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Environmental connections to public health >>

Fracking fears intensify as exploratory drilling continues in UK

Friday, July 26, 2013

The “fracking” boom that in recent years has flooded the United States with enormous new supplies of natural gas is now washing up on the shores of the United Kingdom, and with it concerns for the safety of that nation’s drinking water.

Exploratory drilling for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing technology began much more recently in Britain, but already Water UK, a representative of all major water suppliers in the country, is criticizing the shale gas industry and highlighting the risks that fracking poses to groundwater quality and water supplies.

Water plays a crucial role in all forms of energy production, but nowhere is water use more intensive than in oil and gas exploration and production. Fracking, in particular, involves injecting a highly pressurized cocktail of water and toxic chemicals deep underground to create cracks, or fractures, in shale formations and release gas trapped in the rock. Fracturing a well requires a minimum of several million gallons of water, and the critics fear that the proposed drilling of an estimated 40 to 50 wells throughout Great Britain over the next two years could put serious strain on drinking water sources. 

Despite the country’s rainy reputation, Water UK has warned that areas in southeast England already have limited water supplies and could suffer the most from a boom in natural gas extraction. 

Water companies all over the United Kingdom have also voiced their fear that both methane gas and dangerous fracking fluids could seep from newly drilled wells into aquifers and contaminate drinking water. Water UK has urged drilling firms to engage in “upfront discussions” with water companies to develop a strategy that puts public health and the safety of water supplies at the forefront.

Concern over widespread fracking swelled after the British government recently outlined its plans to give generous tax breaks to the shale gas industry to encourage natural gas production.  Among these tax breaks is a 50 percent reduction in the tax on gas production.

Oil and gas firms in the United Kingdom claim that their drilling operations will be accompanied by strict oversight and regulation, but strong government backing for fracking could result in the same loopholes and lack of transparency that have bolstered the US oil and gas industry at the risk to public health.

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