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Government sets out fracking protections for groundwater

The government has set out a series of draft guidelines to protect groundwater sources from the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has said fracking activities can only take place in areas where groundwater sources are, in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites, at depths of below 1,200m. Drinking water is not normally found below depths of 400m.

The government also stated that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface of national parks and other protected areas.

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom said: “The UK has one of the best track records in the world when it comes to protecting our environment while also developing our industries – and we’ve brought that experience to bear on the shale gas protections.”

She added that the government is still keen to follow up on the prime minister’s pledge from last year to “go all out for shale gas” despite the industry suffering the setback of having two projects rejected by Lancashire Council last month.

Leadsom added: “We need more secure, home grown energy supplies, and shale gas and oil have a vital role to play – much better that we use what we have at home than relying on supplies from volatile foreign imports.

“This industry will be developed safely with world class environmental protections, creating jobs and delivering better energy security while safeguarding of some of our most precious landscapes.”

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint slammed the Conservative government for “ignoring genuine and legitimate concerns” over shale gas development and for failing to protect National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty by “allowing fracking to take place underneath them”.

She added: “These regulations could lead to Britain’s most treasured areas being ringed by rigs that are allowed to frack underneath them.

“They urgently need to think again and ensure that no shale gas extraction can go ahead under National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or aquifers that supply drinking water. Until they do, no extraction should take place.”

UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the representative body for the industry, said it “firmly believes” that the current risk-based policy position with respect to groundwater and all industrial activity in the UK is “fit for purpose”.

“There is no rationale or justification for singling out shale as a special case,” it said. “Activity with respect to shale takes place over 1km below the levels of drinking water unlike many industrial processes that take place happily at the surface much closer to drinking water.”

The group said it “understands the need for the secretary of state to create special protection for site surface visual amenity reasons”.

It added: "Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing happen around 3km below the surface where there is no visual amenity issue and the protection of the environment is already covered by stringent and multiple laws and regulation administered by the Environmental Regulator and the Health and Safety Executive. The allegation that National Parks will be 'ringed' with rigs deliberately ignores legislation and practice.”

This article first appeared on Utility Week.

Author: Mathew Beech,
Topic: Energy/Water Nexus , Sustainability & social value
Tags: fracking , groundwater

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