Shale gas and ‘fracking’: disaster deferred?

16 May

Stories about shale gas and the method of its capture are popular topics in the press at the moment. Some oil and gas companies have announced that shale gas, which studies have found is in large quantities across the world, is a ‘green’ alternative to other fossil fuels. The burning of shale gas releases 50% less carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and if it’s fully utilised most countries could meet their 2020 emission targets.  However, the process of extraction has come under close scrutiny.

The process is called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’. It involves drilling deep underground to access shale rock strata, then pumping large amounts of water, sand and other chemicals down the well under extreme pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas. This is then captured and can be used for a variety of sources. Critics have stated that with a lack of long term examples we have little knowledge of the impact the process will have on the environment. While the process has been around for many years, it is only with recent advances in technology that shale gas has become a viable source energy. In the US, where fracking is becoming increasingly common, there have been reports of water contamination, large amounts of the extracted methane escaping into the environment, pollution and drinking water being rendered unsafe. France has halted exploration pending the results of a report into the environmental consequences. The UK already has 2 hydraulic fracturing plants: should we do the same?

And while the environmental concerns over shale gas and its extraction are of vital importance, there is another problem that concerns me at least as much. After extensive surveying it has been found that Europe has enough shale gas to meet its needs for the next 60 years. So, can we breathe a sigh of relief? I find the thought that now we have a new energy resource we’ll just use it up in much the same way we’re doing with coal, oil and other hydrocarbons a slightly depressing one. It just seems to be delaying the inevitable; disaster has just been deferred. I hope that the slow change of attitude that’s occurring and the emergence of the cleantech industry will not stall with this development.

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One Response to “Shale gas and ‘fracking’: disaster deferred?”

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  1. Fracking Safety for Unconventional Oil & Gas Domestic Growth « Civic Choices - May 17, 2011

    […] Shale gas and ‘fracking’: disaster deferred? (safetymanagement.wordpress.com) […]

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