With all the TV coverage of anti fracking protests in Sussex it is no wonder that there has been an increase in the amount of enquiries to the Angling Trust expressing concerns at possible damage to water resources and fisheries. This may be a relatively new issue for us in the UK but across the pond our sister organisations in America have been ‘working like dogs’ on fracking since 2008 – to quote my colleague Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited.
Quite clearly the Angling Trust needed to wade in on this issue and although personally I was instinctively hostile we needed to do our homework before sounding off in public. Incidentally, I defy anyone who has seen the film Gasland http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1558250/ ,with those horrific images of people living above the gas rich Marcellus Shale region having flames shooting out of their kitchen taps, not to be similarly alarmed by this technique of extracting shale gas through the hydraulic fracturing of the rocks deep below the water table.
There’s no shortage of information out there on fracking but very quickly it became clear that there was a distinct lack of effective control and regulation on both sides on the Atlantic. In the UK the primary regulator is the Health and Safety Executive not the Environment Agency and in the US the gas drilling industry had been made exempt from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act; as well as the sediment and erosion control provisions of the Clean Water Act. No federal laws currently require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, making it difficult to know what toxins are being injected into the ground or released when spills do occur.
Lessons from America
Keen to learn more about how angling and wildlife groups in the US have been responding to the very obvious threats posed by fracking, particularly in respect of water abstraction and possible pollution, I asked Chris Hunt for some leads and here’s what he said:
We’re working like dogs on fracking in the U.S., particularly as it relates to your exact worries—water consumption and water contamination.
Our mission, of course, is to mobilize anglers on conservation issues, and fracking is a big one for us, both in the Rockies, where the practice has, indeed, been blamed for tarnishing groundwater quality, and in the East, where the Marcellus formation in under Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia is attracting the gas industry like flies to flop.
Our worries persist, however, largely because of the water needed for this method, and for the potential—one spill… one mishap… one ghastly screw-up, and an entire watershed could literally be ruined.
Now Trout Unlimited are a pretty impressive organisation but they couldn’t take on the might of the energy companies alone and are working in partnership with a whole range of wildlife, hunting and conservation groups in a coalition which is working to minimise the risks that fracking poses to the environment. Hunting and fishing is not just a pastime in America, it is also big business and more than $8.4 billion in revenue is generated each year in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia—the three largest Marcellus Shale states—from fishing, hunting and wildlife-related recreation. Across the region there are an estimated 13 million sportsmen and women whose interests are at stake. There is also now a ‘Sportsman’s Bill of Rights’ drafted in response to concerns over fracking which is gathering considerable support. See the following websites for more information on the situation in the US
Interestingly, the US angling organisations and their partners have not opposed fracking completely and have recognizes that there are potential economic and social benefits. The lack of proper regulation and control is their priority:
We are concerned that the current state and local policies governing gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale do not adequately protect valuable and irreplaceable natural resources, including clean water and critical habitat for fish and wildlife.
Fit for purpose?
So having taking a good look at experiences elsewhere how should the angling community here in the UK be responding to the fracking threat posed by George Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’ ?
Fracking uses large amounts of water, which we don’t have in the right places, and it clearly presents a risk of contamination. In many parts of the UK our rivers are already either over-abstracted or are failing to meet good ecological standards. We are also extremely concerned over the lack of robust regulation governing fracking and the need for the Environment Agency to become the lead regulator rather than the Health Safety Executive as at present. The EA has the expertise in this area while the HSE clearly does not.
The Angling Trust has just published a position paper on fracking which can be found in full on our website. The keys points are:
- Water Abstraction
Fracking requires large amounts of water to pump into the ground with a mixture of sand and chemicals in order to frack the rocks to release gas. Estimates from Trout Unlimited in America place this anywhere between 300,000 to 3.6 million gallons per well. The Angling Trust seeks assurances from government that fracking will not be permitted unless sustainable supplies of water are developed, such as new reservoirs, to avoid taking water from already-depleted rivers and ground waters.
- Water Pollution
Fracking has the potential to pollute both ground and surface waters either by the integrity of the well being breached, inappropriate treatment, disposal of the returning fluid or leaks of the fluid when transported away from site. Such operations should be licensed in accordance with the European Waste Directive and the Environment Agency’s permitting process for discharge to ground water.
The Environment Agency should now be the lead regulator instead of the Health & Safety Executive and the industry must be made aware that it will have to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (which requires that there should be no deterioration of any water bodies) and the Ground Water Directive & Mining Waste Directive. Each site must be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment with the government amending the Town & Country Planning Act accordingly.
Our conclusions are broadly similar to those of our friends in the US in that there may be a case for fracking but not until the risks are minimised and proper environmental controls are firmly in place. Here’s our conclusion:
Fracking may be able to contribute to the UK’s energy needs at some point in the future but the Angling Trust, along with other organisations such as RSPB and WWF, contends that until the current environmental regulatory regime is made fit for purpose and that the questions over water supply are resolved then fracking should not be allowed to proceed.
We will be telling the government that we are gravely concerned about any further pressure on already threatened water resources at a time when many rivers run dry in the summer. We believe there is also a real risk of pollution of surface and ground water that will need much tougher regulation. The Angling Trust will be making sure anglers’ voices are heard on this important issue and Fish Legal solicitors are ready to fight for compensation for any of its member clubs and fisheries that might be affected.
As well as urging anglers to join the Angling Trust so we can have a greater influence on the issues that affect our sport we are keen to hear what people think. Go to www.anglingtrust.net to find out more.
Do you give a fruck about fracking ?