Shale gas research

A compilation of the Royal Society's work on shale gas extraction.

This page is a compilation of past Royal Society projects on shale gas extraction.

Bibliometric analysis of shale gas research (2021)

On behalf of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, Elsevier completed a bibliometric analysis of the quantity of published, peer reviewed research in the field of shale gas extraction between 2009 and 2018. The analysis is designed to aid academics, industrialists and governments who are interested in the extent of shale gas research.

The report focuses on the amount of research carried out in the following areas:

  • Resource estimation
  • Fracturing fluid: composition, treatment, storage & disposal
  • Methane leakage & groundwater contamination
  • Monitoring seismicity
  • Public perception & governance


Bibliometric Assessment of Global Shale Gas Research 2009 – 2018 (PDF) provides a quantitative analysis of published studies and highlights trends in shale gas research on these topics and in different global regions. The analysis was conducted by Elsevier Analytical Services.

Bibliometric assessment of global shale gas research 2009 – 2018: Project summary and methodology (PDF) provides background information 

Bibliometric assessment of global shale gas research 2009 – 2018: Grey literature list (PDF) is a list of related information collected during the project.

Shale gas extraction report (2012)

In 2012, the then-Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington FRS, asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to review the scientific and engineering evidence and consider whether the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas could be managed effectively in the UK. The review was not an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas, nor did it promise to make any judgements on the appropriateness or otherwise of shale gas extraction being undertaken. At the time, the hope was that this review would act as a valuable contribution from the scientific and engineering community to a wider debate on the future of shale gas extraction in the UK that should also encompass societal and economic issues.

The key findings of this review were:

  • The health, safety and environmental risks can be managed effectively in the UK. Operational best practices must be implemented and enforced through strong regulation.
  • Fracture propagation is an unlikely cause of contamination. The risk of fractures propagating to reach overlying aquifers is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres. Even if fractures reached overlying aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely to be met given the UK’s shale gas hydrogeological environments.
  • Well integrity is the highest priority. More likely causes of possible contamination include faulty wells. The UK’s unique well examination scheme was set up so that independent, specialist experts could review the design of every offshore well. This scheme must be made fit for purpose for onshore activities.
  • Robust monitoring is vital. Monitoring should be carried out before, during and after shale gas operations to detect methane and other contaminants in groundwater and potential leakages of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.
  • An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory. Every shale gas operation should assess risks across the entire lifecycle of operations, from water use through to the disposal of wastes and the abandonment of wells.
  • Seismic risks are low. Seismicity should be included in the ERA. Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of smaller magnitude than the UK’s largest natural seismic events and those induced by coal mining.
  • Water requirements can be managed sustainably. Water use is already regulated by the Environment Agency. Integrated operational practices, such as recycling and reusing wastewaters where possible, would help to minimise water requirements further. Options for disposing of wastes should be planned from the outset. Should any onshore disposal wells be necessary in the UK, their construction, regulation and siting would need further consideration.
  • Regulation must be fit for purpose. Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up should a future shale gas industry develop nationwide. Regulatory co-ordination and capacity must be maintained.
  • Policymaking would benefit from further research. The carbon footprint of shale gas extraction needs further research. Further benefit would also be derived from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of the UK’s energy, climate and economic policies.


The Royal Society’s work on energy

The Royal Society is running a major low carbon energy programme, looking at the science and technology options to ensure that the UK meets its carbon reduction targets.

Read about the Royal Society’s work on climate change at Energy, environment and climate change and on low carbon energy at Low carbon energy programme