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Surrey research study on water and fracking calls for industry investment

Investing in local water infrastructure will help protect the environment and make the shale gas production industry more efficient, according to a new study by a consortium of academic and industry partners, including the University of Surrey.

The PyTerra Research Consortium has conducted research into the use of water during shale gas development, having won funding from Innovate UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The Consortium is made up of PyTerra (an investment and development platform in the field of smart water networks), WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, Pervasive Intelligence, the University of Surrey, Imperial College London and Cardiff University.

The Consortium’s report, ‘Delivering water security for all during shale gas production’, calls for the shale gas industry and government to plan investment into local water infrastructure. The study looked at potential water problems that could result from a multi-well operation: increased water demand on local water resources, and the increased amount of road traffic resulting from large volumes of produced water being transported to treatment plants.

The report concludes that if the shale gas industry works towards a holistic approach to local water management along with other key stakeholders, the environment would be better protected and communities would benefit. It highlighted how new technology – particularly data modelling which is a key area of expertise at Surrey – could support this approach, ensuring that water resources are used and reused efficiently and in a way which both protects and enhances local biodiversity.

Surrey’s contribution has been the design of a smart water management which optimises water distribution based on water quality and quantity. The novelty of this approach is that it can adapt to different scenarios and provides an online solution, whereas current state-of-the-art techniques are off-line. This makes it more suitable for near ‘real-time’ operation. The next stage of research will be to see how smart water management can be applied to other problems such as flooding.

Dr Clive Cheong Took, a Lecturer in Computational Intelligence in Surrey’s Department of Computer Science, said, “I believe the concept of using smart technology to adaptively control freshwater and produced water flows will support more efficient shale gas development. This is a complex process and requires a sophisticated solution. We have helped PyTerra to achieve this solution using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques. This project shows what needs to be done.”

David Arscott, Managing Director of PyTerra commented, “If each shale gas well is developed in isolation from the demands of other wells and other water users, natural resources will be wasted, local communities will endure more traffic and developers will be missing out on potential economies.

"This approach reflects a global movement in integrated water resource management (IWRM). By developing water infrastructure which aims to deliver a wide range of water services across a river basin – whether they be water supply, wastewater treatment, flood protection or leisure – communities will be better served and the environment will be better protected.”

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