Shale gas and groundwater

Groundwater usage across the UK.

We are undertaking research to provide information needed to understand potential impacts on groundwater from shale gas exploitation.

  • The National Baseline Methane Survey of UK groundwaters will help us assess future changes in methane concentrations.
  • Aquifers and Shales is a set of national scale maps showing the spatial relationships between Principal Aquifers and major shale units in England and Wales.

This information will be useful to policy makers, regulators and decision makers.

Groundwater: a precious resource

Groundwater is a vital source of freshwater in the UK. It provides around 27% of public water supply on average but this amount varies in different regions. For example in south-east England it is nearly 90% of public supply.

In addition to public supply groundwater has a number of other uses including bottled water, agriculture and irrigation and food and drink production. The relative proportions of groundwater used in the UK and how it is used can be seen in the map image.

Groundwater is also vital for maintaining river flows especially during dry periods and so is essential for maintaining ecosystem health.

Environmental concerns

There have been concerns expressed about the potential impacts of shale gas on groundwater with reports in the US claiming that contamination of drinking water has occurred.

Shale gas is natural gas trapped in low-permeability shales. The gas is held in pore spaces within the rock, or adsorbed onto minerals and organic material in the shale.

New technology for gas production from shale formations, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, evolved first in the USA, and has led to the rapid exploration of shale formations worldwide.

The UK has abundant shales at depth, which are currently the focus of considerable interest and there is active research into their characterisation, resource evaluation and exploitation risks.

The BGS has projects in a number of these areas — see BGS Shale Gas Project. As part of this our research is considering some of the environmental concerns and in particular the potential impacts on groundwater (see below).

We have published a report on the Potential impacts on groundwater from exploitation of shale gas in the UK.

More questions?

Try our frequently asked questions about shale gas and groundwater.

Research projects

Sampling dissolved gases in groundwater with an evacuated flask. National Baseline Methane Survey of UK groundwaters
We are undertaking a national survey of baseline methane concentrations in groundwaters across the UK. This work will enable future changes to be measured, which is of relevance to current issues such as possible shale gas extraction.
Mapping of extent of shales and aquifers Aquifers and Shales
Helping to improve our understanding of the spatial relationships between potential shale gas source rocks and Principal Aquifers.
Sampling Shale gas environmental monitoring
The BGS are monitoring environmental baseline conditions in relation to potential shale gas development in the UK.

Contact

Contact Dr Rob Ward for further information.