Fracking must not endanger health, warns water industry

2 min read

The water industry has cautioned the shale gas industry not to make any impact on the quality of drinking water through fracking, an extraction technique linked with water contamination.

The announcement from Water UK came ahead of today’s revelation by chancellor George Osborne that shale gas exploration in Britain is to be encouraged with a proposed 30 per cent tax on a company’s production income.

The regime, down from 62 per cent, is intended to support the industry in its early stages when costs are likely to be higher and risks of unsuccessful exploration are greater

Speaking ahead of Osborne’s statement Dr Jim Marshall, policy and business adviser at Water UK said, ‘Provision of drinking water is a cornerstone of our public health and as such a service that cannot be compromised.

‘There are arguments for and against fracking and the water industry is not taking sides. If it goes ahead, we want to ensure corners are not cut and standards compromised, leaving us all counting the cost for years to come.

‘We want greater clarity from the shale gas industry on what its needs related to water are really going to be and a true assessment of the impacts. This can be done through much closer working and understanding between water companies and the shale gas industry to tackle the many challenges we collectively face.’

Water UK, which represents all major UK water and wastewater service suppliers, has issued a statement saying shale gas fracking could lead to contamination of the water supply with methane gas and harmful chemicals if not carefully planned and carried out.

Shale gas extraction - or fracking- uses a technique called hydraulic fracturing: a well is drilled through the upper strata into the shale bed and a mixture of water and solid particles is pumped down into the shale at high pressure to fracture rock and the solid particles hold the crack open, which releases the gas.

A key concern for water companies’ is that fracking could cause contamination of the drinking water aquifers that overlie shale gas reserves by allowing gases such as methane to permeate into drinking water sources from rocks where it was previously confined.

Contamination can also be caused by chemicals used in the fracking process entering drinking water aquifers through fractures caused by the process or, potentially, by poor handling of wastewater on the surface.

Water UK added that the fracking process requires large amounts of water, which has the potential to strain supplies in areas around extraction sites.

This demand may be met from the public water supply or from direct abstraction, but may have to come from water tankers brought in by road.

Water companies may be asked to accept and treat discharges of contaminated water recovered from the fracking process and this may not be possible in all areas because some water companies may not have a suitable site near enough to carry out the required treatment.

Even if a supply of water is available, there may not be enough existing pipework to deliver it to the fracking site, and the infrastructure that is in place could also be at risk from seismic activity induced by the fracturing process.