Waste management

“Dear Aunty, aren’t there lots of truck movements to remove flowback waste?”

Well, sweeties, yes the removal of flowback fluid does create traffic impacts but they’re short lived and not as bad as some people say.

A typical shale gas exploration well might use as much as 15,000 tonnes of fracturing fluid, of which around 40% (6,000 tonnes) might expected to return to the surface soon after hydraulic fracturing has finished, my dears.

Assuming this is collected in vacuum tankers, as is commonly the case, and that conventional mild-steel barrels are used, you could see around 24 tonnes of waste collected in each road tanker movement.

That would mean, cherubs, that removing the flowback wastewater would create 250 one-way journeys per exploratory well, which would be completed within about 3 months. That’s an average of about 20 journeys per week.

That might sound like a lot, my little pumpkins, but it’s really not at all.

According to the Environment Agency, 3-4 million tonnes of treated sewage sludge are tankered onto fields to be ploughed into soil as a biosolids fertiliser every year. Again, assuming a 24 tonne payload, that’s between 125,000 and 166,666 road tanker journeys every year across the UK. Or as many as 3,205 per week.

Now that is a lot of tankers using our rural roads to access farm sites in order to deliver their goods.

But we don’t notice them, do we my lovelies? They’re just accepted as part of the everyday background traffic and we don’t give them a second thought. Not only that, we’re not continually having to dig up and repair our rural roads because of them either.

Now, my dears, consider this as well: those farms in rural areas produce goods too. Whether it’s salad crops in the Banks area of Lancashire, or root vegetables, or Oilseed Rape grown in the fields around Balcombe, that farm produce has to get to market. How? Using large goods vehicles, of course.

Agriculture, itself, is an intensely industrial process nowadays, darlings, and yet we only complain about it’s traffic impacts when we’re stuck behind a tractor travelling at 20mph on a 60mph road. The rest of the time, all that heavy plant and machinery moves between farm and field on our rural roads and we don’t even notice.

So, yes, there are inevitable traffic impacts of shale gas exploration, and yes they’ll be noticeable – but only because they’re new right now. But it would be wrong to suggest that they will be hugely detrimental my dears.

Until next time xxx


In the illustrations I’ve given above, I’ve been particularly and deliberately pessimistic my dears, and have shown what is probably the worst case scenario for shale gas exploration. In reality, it is likely that the vacuum tankers used will have lightweight aluminium barrels which will increase payloads to 29 tonnes and save 43 journeys. The flowback waste may be moved using a different system of road tankers altogether that makes 35 tonne payloads possible, which would cut 78 journeys. Either way, the traffic impact will probably be even less noticeable sweeties.


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