According to the Observer newspaper, the UK government will fund hundreds of test boreholes to demonstrate to the public and opponents of fracking that the technology for shale extraction can be developed safely in the UK.
The boreholes will be drilled by the British Geological Survey with sensors placed to detect any water or air pollution and monitor seismic activity that could have been caused by fracking, with the results set to be made publicly accessible.
Director of science and technology at the British Geological Survey, Professor Mike Stephenson commented, “we will be taking the pulse of the sub-surface environment and will reveal if things are going wrong, but also if they are going right, the aim is to reassure people that we can manage the sub-surface safely.”
The proposals are yet to be officially announced but are believed to be awaiting final approval by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills with an estimated cost of £60-80 million.
It is hoped that the programme of borehole monitoring during test phases will alleviate some of the common fears of fracking, including environmental damage and seismic activity.
Professor Stephenson said, “groundwater contamination is the big worry people have. Companies are required by law to monitor at their sites, but our interest is wider. For example, several kilometres away, are we sure groundwater is untouched?”
Green party MP Caroline Lucas argued, “there is no justification for using public money to help the fracking industry pull the wool over people’s eyes. It’s another desperate attempt to quell legitimate public concern and may further undermine public trust”.
On the issue as to whether the scheme should be government funded, Professor Stephenson said, “it is a good use of government money if we can monitor the environment but also make it more efficient to develop whatever we want to develop. I don’t think the fracking companies paying for the whole caboodle would play well with the public.”
But Ms Lucas suggested that the proposals are further examples of the government actively pursuing a policy of shale extraction and that the government was quickly becoming “indistinguishable” from the fracking industry.
Professor Stephenson said he felt that such a scheme was evidence of learning from any mistakes made in the industry with the US shale boom and asserted that if UK shale extraction was impractical “that would come out” from the sensory data.