New maps published by the British Geological Survey (BGA) and Environment Agency (EA) claim to demonstrate the risk to groundwater from fracking in the UK for the first time.
The organisations have said that the maps show the depth to each shale gas and oil source rock below principal groundwater aquifers in England and Wales. The project partners have said that understanding the distance between the two is important when assessing the environmental risks of shale gas and oil exploitation.
“For the first time the public will be able to visualise our nationally important principal aquifers in relation to potential shale gas and oil source rocks,” said BGS director of groundwater science Rob Ward. “This information will help to better understand the risks to groundwater from shale gas and oil.”
The BGS and EA have said that the maps provide a new way to visualise the data and will help technical and public understanding of the distance between principal aquifers and the shales/clays of interest for shale gas and oil exploitation, an important factor when considering the potential contamination risks from hydraulic fracturing and oil/gas well operation.
The EA will use the maps as part of detailed geological assessments if hydraulic fracturing for oil or gas is proposed, and requires operators to hold groundwater permits unless there is no significant risk to groundwater. Developments will not be allowed to go ahead if they are too close to drinking water sources, and the EA has said it will not permit the use of chemical additives in hydraulic fracturing fluid that are hazardous to groundwater.
“We have strong regulatory controls in place to protect groundwater, and will not permit activity that threatens groundwater and drinking water supplies,” said EA head of air, land and water research Alwyn Hart. “These maps will help public understanding of the separation between groundwater and potential shale gas sites.”