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Fracking – assessing the threat to beer

On 29/07/14 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

As the Government opens bidding for the 14th round of onshore licences for shale gas, the BBPA has met with the UK Operators Onshore Oil and Gas Trade (UKOOG) Association to discuss fears that fracking, or to give it its proper name; hydraulic fracturing, may affect water used for brewing beer. There has been particular concern expressed by German Brewers about fracking and the issue has already been raised in the UK as the new Thwaites brewery will be located in an area which already has a fracking licence. So are these fears justified?

179 licences for hydraulic fracturing have been granted in the UK since 2009, despite some significant barriers to entry. Corporation tax is currently charged at 62%, although this has recently been reduced to encourage investment in drilling. Energy security is also an issue and if the predicted declines in the availability of North Sea gas by 2030 are realised, 80% of our gas will have to be imported from outside the UK. Obviously such imports do not pay corporation tax which currently contribute 1.3% of GDP.

UKOOG were quick to reassure us that the industry in the UK is highly regulated and it is only when the right protocols are in place and Government bodies such as the Environment agency and HSE are totally satisfied, that any investigation for shale gas will begin. Whilst the UK water industry is not a statutory consultee within this process, they have also signed an MOU with UKOOG to develop a closer working relationship and ensure that any potential risks to water quality as a result of hydraulic fracturing are kept to a minimum.

Once all the necessary consents and permits have been granted and agreement has been reached to start drilling, the target for the gas is approximately one and a half miles underground and typically well below the ground water level. As part of the necessary geological survey, any water used by a brewery would be identified before drilling began and the source would have to be protected. Here, the main concern is less about the target for drilling and more about water that is used during the drilling operation itself.

Drilling requires significant quantities of water and well shafts are lined and bonded with as many as three layers of steel piping to prevent any leeching of contaminants into the ground water supply. In addition to physical barriers to prevent ground water contamination, a constant monitoring process is in place, both during the drilling process and once drilling has been completed. All waste effluent is collected and removed from site for treatment by the local water provider.

Turning back to beer, over half of the UK’s brewers depend on a private borehole to supply raw water. Whilst treatment systems commonly used to generate water of the perfect quality for brewing would remove most contaminants within this supply, the BBPA will continue to monitor the progress of the shale gas industry. Water is our main ingredient and the safety, quality and consistency of supply is crucial. The meeting with UKOOG was the start of our dialogue and it was reassuring to learn that they and their members are definitely keen to work with us now and in the future.


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