The position of the UK Water Industry on Shale Gas Extraction

Pasted below is the  document that sets out the agreed position of the UK Water Industry in respect of shale gas extraction.


POLICY POSITION – Risks to water supplies posed by gas shale extraction



There has been much publicity recently over the potential reserves of shale gas in the UK.

Whilst this is still in exploratory stages in the UK the technique used for extraction of shale

gas (known as “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing) has been associated with risks to drinking

water sources in the US. Trial extractions have taken place in deposits in the Fylde in

Lancashire but the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) report shows

potential development sites across large parts of England and Wales.


There is a mixed evidence base on the magnitude of the risks involved but nonetheless there

is some acceptance that they do exist. Although water companies would not wish to hinder

economic development there is a view that the risks to water supplies (and in particular

drinking water supplies) need to be addressed.



The primary risk of concern to water companies is that associated with contamination of the

drinking water aquifers that overlie shale gas reserves as a result of the “fracking” process

allowing gases, such as methane, to permeate into drinking water sources from previously

confined rocks.


This is associated with the design and construction of the boreholes sunk to allow shale gas

extraction. In the UK, the design and construction of shale gas extraction boreholes is

assessed by the HSE through specific regulatory controls, which among other things require

verification of the design by an independent third party (DECC, 2011).

In addition contamination caused by chemicals used in the process entering the drinking

water aquifer either via fractures caused by the process or potentially by existing pathways

should also be considered a risk.


In addition there are a number of indirect risks associated with shale gas extraction that


· Discharge of contaminated effluents recovered from the “fracking” process to surface

drains, sewers or the environment.

· Damage to assets associated with any ensuing seismic activity that could cause

damage to water mains and sewerage infrastructure.


Regulatory framework

There is already a regulatory framework in place before shale gas extraction can commence

in the UK. A UK petroleum exploration and development licence (PEDL) is required along

with drilling consents and planning permission. The EA (or SEPA in Scotland) and the HSE

are consulted on environmental risk and safety risks respectively but the details on what goes

into these risk assessments are not fully understood by Water UK at this present time.

Under current planning arrangements inclusion of water companies in the process is not

required but, as has been demonstrated in recent trial sites, such liaison can provide helpful

information to both the water company (in terms of updating risk assessments for their

Drinking Water Safety Plans) and to the gas extractor.


Proposals for change

Water UK would urge government to consider the introduction of legislation to ensure that

water undertakers in the UK are statutory consultees, in addition to the environmental

agencies, on proposed shale gas extraction sites and that the protection of drinking water

sources is considered within this framework as a priority.


There should also be full disclosure of the chemical composition of the fluids used during the

extraction process on a site-specific basis so that the water industry can consider risks to

drinking water sources.


Finally, more visibility of the safety measures being put in place from the planning stage to

mitigate against any risks identified that may either directly contaminate drinking water

aquifers or indirectly provide pathways for contaminants that already exist in the

environment. Consideration should be given to the wider potential safety issues rather than

just the borehole design risk, for example, whether seismic activity associated with the shale

gas extraction could damage utility infrastructure.


European context

Water UK also endorses the European Commission’s intention to produce common European

standards for the exploitation of shale gas provided that any technical extraction frameworks

are supported by appropriate environmental standards that pay due attention to protection of

drinking water.


In addition the Water Framework Directive and its daughter directive for groundwater

provides for Water Protection Zones (WPZs). These provide a regulatory mechanism by

which Member States can address the potential for any pollution or hydro-morphological

damage, which could include any caused as a result of “fracking”.


Jim Marshall

Business and Policy Adviser

Water UK

Version 1 – Final – 21 November 2011

Posted on: September 27, 2012