Water Water Everywhere …

This article first appeared in edited form on Desmog.co.uk

This year we have experienced the longest heat wave since 1976, and we learned this weekend that the North West of England is heading for a hosepipe ban in a couple of weeks. We have also learned recently that Cuadrilla have applied for the final consent from BEIS to start fracking. For those of us who have been looking into the impacts of fracking over the years the co-incidence is striking.

Of course, any analysis of water usage has to factor in the massive inefficiencies caused by leakage in United Utilities creaking network, but the contrasts between domestic consumers having their water rationed and unpopular and invasive industries being allowed free rein would be striking to say the least. For an industry desperately struggling to find a social licence to operate having the general public joining the dots could be catastrophic.

Those of us with long memories will recall that the 1976 hosepipe ban didn’t end with the first rains and that the Drought Minister, Dennis Howell “became deeply unpopular for insisting that the country would face rationing until December unless consumption was cut by half”. 1, so it is highly likely, given the current long range forecasts that Cuadrilla will find themselves wanting to frack their first well while the rest of us are looking at our yellow lawns and dirty cars. But why should we be concerned here? After all they were only planning on using up to 34,000 m3 (cubic metres) of water weren’t they?

In fact that amount has been reduced slightly after they finished drilling a shorter lateral (just 783 meters instead of the originally planned 1,000 metres)

The amount is now up to 31,365 m3 for the 41 frack stages of the well.

To give an idea of how much they will really use we can compare Preese Hall where they said they would use up to 11,695 m3 and actually used 8,400 m3. If we apply that ratio we can see that they might expect to use 22,528 m3 at the first 783m lateral at Preston New Road.

Well, according to the 2011 census, the population of Blackpool, Preston Wyre and Fylde is about 455,000. Average water usage in the UK is about 150 litres per person per day. That would suggest that domestic water usage in Cuadrilla’s licence area is about 68,000 m3 per day or 25 million m3 per year. So why the fuss? They may only be using 22,500 m3, under half a day’s local domestic supply, on this test frack after all.

To answer this we need to look forward a few years. This year Cuadrilla plan to frack a single lateral which, as we explained above, was originally planned to be 1km in length but has now been reduced to 0.78km.

Cuadrilla’s parent company, AJ Lucas, is on record as stating that they would expect lateral well lengths of 2.5km in production.

If they are successful in extracting gas then they will move into a production scenario in which they will have to develop at least 10 pads a year and there would be between 40 and 60 wells on each fracking pad during production.

If we assume that means the development and fracking of just 400 lateral wells a year then scaling this up would suggest an annual water requirement of some 40 million m3 per year. That is nearly double the 25 million m3 domestic water requirement for the area for each of the next 10-20 years.

So, whilst the issue of Cuadrilla’s test frack at Preston New Road in the middle of water rationing might be seen as largely symbolic, the reality is that this industry’s water usage will dwarf domestic consumption for much of the next two decades. In the event that recent unusual weather patterns become the norm rather than the exception the implications are as obvious as a standpipe on a street corner.

Neither is this a problem that is going to go away, quite the opposite in fact. A U.S. Geological Survey study in 2015 told us that “Oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought.”

Pressure on the water supplies in provincial areas is already being increased by demands from the affluent South East. Back in 2011 a certain Boris Johnson proposed moving water from Scotland and Wales via rivers and canals to supply the water stressed South East. At the time this was dismissed as “tripe” by the water companies, however in June this year the GMB union called for millions of gallons to be pumped to the South-East via canals ‘at times of low rainfall’ .

There is clearly a water supply and distribution problem in this country, and against that background allowing an invasive and unwanted industry to use almost double the amount of water required by domestic consumers in their licence area would seem extremely questionable.

Of course they will retort that domestic consumers will be given priority, but that then begs the question of how they would be able to continue as an industry if the availability of their principal process material cannot be guaranteed.

The North has already been described as fit for fracking because it is “desolate” by Lord Howell. We must not allow it to become the “desiccated” North as well.

Post Script:

Since the article was published the reaction from the pro-frackers has been muted, presumably because this really IS an issue which they don’t want to draw attention to.

Over on Backing Fracking there was a half-hearted attempt at waspishness from an industry worker and The Rev Roberts in his admin role.

It would seem though that Mr Moore hasn’t actually read Cuadrilla’s own documentation which clearly stated their intent to frack up to 45 stages at up to 765m3 in each for this lateral well (see above).  If my conclusion there is laughable and pathetic it is at least based on Cuadrilla’s own published data. Perhaps he is confusing a frack stage with  the entire well’s 45 frack stages?

As I made clear above Cuadrilla’s ambition has been significantly reduced with the well being shortened and that “up to” 34,000 figure may now be up to 31,000 m3.

I struggle to see though why Mr Moore is so dismissive there when even UU state:

These figures can only come from Cuadrilla and the clearly have an intention to frack each of their stages with up to 765 m3 of water. It is there in black and white.

Of course, Cuadrilla are not always very good at their numbers. Here is what they told the Guardian this week

I somehow doubt that fracking 2 wells can be done with 32,500 litres (32.5 m3) of water, but it would certainly help in this time of drought and it might make Mr Moore happy too. 😂

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