July 23 (UPI) -- British authorities said Monday they were working to examine the potential vulnerability to groundwater supplies from onshore oil and gas activity.
The British Geological Survey and the nation's Environment Agency said they were working on a consistent way to examine potential contamination.
"The U.K. oil and gas industry is one of the most regulated in the world and so risks to groundwater are already covered in U.K. law," they said in a joint statement. "This new vulnerability assessment will ensure that the UK continues to put safety first when investigating new energy sources."
U.K. Oil & Gas Investments is targeting oil reserves in the Kimmeridge limestone formation, about three miles away from Gatwick Airport, earning it the nickname Gatwick Gusher.
Preliminary estimates made by the company put the entire Horse Hill reserve total at 100 billion barrels of oil at the high end. Executive Chairman Stephen Sanderson said the company expected to recover as much as 15 percent of the oil.
The reserves are in shale beds that are fractured naturally, meaning extraction may be carried out using conventional techniques. Hydraulic fracturing is in its infancy in Britain and controversial. Similar technology has led to exponential increases in U.S. oil and natural gas production.
For natural gas, British energy company Cuadrilla Resources is on pace to carry out the first-ever hydraulic fracturing effort in the country at a site in Lancashire in the third quarter. The British government sees shale as a way to counter expected increases in natural gas imports.
Cuadrilla said there is no benchmark yet for drilling into British shale basins.
The British government said it's necessary to protect groundwater as it provides about 30 percent of the public water supply on average. BGS said leaks from oil and gas wells, aging infrastructure and natural seeps are possible points of contamination.
"We will not issue permits unless a company can demonstrate how it will provide the high level of protection required," Ian Davey, a senior specialist from the Environment Agency, said in a statement.