impacts to be assessed. Therefore, particular research issues for consideration in this area would, inter alia, include:

  • A review of records of natural seismicity in the island of Ireland. An assessment of the nature and magnitude of induced seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing operations worldwide.
  • Review of seismic risk control regimes operated worldwide for UGEE projects/operations and make recommendations for systems applicable to the island of Ireland, with particular reference to the case study areas.
  • Assessment of the capability of existing seismic monitoring network(s) to allow detection and three-dimensional location of seismic events down to target magnitude threshold.
  • Assessment of micro-seismic monitoring methodologies to enable real-time monitoring of fracture growth during, and immediately after, UGEE projects/operations in order to minimise risks from induced seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing. This assessment should review how the existing seismic network(s) can be integrated with any likely additional networks that would be required for this type of activity, what resources are required to analyse these existing data, and what regions/sub-regional monitoring locations would be required for the specific case study areas.
  • Linking with Project B - Assessment of the success of pre-fracturing modelling techniques to predict the propagation (number and height) of fractures in the target horizon in order to predict induced seismicity and to predict the risk of fractures creating preferential pathways for pollutants.

Tasks/Outputs

Based on the above, eleven specific tasks relating to seismicity are required which are listed in the tender. The outputs will include four interim reports, one final report and one short summary type report which shall be written in a style accessible to non-technical readers


Project-A3 (Air Quality)

Potential air emissions from UGEE projects/operations may originate from sources, such as:

  • Trucks and drilling equipment;
  • Natural gas processing and transportation;
  • Fugitive emissions;
  • Evaporative emissions of chemicals from wastewater ponds;
  • Spills and well blow-outs; and
  • Post operation leakages from well.

Under Project-A3, it is proposed to assess the requirements and needs for additional Air Baseline Monitoring (frequency, location and types of pollutants to be covered) in the context of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (2011/92/EU) refers to Impacts on Air such as Air Quality (Pollutants, Suspended Particles); Odour; Noise; Vibration and Radiation. Existing sources of air pollution shall be identified and the components of any existing air pollution identified and quantified. Potential emissions covered under Project-A3 should include but are not limited to monitoring requirements under the EIA Directive.

Tasks/Outputs:

Based on the above, four specific tasks relating to Air Quality are required which are listed in the tender. The outputs will include one final report and one short summary type report which shall be written in a style accessible to non-technical readers.


Project-B: UGEE Projects/Operations: Impacts & Mitigation Measures

This project should comprise the identification and a detailed examination of the potential impacts on the environment and human health, as well as successful mitigation measures to counteract these impacts, associated with UGEE projects/operations that have come to the fore worldwide using published reports and other sources. The assessment should take into account commercially probable scenarios. Where appropriate, findings should be accompanied by reference to experiences in other countries

Tasks/Outputs:

Eleven specific tasks are listed in the tender. The outputs will include one final report and one short summary type report which shall be written in a style accessible to non-technical readers.


Project-C: Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection

Best environmental practice for UGEE projects/operations would entail using the most effective techniques in achieving a high general level of protection of the environment and human health as a whole, by demonstrating strict adherence with all relevant environmental legislation. The European Commission has indicated that Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from the extractive industries applies to shale gas projects using UGEE projects/operations. As such, Article 4 of Directive 2006/21/EC places an obligation on Member States to ensure that competent authorities follow or are informed of developments in best available techniques. The European Commission may produce guidance for shale gas projects in the future and the successful Tenderer must take cognisance / build-on this work.

Tasks/Outputs:

This project comprises seven research issues/tasks that should be undertaken and which will identify all regulatory requirements and best operational practices associated with the establishment and operation of “UGEE projects/operations” in an island of Ireland context.  The outputs will include one final technical report and one short summary type report which shall be written in a style accessible to non-technical readers.


Further Information

The EPA published a preliminary desk research on fracking in May 2012  (A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts). This preliminary research - along with other sources such as European Commission reports – has been used to assist in a scoping exercise for a more extensive and comprehensive study of fracking (or Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE) which includes hydraulic fracturing or fracking). 


Answers to frequently asked questions about fracking are available on the EPA website at www.epa.ie/about/faq under the heading ‘Water’.