8 fracking practices that are banned in the UK

A quick look at all the US fracking practices and processes that are already banned in the UK


Activists looking to stop fracking in the UK regularly cite examples of problems from the US. But many of the practices and processes that have been linked to problems there are already banned in the UK and so we won't experience them.

Let's take a quick look.

1. Wastewater storage ponds: banned

In the US, wastewater is often stored in large pits, ponds or lagoons dug into the ground. They are open to the elements (meaning that any methane in the wastewater can "gas off" into the atmosphere in the form of fugitive emissions) and because they're dug into the ground, there's a risk of leakage.

Here in the UK, the use of these ponds is not permitted. Instead, wastewater has to be stored in above-ground sealed tanks provided with their own spill containment - eliminating those fugitive emissions and preventing leaks to the environment.

2. Drill pads on unmade ground without liners: banned

In America, when they create a drilling pad, they scrape off the surface soil, and maybe add some stone to create a firm base for the equipment, but that's it. So, any surface spills can simply leach away into the ground.

Here in the UK, fracking companies dig down into the subsoil to create the shape of the drill pad, with the soil that's removed used to form earthen "bunds" around the perimeter. They then install an impermeable plastic liner with welded seams so there's no chance of leakage, with stone compacted on top to create the stable base for operations. Any rainwater or spilled liquids flow through the stone and are trapped by the earthen bunds and liner, and then collected by road tanker. Unlined sites are not permitted.

3. Drilling in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: banned

In the US, there are virtually no restrictions on where companies can drill and frack for gas. 

Here in the UK, regulations have been introduced to protect our most treasured landscapes so there will never be any visual intrusion in our most beloved parts of the countryside.

4. Drilling and fracking in protected groundwater areas: banned

In the US, many homes rely on private wells on their own property for their drinking water - in some states where fracking takes place, as high as 50% of homes rely on private supplies taken from the aquifer near the surface.

In the UK, the environmental regulators have always said they would never issue environmental permits to companies wishing to drill and frack in areas with  Source Protection Zone 1 (SPZ1) status where groundwater is abstracted for drinking water purposes. This has been further strengthened by legislation: by law, there can be no drilling or fracking in any land at a depth of less than 1,200 metres and that is within 50 metres of a point at the surface at which groundwater is abstracted and used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes

5. Fracking at shallow depths: banned 

The shale rock in many places in the US is found at shallow depths of around 300 metres, which is close to the drinking water aquifer.

The Bowland shale that stretches across northern England in band right across Lancashire and Yorkshire, by comparison, is encountered at depths of over 1,500 metres, and separated from the aquifer by successive layers of rock, including the impermeable Manchester Marl or "cap rock." The likelihood of any gas or fracking fluid being able to travel upwards from that depth and reach the aquifer is virtually negligible, other than via the lined wells, but even still, legislation has been introduced that prohibits any fracking at depths of less than 1,200 metres.

6. Toxic chemicals in fracking fluid: banned

Opponents of fracking often claim that a "toxic cocktail of chemicals" is used in fracking fluid, pointing to the US where a study once claimed that over 600 chemicals were used with many of them toxic. 

This simply isn't true in the UK. The environmental regulators must be notified of and approved all chemicals that fracking companies want to use. Not only that, but EU and UK regulations dictate that those chemicals must be non-hazardous to groundwater when made up into fracking fluid. 

7. Building wells without appropriate casing systems: banned 

Even now, despite problems with some early fracking wells in the US, they still build wells lined with only one layer of steel casing - and, in some cases, this is only the top section of the hole, with the lower portion remaining "open" or uncased.

Here in the UK, fracking companies line their wells with three separate layers of steel casing, each with cement between all the way back to the surface. This means that where wells pass through the aquifer, there are six separate barriers (steel and cement) between the wellbore and the environment. Wells with a single layer of casing are not permitted in the UK.

8. Disposal of wastewater in injection wells: banned 

Over in the US, where they've had a sizeable onshore oil and gas industry for many decades, they've adopted a practice of using depleted oil wells as a means of disposing of liquid wastes from the oil and gas industry itself as well as many others, including the chemical industry. It is the use of these "disposal wells" that has been linked to a major uptick in recorded earthquakes in states like Oklahoma.

The disposal of liquid wastes into underground rock strata isn't permitted in the UK; the UK and European courts have ruled that deep disposal like this is the same as landfilling, and landfilling liquid wastes has been banned since 2004 under the EC Landfill Directive. 

With all these practices linked to problems in the early days of shale gas extraction in the US already effectively banned in the UK, you have to wonder what else is driving people to oppose it...

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