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In fact, the probablity of them extending more than 350 metres is only one per cent. Researchers from Durham University, Cardiff University and the University of Tromso in Norway found that fracking two or three kilometres underground is “incredibly unlikely” to contaminate shallow aquifers.

They looked at thousands of natural and induced rock fractures in the U.S., Europe and Africa, and found that none of the artificially caused ones were more than 600 metres long. The longest natural fracture they found was 1.1 kilometre long, which is why the 600 metre guideline is a minimum.

Professor Richard Davies of Durham University says any contamination that has occured in oil and gas drilling areas is more likely due to the failure of cement or steel well casing when drilling through rock that contains methane. He maintains that to be cautious, regulators should set a limit of 600 metres when fracking in new areas.

“Based on our observations,” said Davies, “we believe that it may be prudent to adopt a minimum vertical separation distance for stimulated fracturing in shale reservoirs.”

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