Water firms seek urgent shale gas talks
Water companies in the UK yesterday called for urgent talks with shale gas developers to head off public fears over the impact of fracking on water supplies.
Trade body Water UK warned that many water companies remained in the dark about both the potential risks of fracking to the water supply and the measures that shale gas developers have in place to manage these risks.
“Provision of drinking water is a cornerstone of our public health and as such a service that cannot be compromised,” said Water UK policy and business adviser Dr Jim Marshall, speaking at the UK Shale 2013 - Making It Happen conference in London yesterday.
“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.”
The water companies’ main concern about 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.
Water companies are generally as unsighted about the impacts of shale gas as other members of society
Water UK policy and business adviser Dr Jim Marshall
Currently the water sector is not a statutory consultee for shale gas developers, with water firms relying on information being fed back to them from the Environment Agency.
While the industry is lobbying the government to change this, in the meantime Marshall said both the water and shale gas sectors needed to come to together to address the challenges posed by fracking both in terms of its impact on water quality and its need for large quantities of water as part of the fracking process.
“I have spoken to a lot of water companies about this in recent months and they are generally as unsighted about the impacts of shale gas as other members of society,” said Marshall.
“Some, in anticipation, are starting to do baseline quality monitoring. Others are looking at their water resource management plans to see what impacts it could have. Others are just simply waiting to see what comes about.”
While there were individual instances of developers and water companies working together, said Walker citing the cooperation between Cuadrilla and United utilities in the north west of England, higher-level industry-wide talks were now needed.
“I think what is needed at this stage is a clarification from both sides. I am hearing the need for a “cards on the table” session with water companies and shale gas operators,” said Walker.
“Let’s get the key people together. We can discuss each other’s perspectives - see where the real barriers are and where the opportunities exist. It feels like this should happen this summer or at the very latest early autumn.”