SAFE treatment and disposal of waste water from fracking could cost more than £1 million per well, according to new research.

Scientists from Edinburgh University have found that a lack of specialist waste treatment facilities could add the sizeable sum across the lifetime of each well. This would therefore limit the development of the controversial practice in the UK, according to the researchers.

Their research, published in Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology, studied wells in the US to better understand the volume of waste that would be generated by the UK industry.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting gas from shale rock by drilling underground and and injecting water and sand at high pressure. The practice was indefinitely banned in Scotland at the start of October after a moratorium that lasted two years. A ban in the UK was lifted in 2012, and subsequent attempts to set up sites have been met with resistance.

One of the main concerns with fracking is the disposal of the waste water. The US documentary Gasland highlights this issue, saying that each of the options – moving the waste water to a treatment facility, moving it to injection wells deep underground, or recycling it by using it in other fracking jobs – carries risks to the environment.

Now the Edinburgh team has identified the potential costs of disposal.

“Treating waste water could require a large outlay of the expected revenue from each well, affecting industry profitability,” said Megan O’Donnell, a PhD candidate at the university’s School of GeoSciences.

“The UK’s capacity to treat the radioactive material in waste water is currently limited, which could pose serious waste management issues if the shale gas industry expands at a faster rate than the increase in treatment facilities.”

Although the chemical make-up of UK waste water is not well known, it can be several times saltier than sea water and contains naturally occurring radioactive material.

Scientists found treating the salinity and other chemicals in waste water at existing facilities could cost between £100,000 and £1m per well under current regulations. This would require between two per cent and 26 per cent of the expected total revenue from each well.

On top of this, the treatment and disposal of naturally occurring radioactive material present in waste water could cost more than £160,000 per well.

Dr Stuart Gilfillan, of the university’s School of GeoSciences, who co-ordinated the study, said: “We suggest that industry, waste water treatment plant operators and UK regulatory bodies work together to produce a coherent strategy for managing waste water.

“This would serve to assure the public of its safety and prepare for the expansion of treatment capacity required should a shale gas industry develop in the UK.”