Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Facts about the environmental risks of shale gas

There is so much disinformation in the media about the environmental risks of  shale gas exploration that it is useful to look at some of the facts, presented in the recent UK Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee (the UKPSC) report:

The perceived environmental risks of shale gas received the largest amount of attention from the UKPSC. This included consideration of the risks of aquifer contamination, the management and disposal of waste water from the fracing process, as well as potential strain imposed on local water resources by fracing. The UKPSC concluded that the fracing itself does not pose a direct risk to surface water or water aquifers and that it is the integrity of the well and the well casing which is paramount in preventing any leakages of fracing fluid and gas into water supplies. It would appear that a key factor in leading the UKPSC's to reach this conclusion was that it was persuaded that the process of drilling for shale gas (and of ensuring that aquifers and water supplies are not contaminated) is the same as in "conventional" oil and gas exploitation, where wells must also have adequate casing cemented into place. The fact that people have largely accepted the risks involved in drilling for "conventional" hydrocarbon resources is something which appears to have been all too often forgotten in the debate in the media as to the environmental impact of shale gas.
As to water disposal, the UKPSC recommended that the toxicity of flowback fluids should be monitored by the Environment Agency and that all companies involved in hydraulic fracturing should declare the type, concentration and volume of the chemicals they are using in fracing fluids.
The UKPSC recognised the potential problems that could be caused by the demands for water resources from the shale gas industry. On this, the UKPSC received evidence that an average fracing job for a well in the US was estimated to use 3.5 million gallons of water. However, whilst these quantities of water may sound alarming, to put it into perspective it was pointed out that four million gallons of water alone are used to irrigate a single golf course for 28 days. It was concluded by the committee that there is only a small risk that UK water supply will be affected by fracing.

Read the entire article here

The UKPSC report got the facts right, but the chairman of the committee, Tim Yeo should definitively have abstained from making this totally false comment on Poland:

Tim Yeo, questioned Poland's ability to maintain high environmental and regulatory standards without any EU-wide enforcement regime (describing Poland as "as one of the recalcitrant, backward-looking EU members in that respect")

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