The conclusion of a review by the Royal Society in the UK, is that fracking can be done ‘safely’, provided “best practices are implemented and robustly enforced through regulation.”
Unfortunately the Royal Society did not examine the more interesting questions of what fracking means for the climate, hence the scare quotes in the title of this post.
There are two distinct issues here, the first is the direct effect of fugitive emissions from fracking operations. Quantifying how much methane is not captured by the gas companies and is instead directly emitted into the atmosphere is difficult but the it is not likely to be zero. This is important because methane is much more potent a GHG than CO2 thus even small leaks can have significant effects on the climate.
The second is what having a large, cheap supply of natural gas means for the energy sector. Will it replace coal or undercut renewables like solar and wind out of the market? Answering this question is essential in determining what if any role natural gas can play in climate mitigation polices.
By avoiding these more interesting and difficult questions the Royal Society has, unfortunately, done very little to help us understand the costs and benefits of fracking.