A geophysicist has questioned government assurances fracking is unlikely to contaminate groundwater supplies. David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow, told a public debate on fracking in Lewes the assurances were informed by evidence from the US that was not relevant to Britain.
Professor Smythe said a report, commissioned by the government’s chief scientific adviser, had concluded that the risk of fractures reaching overlying aquifers was very low. But, he said, the report had drawn conclusions from research done in the US in areas with very few geological faults. He said the findings could not be applied to England generally, and particularly not to the Sussex Weald because it was heavily faulted.
Professor Smythe said faults could be a conduit for contaminated fracking liquids and methane to move through the shale to reach the groundwater. “England is completely different from the United States”, he said. “England is heavily faulted from the shale to the surface and this is a danger environmentally”.
Professor Smythe said German scientists recommended no fracking within 500m of a known fault line. If this were adopted in Sussex, it would be hard to find a suitable site, he said.
The meeting, which attracted about 200 people and a further 70 outside, also heard from James Woudhuysen, Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester. He argued that fracking was a highly productive innovation that was worth exploring in the UK because it could make a big difference towards meeting energy demand.
Professor Woudhuysen recognised there were concerns about fracking and there would be areas where it would not be appropriate. But he said there was a need to experiment. “If you don’t experiment, you will never find out. I do not think we should underestimate how clever engineers can be”, he said.