Quantifying the risks of hydraulic fracturing

29 July 2014

by Alexander Cox

Hydraulic fracturing continues to be a newsworthy topic in different parts of the world. Aside from what they see in the media, stakeholders require robust information in order to assess the risks and opportunities that may arise from a company’s proposals in this area.

ERM has responded by developing what we believe is the first environmental and safety Quantified Risk Assessment (QRA) methodology for a leading oil and gas company’s planned hydraulic fracturing operations in Germany. This has since been presented at two public meetings at which stakeholders had the opportunity to explore different aspects of the project concept being put forward by our client.

In order to help stakeholders put their proposals for unconventional resource development in context, the client established a “dialogue process” as a discussion platform. This involved contracting ERM alongside industry experts to explain the risks of hydraulic fracturing from various perspectives and to make recommendations for safe operations.
The integrated approach involved taking proven risk assessment and analysis concepts for QRAs and developing a “fit for purpose” methodology for the analysis of risks with both environmental and safety impacts – on an activity by lifecycle by risk basis.  Thus for an issue such as groundwater contamination, we examined potential environmental and safety impacts in different scenarios in order to get a clear understanding of the risks and, ultimately help the client demonstrate through the risk analysis and reduction process an acceptable risk profile for different aspects of the project.

ERM met the requirement to perform a QRA, with a special focus on environmental impacts from surface (well pad/pipeline) activities, by using a multidisciplinary team of consultants. Having developed the tailored QRA methodology we tested its feasibility and potential outcomes on a conventional gas well in Germany, where hydraulic fracturing is planned for gas flow stimulation. This appears to be the first time a QRA has been adapted for fracking operations on a conventional gas well.

Alex Cox is an ERM Partner and risk specialist based in Germany. For further information please, please e-mail Alexander Cox.


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