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Shale gas: a life cycle perspective for UK production

Tagliaferri, C; Clift, R; Lettieri, P; Chapman, C; (2016) Shale gas: a life cycle perspective for UK production. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment , 22 (6) pp. 919-937. 10.1007/s11367-016-1207-5. Green open access

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Abstract

PURPOSE: Following the boom of shale gas production in the USA and the decrease in the US gas prices, increasing interest in shale gas is developing in many countries holding shale reserves and exploration is already taking place in some EU countries, including the UK. Any commercial development of shale gas in Europe requires a broad environmental assessment, recognizing the different European conditions and legislations. METHODS: This study focuses on the UK situation and estimates the environmental impacts of shale gas using life-cycle assessment (LCA); the burdens of shale gas production in the UK are compared with the burdens of the current UK natural gas mix. The main focus is on the analysis of water impacts, but a broad range of other impact categories are also considered. A sensitivity analysis is performed on the most environmentally criticized operations in shale gas production, including flowback disposal and emission control, by considering a range of possible process options. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Improper waste water management and direct disposal or spills of waste water to river can lead to high water and human ecotoxicity. Mining of the sand and withdrawal of the water used in fracking fluids determine the main impacts on water use and degradation. However, the water degradation of the conventional natural gas supply to the UK is shown to be even higher than that of shale gas. For the global warming potential (GWP), the handling methods of the emissions associated with the hydraulic fracturing influence the results only when emissions are vented. Finally, the estimated ultimate recovery of the well has the greatest impact on the results as well as the flowback ratio and flowback disposal method. CONCLUSIONS: This paper provides insights to better understand the future development of shale gas in the UK. Adequate waste water management and emission handling significantly reduce the environmental impacts of shale gas production. Policy makers should consider that shale gas at the same time increases the water consumption and decreases the water degradation when compared with the gas mix supply. Furthermore, the environmental impacts of shale gas should be considered according to the low productivity that force the drilling and exploitation of a high number of wells.

Type: Article
Title: Shale gas: a life cycle perspective for UK production
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/s11367-016-1207-5
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1207-5
Language: English
Additional information: © The Author(s) 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Keywords: Life-cycle assessment; UK fracking; UK shale gas exploitation; Water life cycle of shale gas
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Chemical Engineering
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1515836
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