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In-depth research into shale gas extraction

10 July 2013BTO Research

What impact does shale gas extraction have on drinking water sources? The question is the subject of research being conducted by KWR for the water companies. The Province of North-Brabant has asked KWR to participate in an information meeting organised for the members of its Provincial Executive. KWR is also preparing, together with Dutch universities, a longer-term NWO research programme into shale gas.

There has long been an ongoing debate in the Netherlands as to whether or not to drill for shale gas. The British company Cuadrilla would like to conduct test drilling in Boxtel and Helvoirt (North-Brabant), in Brabant Water’s abstraction area, and in the Noordoost polder, in Vitens’ abstraction area.

“Scientific information about the environmental risks of shale gas is still scarce ”

Following a broad public debate on the pros and cons of shale gas extraction, the Minister of Economic Affairs decided to have research carried out into the safety of the drilling, before making a definitive decision on whether or not to permit the activity.

Shale gas extraction

Shale gas is trapped in slate (shale) about 3,000 meters underground. Drilling on its own is not sufficient to release the gas: it has to be extracted by injecting thousands of litres of water, sand, chemicals and explosives, at high-pressure, into the slate. This “cracks” the shale and the gas – together with the heavily polluted water – flows to the surface through the well. The technique is known as fracking.

Wastewater discharge Collection/reuse fracking fluid Drill tower Natural area Wastewater treatment Residentialarea Groundwater Posidonia shale 1,000m 2,000m 3,000m 4,000m Enlarging fractures in shale, sand keeps the fractures open Drinking water abstraction Shale Gas

Exploratory research

In a multidisciplinary team, KWR’s Principal Scientist, Annemarie van Wezel, is conducting  exploratory research  for the water companies to establish the current state of knowledge in the area. Together with the water companies Vitens and Brabant Water, she is undertaking a study trip to the United States to learn about the situation there. She is also reviewing the available literature on the subject. “Scientific information about the environmental risks of shale gas is still scarce. Some studies have been done into the quality of groundwater, but little monitoring. There is hardly any information in the US about the “0 situation”, that is, the situation before shale gas extraction started,” notes Van Wezel. “But, given the scale of the operations, the probability of human error does seem to be an important element. Take the collection and reuse of the fracking fluid, for instance. Things can also go wrong with the transport of the wastewater discharge. Information about this is available, and we’re in the process of laying it out to make a better assessment of the associated risks.”

© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute

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