Cuadrilla Resources has submitted an application to the Environment Agency for a permit to safely dispose of its returned water.
Cuadrilla has completed exploration well sites near Hesketh Bank, Singleton and Weeton. A fourth exploration well is currently being drilled at Westby.
Last month the environmental firm Remsol, which is based on Liverpool Road, Penwortham, said it had worked alongside Cuadrilla to find a safe way to get rid of waste water generated by hydraulic fracturing.
The controversial process, known as ‘fracking’, involves firing gallons of water and a chemical into shale rock to release natural gas and is predicted to generate a new supply chain in the county.
Local environmental campaigners have voiced fears over contamination of drinking water.
The Environment Agency is charged with regulating Cuadrilla’s water usage and disposal, and with setting any conditions it considers appropriate to protect the environment and people.
The permit application sets out the measures that Cuadrilla proposes to take to ensure the safe disposal of returned waters.
The Environment Agency will now review the application, which will include a period of public consultation.
When a well is hydraulically fractured, between 20 to 40% of the water used during the fracturing process flows back to the surface.
The rest remains underground, though much of it returns to the surface, up the wellbore with the gas, over the lifetime of the well.
Cuadrilla said that when its fracturing fluid - consisting of 99% ordinary water, sand and polyacrylamide, a non-hazardous chemical - returns to the surface, it contains other minerals and salt found in the rock underground, as well as very low levels of ‘naturally occurring radioactive materials’ (NORM), like those found around the UK at surface outcrops of granite.
The minerals and additives are picked up naturally from underground rock layers.
A full analysis of the contents of Cuadrilla’s returned water from Preese Hall is available on the Environment Agency’s website.
Cuadrilla said its water was contained entirely within a closed-loop system.
As water flows up the well, it is separated from the gas and stored in double-lined steel tanks, ready for processing and disposal at an appropriate facility.
The low levels of NORM mean that the returned water does not fall within the scope of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations 2009 or the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road.