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Water UK signs co-operation agreement with shale gas industry

02 December 2013

Fracking holds "inherent" risks of contaminating water or causing shortages, but these can be mitigated through tough regulation, the water industry body Water UK said on November 27 as it signed a co-operation agreement with the shale gas trade body the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG).

A shale gas exploratory drillsite in West Sussex - Photo: Cuadrilla Resources
A shale gas exploratory drillsite in West Sussex - Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The body said water contamination could be caused by "surface spillages of chemicals, diesel and other materials at a drilling site; poor well design and construction with subsequent failure; and the hydraulic fracturing process, including the use of biocides and chemical friction reducers in fracturing fluid".

"While there are potential risks to water and wastewater services, these can be mitigated given proper enforcement of the regulatory framework," it said.

Water UK thinks the risk of wells failing should be low if they are properly managed but that surface spillages of chemicals and other materials carry a greater risk.

It also warned that where water is in short supply there may not be enough available from public water supplies or the environment to meet the requirements for fracking, which  involves pumping large quantities of water, chemicals and sand into the ground at high pressure to extract gas trapped within shale rock foundations.

Ministers hope it could provide an important new source of gas to Britain as North Sea reserves dwindle, with a recent estimate suggesting there could be 40 years' worth of shale gas reserves under northern England alone.

Under the co-operation agreement, Water UK will work with shale gas trade body the UK Onshore Operators Group "to help minimise the impact of onshore oil and gas development in the UK on the country’s water resources". They will draw up plans for monitoring fracking sites and planning to prevent shortages.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “This agreement with Water UK should give reassurance to local communities that the development of shale gas in the UK can proceed with minimal impact upon the local water and waste services.

"The environmental regulation covering the onshore oil and gas industry in the UK is among the most stringent in the world and, in addition, the industry has agreed to tough and transparent guidelines on how we operate and interact with local communities.”

The water industry statement comes after it commissioned a report, from UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR), which found that some of Britain's shale gas prospects are in close proximity to sources of drinking water.

"In a number of areas, shale gas prospects are located beneath principal aquifers and therefore wells drilled for exploration and production will pass through those aquifers providing a potential pathway for migration of fracturing fluids and upward migration of formation fluids and gases," it said.

While other rock formations should stop any contamination in most cases, some shale formations are separated from the aquifers by "relatively thin" or "permeable" rocks.
The UKWIR report said that the Weald basin in Kent and the southwest Midlands were the potential fracking areas most vulnerable to water shortages.

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