British Geological Survey: “Water contamination cannot be ruled out”

cartoon gas grillIn a document obtained by Frack Off, the British Geological Society (BGS) admits fracking may pollute deep level water structures.

The document – commissioned by Bath Council – outlines the threat of hydraulic fracturing to Bath’s thermal spa. In it, the government’s favourite fracking advisor concludes: “contamination of water resources by introduced fluids during the hydraulic fracturing operations cannot be ruled out. This could involve anything from the leakage of surface storage tanks to the contamination of water at depth by chemicals contained in gels and foams.” (p22 of the study).

The study carefully hedges its bets: “providing best practice is followed (in terms of building the wells), earthquakes and pollution of aquifers are not considered to present a risk any higher than in the rest of the UK,” and “‘a properly cased an monitored well should be expected from professional drillers and engineers.'”

This arse-covering is not surprising – the BGS is part-funded by the oil and gas industry. The organisation has the wit, however, to note that in Bath “neither of the companies holding the current licenses has experience of shale gas drilling” (p2). No cause for concern there, then.

Yet despite the interests of its paymasters, the advisor cannot quite bring itself to give fracking the all clear: “Field development of shale gas (near Bath springs)… would be a potential risk …(since gas bearing strata) are close enough to the formations in which the waters are migrating to pose an undefinable risk to the springs.” (page iv)

There is a key word in the above quote: ‘undefinable’. It means: nobody knows. Time and again throughout the report, the BGS admits they only the faintest idea of the underground courses of Bath’s thermal springs: “the implications for Bath require greater consideration because of the uncertainty over the precise catchment area of the …waters” (p16); “the geological data needed to make a definite interpretation of the (water) pathways does not exist. There is no way of being able to better define this area, with current knowledge” (p27).

This is important, because if the BGS doesn’t know what’s happening at this most famous of watercourses, it certainly doesn’t know what’s happening under, say, Lancashire.

Geologists see themselves as god-like frontiersmen. And as this self-obsession with omnipotence means they hate to say when they don’t know. Seismic monitoring, they claim, provides a detailed knowledge of subsurface activities. And yet it is instructive that, in Lancashire, geologists have failed to find the fault that caused Cuadrilla’s earthquakes in 2011 – despite two studies.

The frack-and-be-damned mentality of these cowboys belies an uncomfortable truth: the reality doesn’t match their computer-generated projections. Further: there are some things that remain unknowable. The BGS admits it with that telling phrase: ‘undefinable risk’. And if you can’t define a risk, a further uncomfortable truth is that you are equally unable to do anything about it.

We don’t know what happens to underground water when it gets fracked. We don’t know where it flows, we don’t know where it comes from. In the case of Balcombe in West Sussex, Cuadrilla’s so-called professional geologists plan to frack at 2600 feet – even where academic studies show that fractures can extend 1950 feet – bringing cracks in the earth (as well as fracking chemicals and gas) to within a couple of football fields of the village itself.

So next time a geologist, driller or government official tells you that fracking is fine and dandy, ask them: where are the hydrological, hydro-geological & hydro-geochemical risk assessments? There’s a short answer: there aren’t any. And there aren’t any for a simple reason: the geologists don’t know.

And yet the government says that it’s fine. This is rubbish. The government only hears what will help its friends with interests in the oil and gas industry. And what it hears is arrogant geologists hiding the fact that they don’t know. Fracking is a test case – we must frack and see what happens. We have no idea what will transpire – not fracking companies, not geologists and certainly not local populations. Equally there is no idea of what is happening underground in the US; the effect of fracking on our deep water sources remains, figuratively and literally, in the dark.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.