Facts about Fracking In England

Graham Lear
6 min readSep 8, 2022


Environmental controls in England

In England, there is national regulation to control fracking that is enforced by local independent regulators.

This industry is an extension of an established, existing onshore oil and gas industry that the Environment Agency has regulated for many years. They understand the environmental risks and have the right regulatory controls in place. They have learnt many lessons from around the world and as a result, there are a number of practices that are not allowed in England:

Fracking cannot take place near the surface

Shale rock is found at different depths across the world. Different regulations also mean some countries have allowed fracking to take place at depths of only a few hundred metres below the surface. In England, high-volume fracking can only happen below depths of at least 1000m.

Now imagine Blackpool tower

Now imagine another five on top of the first one.

That's how deep they Frack in England

Fracking cannot take place near drinking water

The Environment Agency will not permit drilling or fracking in areas known as Source Protection Zone 1 (SPZ1). These zones are designated to protect groundwater drinking water supplies.

Companies must undertake baseline monitoring

Methane levels in groundwater and air must be monitored before, during and after fracking. This is required by law. This means operators and regulators will be able to spot any increases in methane, assess the cause and stop operations if needed.

Companies cannot withhold details of the chemicals they use

Companies are required by law to publically declare the chemicals they propose to use, as well as the maximum concentrations.

Only chemicals assessed by the Environment Agency as non-hazardous to groundwater can be used in fracking fluid. The approved chemicals will be listed in the company’s environmental permit and documents which are available on the Environment Agency’s public register.

Wastewater cannot be stored in unlined pits or open lagoons

In some countries, the waste fluid that flows back up the well to the surface has been stored in open, sunken pits, from which it can leak into the surrounding soil, surface water and groundwater. In England, the storage of wastewaters in unlined pits is not allowed. All wastewater must be stored in sealed tanks within a retaining wall (known as a bunded area) to prevent surface and groundwater contamination.

Fracking waste waters cannot be injected into the ground for disposal

If the wastewater that comes back up the well after fracking (known as flow back fluid) cannot be reused then it must be managed as a waste. The flowback fluid from fracking cannot be re-injected into the ground for disposal. It must be treated to remove contaminants at a permitted waste treatment facility, also regulated by the Environment Agency.

Wastewaters from fracking must be stored in sealed containers to prevent any remaining gas from escaping.

Open flares are not allowed

Fracking companies will want to collect and sell all the gas they extract. Flaring to dispose of gas will only happen during exploration, for a short amount of time, or for safety reasons. The Environment Agency require flares to be enclosed, so that the methane is burnt efficiently and not released into the air, and to reduce noise and light pollution. At the production, stage companies are required to capture and use waste gas for energy generation. For more information see the ‘Managing wastes from fracking’ factsheet.

Let's recap the facts about Fracking in a little more detail

Facts about fracking

Shale gas is the same as the gas we use in our homes for heating and cooking. The difference between shale gas and other sources of natural gas is that it is more difficult to extract because it is trapped in impermeable shale rock. Injecting a water mixture into the rock creates small fractures, about the size of a grain of sand, allowing the shale gas to flow into a well. Sand is added to the injected water, to keep the fractures open. A small amount of chemical (about 0.5% of the total volume of liquid) is also added to the water to reduce friction. This mixture of water, sand and chemicals is known as fracking fluid.

The Environment Agency will not permit any activity where there is a risk of contamination of our water supplies

Shale gas deposits in this country are found at depths thousands of metres deeper than rivers, lakes and the aquifers which provide our drinking water. Above the shale rock, there are many layers of impermeable rock, which will block gas or other pollutants from travelling upwards into groundwater.

The Environment Agency does not allow any oil and gas wells to be drilled in the immediate area around a drinking water borehole and will object to any proposals in the surrounding zones if there is a risk to groundwater https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/groundwater-protection

How much water will fracking use? A fracking well can use 10,000 to 30,000 cubic metres of water, which is enough to fill twelve Olympic swimming pools. It is estimated by the Institute of Directors that if the industry develops the water use would be less than 1% of the total water used by households, farming and other industry. Water companies plan how they are going to meet water demand for the next twenty-five years. The Environment Agency review these plans regularly.

Are companies required to monitor fractures?

Yes. Companies must ensure the fractures remain in the shale layer and do not intersect with natural faults or fissures. Companies must agree with the Environment Agency on how they will monitor and report the depth of the well and the extent of fractures. This is required by the permit.

Are the wells designed to prevent leaks?

Yes. Wells must contain at least three layers of protection, made with concrete and steel, to prevent gas and chemicals from leaking. Monitoring is carried out throughout the life of the well to check integrity.

What chemicals can be used in fracking fluid?

Only chemicals that are not hazardous to groundwater can be used. The names and quantities of the chemicals must be provided to and approved by the Environment Agency. Approval is determined using a methodology which is publicly consulted on and peer-reviewed by the UK regulators. http://www.wfduk.org/sites/default/files/Media/JAGDAG%20-%20Substance%20Determination%20Methodology.pdf

Many of the approved chemicals used in fracking fluids are already used by other industries, including farming, food and drinking water industry and the cosmetics industry.

What happens to the injected water? Some of the injected fluid stays underground. The Environment Agency assess the likely impact of this during the permit application. The environmental permit contains conditions to control where the fluid is injected to ensure it stays in the shale rock.

Is there baseline data available in England? Regulation in England requires baseline monitoring of a range of chemicals and methane in groundwater before any fracking takes place. This will mean that if there are any impacts, they can be assessed and operations could be stopped. The British Geological Survey (BGS)

What about spillages? Well, pads must be lined with an impermeable barrier. Chemicals and waste waters must be stored in sealed containers within impermeable, walled areas in case of any spillages. Operators have accident management plans setting out how any spillages will be cleaned up.

Independent scientists from the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering looked at whether fracking could result in gases or chemicals escaping upwards into water sources. They concluded it was highly unlikely and that health, safety and environmental risks can all be managed in the UK.




Graham Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.