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Chemicals from fracking could cause significant pollution and damage to wildlife

new analysis for chemicals charity CHEM Trust finds that chemicals from fracking sites have the potential to cause significant pollution [1]. This pollution with hazardous chemicals could cause damage to sensitive ecosystems, including killing wildlife, as has happened in the US. Important UK wildlife sites are threatened, which could harm a wide range of species such as butterflies, dragonflies and bats.

CHEM Trust makes 18 recommendations for vital improvements that are needed in the regulation of fracking in order to reduce risks to the environment and human health. In addition, it warns that cuts in regulators such as the Environment Agency in the UK could jeopardise the effectiveness of any regulations [2].

Fracking BriefingThis publication comes days before Councillors in Lancashire, in North West England, vote on whether to permit Cuadrilla to frack two sites [3], which could potentially affect wildlife in and around Morecambe Bay, a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention [4]. CHEM Trust is sending our report to the key Councillors in Lancashire prior to this vote.

The European Commission is also currently considering the effectiveness of the current regulations on fracking [5], and CHEM Trust will be sending our report to the EU’s Environment Commissioner and key Members of the European Parliament, in order to push for stronger regulation. We have already met officials in the EU’s environment department to call for tighter controls on chemical use in fracking operations.

High volume hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – requires large volumes of water and considerable quantities of a range of chemicals; in the USA this has included chemicals with hormone disrupting properties [6]. The liquid that flows back from the well can also contain additional pollutants. Experience in the USA has found that fracking wells, pipes and other equipment can leak, causing pollution and damage to wildlife. Given that full scale fracking requires a very large number of wells, even a small rate of well failure will lead to pollution.

CHEM Trust Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst said:

“Widespread fracking will threaten many of our valuable wildlife sites, as this technology has a high potential to pollute sensitive aquatic ecosystems; it can also harm human health. We know from experience in the USA that fracking wells can leak and accidents can happen, and this has led to significant pollution and damage to wildlife.

Given the risks, CHEM Trust is calling for a moratorium on fracking in Europe until all our recommendations are in place.

As part of this, the UK and other governments, must ensure that regulators have the resources necessary to oversee what could be a huge number of wells. 

We don’t want to look back in the future to realise that we have damaged our precious countryside in a headlong rush to extract fossil fuels.”

Key recommendations include:

1) All chemicals used in fracking must be disclosed, with no provision for commercial confidentiality; this information should include the guidance on how the chemicals should be used.

2) Stronger EU regulation of fracking is required, ensuring that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are required for all sites, chemical use is controlled and transparent, effective monitoring is obligatory and wastewater management is safe, including an absolute ban on disposal of wastewater by re-injection into the ground.

3)  Regulations must protect the environment and people even when fracking wells are no longer used, including financial bonds to cover clean-up costs.

4)  Effective monitoring and enforcement is essential to ensure that regulatory controls are followed. This means that regulators must have the resources to carry out these functions; this is a particular concern in the UK where the Environment Agency (EA) is experiencing substantial budget cuts. The Environment Agency is already working to reduce the amount of work it does on individual sites, having just finished a consultation on standardised permits for a wide range of fracking-related exploratory activities [7]. The need for tight regulation was shown in Denmark in May, when the regulator closed down the country’s only fracking site for a week due to use of an unauthorised chemical [8].

Given the potential for pollution and damage to ecosystems, CHEM Trust is calling for a moratorium on fracking in Europe until all our recommendations are in place [9].

Morecambe Bay Estuary [Credit Kevin Eaves/ Shutterstock.com]

Morecambe Bay Estuary, close to a number of potential fracking sites [Credit Kevin Eaves/ Shutterstock.com]


[1] CHEM Trust has today released a detailed briefing, “Fracking Pollution: How toxic chemicals from fracking could affect wildlife and people in the UK and EU” and a comprehensive report “Chemical Pollution from Fracking”, both available from www.chemtrust.org/fracking

[2] The Environment Agency (EA) lost around 15% of its staff in 2014, and further cuts are expected as the Government reduces the budget of the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The EA is also pressure to focus resources on flood defence, rather than environmental regulation. e.g. see: http://www.endsreport.com/41653/environment-agency-cuts-surviving-the-surgeons-knife

[3] Councillors are due to vote on 23rd and 25th June. See: Cuadrilla wins partial backing for Lancashire fracking, The Guardian, 15th June 2015, ttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/15/cuadrilla-wins-partial-backing-for-lancashire-fracking

[4] The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands of international importance, see http://www.ramsar.org

[5] The European Commission will organize a Stakeholder event on 29th June in Brussels – which CHEM Trust will attend – on the effectiveness of the current Commission policy approach to unconventional fossil fuels. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/energy/uff_news_en.htm

[6] Hormone disrupting chemicals are chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine or hormone system – the body’s own sensitive chemical messaging system.hormone disrupting chemicals. For more details see: http://www.chemtrust.org/what-are-hormone-disrupting-chemicals-or-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-edcs/

[7] Standard Rules Consultation No.11 – new standard rules for onshore oil and gas activities, Environment Agency; closed 15th June 2015, https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/portal/ho/ep/src/newrules/oilandgas

[8] Denmark to allow Total to reopen fracking site, thelocal.dk, 13th May 2015

[9] CHEM Trust’s full list of recommendations are given in our detailed briefing, “Fracking Pollution: How toxic chemicals from fracking could affect wildlife and people in the UK and EU” available from www.chemtrust.org/fracking; they are also on-line here.