Advances in technology have helped boost the growth of gas shale drilling in the United States over the past few years.
‘Fracking’, as it is known, has helped the United States to become almost self reliant in energy; lowering the price of gas for the largest energy user in the world.
But as this new art of releasing the natural gas embedded in shale rock deep below the Earth’s surface has expanded, it has obviously raised concerns. Environmentalists and concerned citizens wonder about the impact that this type of drilling for gas has on the environment, especially on UK groundwater.
Water Contamination Concerns
The concerns about the possible contamination of UK groundwater come from the essential part of the process called hydraulic fracturing, which in combination with the horizontal drilling techniques pioneered in the US, is an essential part of the shale gas production process.
The shale rock in which the gas is trapped (in small pockets) is so solid that it has to be ‘fractured’ in order to help the gas reach the surface. Called ‘fracking fluid’, a combination of water and sand laced with a cocktail of chemical compounds which the various drilling companies are reticent of detailing, is pumped into the gas shale at very high pressures, shattering the rock and opening millions of tiny little fissures. When this happens, a small earthquake is produced by the pressurised injection of this ‘fracking fluid’, fracturing the gas shale around the horizontal pipeline.
Fracking could cause UK water concerns
The gas trapped inside the shale is now released and makes its way to the surface along with approximately half of this chemical cocktail called ‘fracking fluid’, plus huge quantities of mud and rock. The rest of this ‘fracking fluid’ remains deep underground, and there is part of the concern, no one really knows what happens to it?
Fracking in the UK
From there, if the possible UK scenario is similar to the US experience, the gas is piped to nearby compressor stations that purify it and prepare it to be piped (and sometimes transported in liquefied form) to power plants, manufacturers, and ultimately, domestic customers.
Volatile organic compounds (carbon-based gaseous substances with a variety of detrimental health effects) and other dangerous chemicals are burned off directly into the air during this on-site compression process. Meanwhile, the returned ‘fracking fluid’, now conveniently called wastewater, is either transported off or stored in large – open-air – membrane lined pits – on site, where it is allowed to evaporate. ‘Fracking’ is an energy-and resource-intensive process. Again, if the UK experience will be similar to the US, every individual shale-gas drilling site that is ‘fracked’ requires between three and eight million gallons of water. Huge transport fleets have to make hundreds of trips to carry this ‘fracking fluid’ to and from each drilling site.
It’s this injection of ‘fracking fluid’, a chemical cocktail with possible unknown health effects, and the shattering of the geological strata; that raises concerns about the possible contamination of UK groundwater. If the rock strata that contains the groundwater lie within the vicinity of the shale gas deposit, then the possibility of potential contamination from this chemical cocktail (and the gas itself?) must be a huge risk. Is the possible contamination of the UK’s groundwater for cheaper energy bills worth this health risk?
Shale Gas Deposits
Just like the United States, it seems that the UK has extensive shale gas deposits (deep underground) sweeping right across the country. So what could be the potential health implications if fields of gas drilling wells were suddenly to appear across our green and pleasant land? This is the crux of the problem, the concerns of many NGOs lobbying to either halt or at least slow down this type of drilling in the UK, because no one really knows!
If we only experience a fraction of the ‘fracking’ experience in the United States then we could be entering a situation where we all have to be highly suspicious of our drinking water.
Unlike the United States, the UK has a far better water supply situation with the various water supply companies extensively filtering our drinking water and obviously monitoring for any contaminants that may be of concern. But is this enough?
Unanswered Questions About Fracking
• We don’t know what chemical cocktail is used in this ‘fracking fluid’? (the drilling companies concerned say that their particular ‘fracking cocktails’ are ‘commercially sensitive secrets’).
• We don’t know what ‘other’ chemical compounds may be in the shale gas itself, some may have health implications years in the future?
• We don’t know how these minor earthquakes will damage the ability of the rock strata to hold our groundwater?
• We don’t even know ‘if’ our water supply companies ‘can’ remove every chemical compound that may appear from this particular type of possible groundwater contamination?
This is the concern. Exploratory drilling companies are being granted licenses to drill (just look at Blackpool for an example) across the UK, before the possible chance of contamination of our communal drinking water can be explored and evaluated. Even ‘if’ our water companies ‘can’ filter out the possible contamination for the main centres of population throughout the UK, what’s going to happen to the people and businesses not on the main water supply network? Other people or parts of the environment that may be affected are:
• Residents that get their house-hold water from bore-holes.
• Villages and outlying hamlets which have always relied on traditional supplies from ancient springs and artesian wells which have historically supplied them with relatively clean water.
• The farming community that use huge amounts of groundwater to produce our food.
• Fisheries and fish farms that rely on the height of the water table and therefore the groundwater itself.
• Rivers, lakes and wet-places that are just starting to recover from the contamination over the years since our industrial revolution.
This possible contamination of our shared water supply could lead to the scenario where no one trusts the tap water anymore. A situation that has not been seen for an awfully long time in the UK. A situation that may lead to everybody having their own filtration and water purification system in their own home, filtering their incoming mains water, not just relying on their water company to provide clean, safe drinking water.
Water purification companies like Aquatec Rainsoft Ltd of Bristol are already on the case, developing water purification systems for the normal house-hold as well as systems for businesses; to mitigate any contamination that may be present by removing ‘every’ chemical compound from the water supply, and then replacing the essential electrolytes for human health. An Aquatec Rainsoft Ltd spokesperson said today that “Aquatec Rainsoft Ltd prides itself on providing clean, safe, and fresh drinking water for any situation. Tailored to suit most people’s home, business, and budget. We have looked at the possible situation that may arise concerning fracking, and have developed filtration and purification systems that are second to none in their ability to provide the best possible water from whatever the supply.”
If you want a free water test, contact Aquatec today.
Read more on Fracking here.