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Water industry lays down challenge to UK shale gas fracking industry

Press release
Resources management
17 July 2013

Water companies have warned the shale gas industry that the quality of our drinking water must be protected at all costs and fracking must not harm public health.

Shale gas fracking could lead to contamination of the water supply with methane gas and harmful chemicals if not carefully planned and carried out.

The fracking process requires huge amounts of water, which will inevitably put a strain on supplies in areas around extraction sites. Also, the power of the drilling and fracturing process even risks damaging existing water pipes, which could lead to leaks and shortages to people's homes and businesses.

But water companies emphasise that they want to work closely with the shale gas industry so the potential benefits to the UK's long-term growth and employment are fully realised while protecting public health.

The call from the water companies will come from Dr Jim Marshall, Policy and Business Adviser at Water UK, during his speech at the UK Shale 2013 - Making It Happen conference in London today (17 July).

Public health

Dr Marshall 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."

Impacts on water

In his speech, Dr Marshall will 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 water companies' main concern about fracking is that the process could cause contamination of the drinking water aquifers that overlie shale gas reserves byallowing 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 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.

Understanding the impacts of shale gas on the UK water industry
Speech by Dr Jim Marshall, Business and Policy Adviser, Water UK


Water UK Communication
0207 344 1852

Notes to Editors

Water UK works on behalf of the water industry towards a sustainable future.