Standardization as Key to Precautionary Principle Handling: Risk Mitigation for Shale Gas Production in Brazil

Cylon Liaw, Thiago Luis Felipe Brito, Hirdan Katarina de Medeiros Costa, Alberto José Fossa, Edmilson Moutinho dos Santos


Since 2013, after the 12th ANP (National Regulatory Agency for Petroleum, Oil, and Biofuels) Bid Round hosted in Brazil, several public civil actions (PCA) put unconventional resources on hold due to the precautionary principle as main reason for legally restraining shale gas exploitation. Essentially, scientific uncertainties and possible irreversible and negative impacts to human health and environment are core to the precautionary principle. Shale gas has provided an unprecedented role for the U.S among natural gas global traders since its soaring exploitation has started more than a decade ago. As of 2009, though the 'shale boom' assisted the natural gas settlement within energy transition discussions, harnessing an unconventional resource still negatively resonates in some countries, i.e., France, and even in some of the U.S. states due to potential risks to human health and environment. Lacking scientific certainty to deal with these risks may also contribute to public opinion's rejection and legal restraints to additional exploitation, as seen with the precautionary principle application in Brazil. As further suggested in this paper, some of the risks (i.e., structural building failures, wastewater disposal, and fugitive emission) may represent lesser concerns whenever technical standards are rigorously followed, since their voluntary yet compelling guidelines have been designed and tested toward safety and quality for consumers. The paper objective is to fill some of the constraining gaps for the shale gas development and broaden qualified discussion to reduce complexity and increase transparency of the Brazilian regulatory regime. By presenting benchmarked technical standards applied in successful experiences related to shale gas, this paper finds reasonable arguments to resume unconventional resources debate in Brazil, specifically to address shale gas risk matters. An orderly risk management supported by specific standards may induce a precautionary principle ease, alongside with additional geology studies regarding sedimentary basins to avoid continued scientific uncertainties.

Keywords: shale gas, precautionary principle, standardization

DOI: 10.7176/RHSS/12-2-02

Publication date: January 31st 2022

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