Frac Risk

FracRisk is a research project whose objectives are to develop a knowledge base for understanding, preventing and mitigating the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in exploration and exploitation of shale gas reservoirs. The aim is to provide key scientific-based yet practical recommendations to minimize the environmental footprint of shale gas extraction through effective planning and regulations, and to address public concerns. This project has been funded from the European Union (EU)’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and managed by the University of Edinburgh.

The FracRisk consortium consists of a group of researchers with long-term experience in multi-disciplinary areas of reservoir characterization, modeling of subsurface flow and transport, geophysics, risk management and legal representation. The consortium brings together 14 institutions (including the University of Vienna) with experience in radioactive waste storage, carbon capture and storage, geothermal resources and microseismicity, with particular expertise in the investigation of subsurface geo-reservoirs, and in conventional hydrocarbon exploration and production.

In order to achieve the aforementioned target, a research program has been developed focused around the following activities:

  1. Assessment of the environmental impact expressed in seismic activities and released substances in the environment based on the understanding of the geophysical, subsurface flow and transport processes involved
  2. Forward modeling with mathematical models to predict the effect of migration of chemicals and gases, and the mechanical effects, together with risk and uncertainty assessment based on six focused exemplary scenarios (before, during, and after fracking operations)
  3. Develop and test a framework for risk assessment to be used both by regulators and contractors, based on a Risk-Based Corrective Action (RBCA) paradigm
  4. Development of criteria for appropriate monitoring strategies to measure baseline conditions, as a pre-warning system and to validate mathematical models and concepts
  5. Provision of scientific recommendations and a knowledge base for best practices for shale gas development and with direct application and relevance to the provision of consistent regulation.

FracRisk objectives start with the collection and collation of important baseline data from EU and eastern USA. It progresses through understanding important processes operating in the reservoir and overlying strata. It develops the forward modeling of the flow and transport of a multiphase fluid to obtain the spatial and temporal distribution of fracking chemical compounds and gas. Finally it inputs into an assessment of the respective risks using dynamic monitoring tools on six scenarios exemplifying identified key risks. This information is convolved in terms of the development of a knowledge base, the provision of scientific recommendations and captured in EU legislation related to shale gas development.

The concept of a hydro-geo-chemical-mechanical facies will be used to address these areas, whereby the subsurface is considered to be comprised of a number of facies according to their mechanical and hydrogeological properties. Within the EU seven sedimentary basins with exploitable resources of shale gas have been identified and the facies approach will assess the difference between these settings. The project encourages cooperations between academic institutions, regulatory bodies and industry within several member states of the EU as well as fostering international cooperation with Institutions in North America where several years of experience in shale gas exploration and exploitation is available.

FracRisk will aid in promoting and implementing a technology towards a low-carbon economy, whilst increasing the energy security of the EU through developing local energy resources with minimal environmental impact for local communities. As one of the results, the EU greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced. Expected impacts include addressing the public concerns related to fracking such as gas leakage, fresh water pollution, and induced seismicity. FracRisk is expected to provide improved understanding of the mechanical and chemical processes controlling fracking, since state-of-the-art techniques will be established. In addition this project will be capable to suggest sound and feasible mitigation procedures to contain the effects of significant environmental impacts. Overall the most important impact of FracRisk, by establishing cooperation with key institutions, concerns the minimization of the environmental footprint in countries where shale gas extraction operations are or will be in future conducted.

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- Enrico Caffagni