Shale gas industry warned it must protect water quality
The water industry has warned that the shale gas industry must protect the quality of drinking water at all costs and fracking must not harm public health.
But despite taking a tough line, water companies have stressed that they want to cooperate with the shale gas sector in order for the potential benefits to the UK’s long-term growth and employment to be fully realised while protecting public health.
Speaking at the UK Shale 2013 – Making It Happen conference in London this week, Dr Jim Marshall, policy and business adviser at Water UK, told delegates that the provision of drinking water is a cornerstone of public health and cannot be compromised. He said: “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."
He called for greater clarity from the shale gas industry on what its water needs along with 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,” he said.
Dr Marshall set out how the impacts of shale gas on water can be considered in four broad categories – water quality, water quantity, wastewater treatment and infrastructure.
The main issue with fracking is that the process 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.
The fracturing process uses water to pressurise the shale strata and the demand will have a significant impact on local water resources. 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.
Dr Marshall said water companies may be asked to accept and treat discharges of contaminated water recovered from the fracking process. 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.
Finally, 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.
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