The risk of water supplies being contaminated as a result of fracking is much lower in Britain than in the United States because almost all the recoverable shale oil and gas is at least 650m (2,132ft) below groundwater layers, a study has found.
Almost half the main natural stores of water, or aquifers, which supply a third of homes in Britain, lie above shale that could be targeted by fracking companies, according to the British Geological Survey (BGS). It said that the distance between the water and shale was at least 650m in the Weald basin in the South Downs, and 800m in the Bowland basin in Lancashire and Yorkshire. In the US, many homeowners claim their water supply has been contaminated by methane leaks from fracked wells.
Rob Ward, the director of groundwater science at the BGS, said fracking had been poorly regulated in parts of the US and some companies had targeted shale less than 100m (328ft) from aquifers. He said there was “minimal risk” of fracking causing contamination to water supplies in Britain as long as vertical wells, which pass through the aquifers, were drilled and sealed safely. “There is a great distance between where the hydraulic fracturing [fracking] is going to take place and the overlying freshwater aquifer,” he said. Dr Alwyn Hart, of the Environment Agency, added: “We have strong regulatory controls in place to protect groundwater, and will not permit activity that threatens groundwater and drinking water supplies.”