The exploration of shale gas resources in Europe is moving at a slow pace, despite the fact that drilling for reservoir characterization is essential for any further planning. Whether shale gas development in certain regions is economically feasible at all and what such development activities might entail can’t be determined in the absence of critical data. Yet, there is widespread public resistance that influences political decision making and permitting, and that sometimes doesn’t even allow for exploration. Most of the stakeholders concerns are related to perceived environmental risks for water resources as a result of hydraulic fracturing. The main themes are concerns about the contamination of water bodies by fracturing chemicals, methane or flowback water, or concerns about the depletion of groundwater and surface water.

While some of those perceived risks may be overestimated or unsubstantiated, there are real risks that have to be addressed by thorough assessments of the environmental, health and social impacts, and by an integrated approach to water management from sourcing to final disposal. This includes the transportation and distribution logistics for water and wastewater movements. It is essential to establish relevant reference and baseline data on groundwater and surface water systems well ahead of project implementation, to assess risks in a fashion that is understood by interested stakeholders, to define proactive and reactive resource protection measures, and to monitor performance.

This paper suggests an integrated approach to water management that combines the elements of impact assessments, scientific and technical data gathering, and the monitoring of potential impacts across the life cycle of a shale gas project, as well as sourcing, transportation and disposal strategies. All results and measures taken need to be communicated and documented in a clear and transparent manner.

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