Ongoing plans by UK-based companies to extract gas through a process known as hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' could contaminate local water supplies, according to a report.
The relatively new extraction process involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart rock formations and release gas. It is seen as an important development for reducing UK and European reliance on imported gas supplies.
However, there are concerns about the environmental and social consequences of the gas drilling, including that the use of hazardous chemicals could end up contaminating water acquifers. In the US, where thousands of new wells are expected to be drilled over the next decades, opposition is growing and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation of the risks.
Geologists believe the UK has large reserves of exploitable gas. Of the three companies (Cuadrilla Resources, Island Gas Limited and Composite Energy) known to be involved, Cuadrilla Resources is most advanced, and is already undertaking exploratory drilling on a site in Weeton, Lancashire. It is also due to begin drilling shortly at other sites in the Netherlands and Hungary.
The Tyndall report says no environmental assessment was required before drilling commenced with a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reported as saying it had been advised by the company involved that there was 'no likelihood of environmental damage'.
'The Department has no objection to the use of this technique so long as all of the relevant environmental and planning assessments have been carried out and permissions granted. I have had no discussions with my EU counterparts on the regulation of the use of hydraulic fracturing,' said the energy minister Gregory Barker in response to a parliamentary question on hydraulic fracturing in December 2010.
While DECC appears unconcerned by hydraulic gas extraction, MPs from the Energy and Climate Change Committee have begun an inquiry into the issue.
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