Fracking - it's the water, stupid!

| 13th November 2013
Fracking has contaminated your water supply
Image: Public Herald /
Not only is fracking a massive threat to the UK's water, argues John Ward - it's a dead-end technology that will make us pay a heavy price for going precisely nowhere in energy terms.
Fracking is going to load our water industry with 138 billion additional gallons of water usage per annum.

My position on fracking (until I see objective information to the contrary) is simple: I'm against it here in the UK. But not on any one dimension. My objections remain:

  1. It's a desperation measure being rushed through by politicians who failed to research serious energy alternatives or in the past - or conserve energy in the present - and now want to destroy a tiny Island they already overpopulated to 'make good' their errors of vote-centric stupidity.
  2. The pollution and annoyance it causes in host populations is being skillfully covered up or glossed over.
  3. Most importantly of all, its effect on the water available to drink in the UK would be appalling - but they're going ahead anyway.
  4. It doesn't make any economic sense in anything but the immediate short term. Its biggest drawback is the inevitability of diminishing returns. After we have dug up half our island, we will still have the same problem.

On those last two points above, new data is emerging to give further support to the core flaws in fracking. But for me, the water concern is more important.

I have believed for over a decade that our wastage of, and poor collection of, water in the UK is storing up the same problems as those we're left with after 20 years of pc bollocks about immigration.

Although much of the mounting public concern has centred on fears that underground water supplies could be contaminated with the toxic chemicals used in the well-stimulation technique that cracks rock formations and releases trapped oil and gas, a better documented and greater danger is that the more I learn about how water the fracking process uses, fracking's effect on the sustainable water supply becomes a serious factor.

Every fracking derrick requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water per annum (more with octopus technology) according to America's Groundwater Protection Council. Thus 35,000 oil and gas wells used for fracking will consume between 70-140 billion gallons of water each year. Even at the minimum projection, that's about equal, say the US authorities, to the water use in 40 cities with populations of 50,000 people, or one capital city with a population of 2.5 million.

As we remember all too well, a month of hot weather in Britain is usually enough to have many of us on standpipes by August. Our woefully ageing water infrastructure (already in private incompetent fat cat paws) simply could not take that degree of pummeling.

Look at the numbers: you may already know them individually, but in unison, they present a frightening picture ... more so when one converts the entire thing into one measurement system for proper comparison.

The average UK household uses 1,000 gallons of water a day.

Fracking is going to load our water industry with 138 billion additional gallons of water usage per annum.

At 18 million households (growing, thanks to Camerlot's bribe from the construction industry) x 365 days per year, that's a consumption level of 657 thousand billion gallons a year ... in the top 5 of per capita consumption in the world.

But thanks to crap investment by private waterco owners, the UK loses 3 billion gallons of water each day through leaky pipes and accidental fractures during excavation - and just remind me here, what is it that fracking does ... ?

We actually import 62% of our water already in the form of foodstuffs from places abroad already short of water. Over the past 100 years, the UK has lost 75% of its ponds and floodplain grasslands as water supply. So as households, imports and industrial output load demand, supply is falling. Down that road lie lots of tears. Yet more wasted water the human body can ill-afford to lose.

Scaling down even the US levels to our size this side of the Pond, it is estimated we will need around 8,000 rigs in the UK - minimum. Octopus technology ensures that each one will use on average three times the older type of fracking rig - so that's 24,000 units of rig consumption.

That is going to load our water industry with 138 billion additional gallons of water usage per annum ... the equivalent of 50% more leaks than we have now, or the entire water supply required for Manchester and Birmingham combined.

Do try not to dismiss this as fluffiness, please: you are being conned by the Government and exploration industry. Even the privately-owned water industry itself is having kittens about the chaos fracking will cause in the UK. A month ago, the Water companies warned the shale gas industry that:

" ... the quality of our drinking water must be protected at all costs ... The fracking process requires huge amounts of water, which will inevitably put a strain on supplies in areas around extraction sites. Also, the power of the drilling and fracturing process even risks damaging existing water pipes, which could lead to leaks and shortages to people's homes and businesses."

Water UK Chairman Jim Marshall laid it on the line:

"Provision of drinking water is a cornerstone of our public health and as such a service that cannot be compromised. If [fracking] goes ahead, we want greater clarity from the shale gas industry on what its needs related to water are really going to be, and a true assessment of the impacts."

Or more succinctly, give us the facts, not the spin. Who is asking the Government at PMQs, for example, why a Government - so worried about water sustainability it is introducing near-universal metering - is about to introduce dead-end technology that will exacerbate the situation? Certainly not the Ed Miller Band.

But as usual with the Resistance in the UK, there is too much demonstrating and mindless placard-carrying, and far too little use of damning information to puncture the bubble of lies that is leading us at breakneck speed towards a drilling bonanza that is of little real use and could cause untold damage. Who, for instance, is giving a high profile to the early signs in the US that even the fracking industry itself is beginning to have doubts?

The fracking 'rig count' in the US has been flatlining since Spring 2012:

Using up-to-date snapshots from the last few months, we can see just how big the drop off has been: drilling permit activity was down sharply in May / June, according to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Department of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas Division:

Apr Permitting: 202 drilling and 0 seismic
May Permitting: 211 drilling and 0 seismic
Jun Permitting: 165 drilling and 0 seismic

This is from an all-time high in 2012 of 370. Partly this is the result of Octopus technology requiring fewer rigs, but nowhere near all of it: the key is that new applications are falling. There are very good reasons for this. Each rig drills a well every two weeks while active.

Each well starts at 200 bpd and declines to 50bpd over the first two years, remaining at that maximum thereafter. Hence my central point: to maintain production growth, you need more and more octopus wells and more and more sites. Britain simply isn't big enough to handle that ... and the water supply system would collapse.

Cut the crap, Camerlot: the fact is that, under the surface of this crock of sh*t, the industry itself is beginning to lose faith in the cost/price relationship between the process and the market. And when the suits start to wonder, then the braindead will surely follow in due course.

You always know where you are with politicians: they always take the easy, myopic, potentially disastrous way out of future problems by making a stab today at things they should've done yesterday.

On a commercial and human survival basis, fracking is a terrible idea. We need to raise our game if we're going to stop it.

David Ward blogs on The Slog where this article was originally published.

Add to StumbleUpon
New Brunswick fracking protests are the frontline of a democratic fight
Images of burning cars and narratives about Canadian natives breaking the law obscure the real story about the Mi'kmaq people's opposition to shale gas exploration writes Martin Lukacs....
Exclusive Oil giant Halliburton lined up as potential UK fracking partner
Deepwater Horizon disaster firm hold talks with company planning to drill for oil and gas in South Downs National Park. Andrew Wasley reports
The UK's Fracking Protests Are Working says Jan Goodey who has been reporting for the Ecologist from Balcombe since the first of the protestors turned up to stop the drills
Special report Dairy farms suffer in US shale gas fracking boom
The dash for unconventional gas may have brought financial benefits to some, but for struggling dairy farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the arrival of drilling wells could be the final nail in the coffin. Dimiter Kenarov reports
The great Kalahari frack attack
Botswana has been accused of sacrificing the Kalahari, one of the world's most precious wildlife reserves, to commercial fracking while ignoring the concerns of environmentalists and communities who could lose access to scarce water.

More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here