Clean water crucial to UK shale industry
After the recommendation to refuse Cuadrilla’s application to start test fracking at Roseacre Wood, in Lancashire, over concerns that “it would generate an increase in traffic”, much of which would be from delivery of the water required and the final decision to be announced this week, we talk to Sven Parris, Business Development Manager at Water Direct, to find out more about the water requirements for fracking in the UK.
Monica Thomas (Shale Gas International): Water Direct offers a very wide range of services, providing water to clients as diverse as utility companies, construction and civil engineering firms, and even festival organisers. What service does Water Direct provide in the context of shale exploration and production?
SVEN PARRIS (Business Development Manager, Water Direct): So far, we’ve been involved in the supply of wholesome water for welfare use at some of the exploratory locations- some of these have been more challenging than our typical welfare supplies due to the opposition to drilling in the area- meaning we’ve had to take additional measures to ensure secure and timely delivery.
MT: Your company prides itself on the quality of water it provides. But anybody who reads about fracking and the problems caused by the highly polluted flowback and produced water would be excused in thinking that ‘if it’s going to get that dirty, why do you need to use clean water for fracking; surely, any water should do?’ What would you answer them?
SP: Our fundamental business is the safe transportation of wholesome, quality-assured drinking water from where it is available, to where it is not. We would anticipate that as part of the drilling companies due diligence, they would ensure they have taken all measures practicable to ensure minimal risk to the environment- part of this will be to ensure water supply is safe to be introduced to the environment- indeed we believe and expect that this would be strictly regulated.
We’ve learnt through consultation with drilling companies that the quality and consistency of the initial water supply has implications on the quality of the fracturing fluid. By ensuring consistency and quality drilling companies potentially reduce cost, time and variations in chemical composition required to deal with fluctuations in water quality.
We already provide wholesome water for a variety of uses where one might question the need for it to be of ‘potable’ quality; however in most instances- certainly all where water might be introduced into the environment- this is crucial.
MT: According to the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change, each fracking operation requires between 10 and 30 million litres of fresh water. How much of that would be fresh water and how much recycled flowback / produced water?
SP: This is a question best posed to the drilling companies and those that specialise in recycling and re-using the water. Our business is ensuring that a wholesome supply is provided and guaranteed in the first place. We’ve seen new technologies and improved processes develop in relation to recycling and we are interested to see that continue.
MT: 10 million litres certainly sounds like a lot, but the industry argues that it is not that much when compared to some other widespread uses like agriculture. What is your view on the matter?
SP: Water consumption in the production of many products is often seen as excessive. People may share the same view on items such as fruit, meat and beverages if they were more aware of production volume requirements. For instance, it can take up to 180 litres of water to produce a bag of crisps, or 16,000 litres of water for 1 kilo of Beef.
As a comparison, 30 million litres over the life of a well (potentially providing energy for years to come) equates roughly to the water consumption in the production of 1.9 tons of Beef- it’s estimated that the UK’s largest fast food retailers sell between 95-190 tons of beef every day- that’s 50-100 times the lifetime usage of a well every day.
MT: Where do you get that amount of water from?
SP: All of the water we supply is abstracted from the mains network under licence, and in agreement with the relevant Water Utilities. This ensures that water is not taken from where it would impact the health and wellbeing of end users, or necessary uses for industry. It also ensures that all supplies are auditable back to the point of source, and are not unmonitored abstractions from sources such as rivers and lakes, thus mitigating risk to the environment.
MT: Environmentalists are concerned that such large amounts of water used for fracking may damage the ecosystem. Are there any regulations currently in the UK deciding the maximum amount of water that may be taken from the environment, without compromising environmental needs?
SP: DEFRA and the Environment Agency dictate to the utilities and certain commercial users the volumes of water allowed to be abstracted from natural resources such as aquifers and rivers- this is a strictly governed area. Since we only abstract water from the mains network and the volumes in question are relatively lower than generally perceived we are confident that our activities would not compromise environmental needs.