Concerns about the impact of Fracking on water systems are one of the biggest community concerns relating to Fracking. It is essential that Fracking does not proceed until a full understanding of possible impacts on water quality, flows and potential disruption to springs and aquifers is understood. The consequences of polluting waterways or significantly altering flows can be very far reaching and can impact long into the future.
There are concerns about both short-term water use as Fracking requires very large volumes of water. This puts other users at risk and also reduces important environmental flows. Contamination issues and long term fears about loss of water quality and flow reductions leading to degraded water systems are major concerns. This relates both to material that is released from the rocks that are broken apart during fracking as well as compounds injected into the fracking wells as a part of the Fracking process.
- Groundwater systems are very vulnerable to pollution and the Beetaloo has extensive connected Karst groundwater systems
- Fracking impacts on water quality
- Water risks are very high as there are chemicals involved in Fracking that have major health implications
- methane leakage presents major water quality issues
- records in the US show large number of water pollution events
- Interconnecting aquifers is a significant risk with extreme implications for the cattle industry and salinity
- Well integrity issues compound the implications for Water risks over time as well failures increase with time
- Horizontal fracking increases the risk of well failures 3-4 times over conventional wells.
The Pepper Inquiry has concluded that there is insufficient information to permit a full assessment of the risks to groundwater resources from any shale gas industry established in the Beetaloo Sub-basin. Accordingly, the Panel has recommended that a Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) be undertaken to provide more detailed information on the groundwater resources before any further production approvals are granted for any onshore shale gas activities. Pepper inquiry
Since the Pepper inquiry research is increasingly being published showing more concern about the impact of Fracking on Water and related issues. In June 2020 Pennsylvania published the findings of a Grand Jury inquiry into fracking in their state of the US. I makes alarming reading with the way it exposes problems with Fracking and also with the relationship between the bureaucracy and the fracking companies in a manner very similar to the NT. The report also highlights issues like pets becoming violently ill, farmers seeing horses die, and livestock becoming infertile, the environment agency’s leadership being “too cozy” with the industry and the report criticized the Department of Health as being “unable to meet the challenge” of understanding how the chemical-intensive process of fracking could affect human health.
The SREBA has not been completed and will take at least 3-5 years. Then, according to the Pepper inquiry report page 39, a final risk assessment is to be undertaken.
The handling and long-term storage of “flow back” water is a huge concern with no answers currently. Of the water and chemicals injected into the wells during fracking process around 70% returns to the surface. This contains many pollutants including heavy metals and salts released from the rocks and may be radioactive. It also contains chemicals injected to facilitate fracking. These major issues have no reasonable solution and increase the costs of fracking gas to a point where it is not viable, unless corners are cut and these increased risks remain unmitigated.
An industry paper in Oilfield Review 2003 (5.5), published by Schlumberger, one of the world’s largest companies specialising in fracking, admitted about 5 per cent of wells leak immediately, 50 per cent leak after 15 years, and 60 percent leak after 30 years. In NT conditions all wells will leak eventually. (See Well Integrity fact sheet)
These issues relating to water system integrity is a major concern for indigenous groups who have very special cultural bonds with water and water stories and take a very long-term view in relation to consequences of any actions. Parts of the water story trails through country are sacred. Indigenous people need to be given the opportunity to develop a full and informed understanding of the issues before being asked for their consent. This has not happened to date and indigenous people are feeling very anxious and threatened by this.
Water issues also threaten other industries in agriculture, tourism and fisheries. Escape of pollutants into aquifers will be catastrophic and long term. The PFAS situation around Katherine is but a small example.
Fracking is too risky as it is going to leave a huge legacy cost for future generations who will have to deal with on-going water problems and crippling remediation costs. Indigenous groups carry an overwhelming burden of risk.
An industry paper in Oilfield Review 2003, published by Schlumberger Brufatto, C. (2003). From mud to cement - Building gas wells. Oilfield Review, 15(3). Retrieved from.