“Things you know that ain't so”: “Fracking is risky and dangerous and should be banned”
According to one website, “Fracking brings rampant environmental and economic problems to communities across the country.… Fracking accidents and leaks pollute rivers, streams and underground sources of drinking water.”
Much of the opposition goes back to a movie called “Gasland” that grossly exaggerated the effects of fracking by showing pictures of flaming tapwater, a fishkill caused by coal mine run-off, and so on.
On the other hand, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society (UK) say that “The health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’)as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented …. Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used in the oil and gas industries for many decades.”
In 2012, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment concluded that “…the environmental risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively…”
Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1920s. Over the last 10 years or so it has become cheaper and better and is now very widely used. Basically, instead of drilling multiple vertical holes to extract gas or oil the drill hole is directed to go horizontally when it gets into gas bearing strata. Water and some chemicals – often similar to dishwashing liquid – are injected into the strata to cause the rock to fracture and so release the tightly bound gas and oil.
It is widely used in the USA and it is one reason the USA recovered faster than Europe following the 2008 global financial crisis. It was also a major factor in the recent massive drop in oil prices.
Environmentally, its major effect has been to cause a marked reduction in coal-fired generation because cleaner and more efficient gas-fired plants have replaced old polluting coal-fired power stations. It is also beneficial from a land use point of view because many wells can now be drilled from a single rig on the surface.
Those who oppose it claim that it contaminates groundwater, releases gas to the atmosphere and causes earthquakes.
Compared with conventional well drilling, fracking is usually carried out at much greater depths and beneath very tight geology. So the chances of fracking fluids migrating thousands of metres into a water aquifer are very small indeed. There appears to be no evidence that it has happened.
Any well that is not properly cased in its upper sections is likely to release gas into the atmosphere. It is not something that is peculiar to fracking and it represents a loss of revenue to the well owners. There is no evidence that fracking releases more gas to the atmosphere than conventional well drilling.
Fracking can cause earthquakes because it can release locked up stresses. These stresses represent earthquakes that will happen one day anyway, so releasing them before they have built up enough to cause a natural earthquake should be regarded as a beneficial effect. Anyway, the earthquakes are tiny and, in the UK, less significant than those caused by coal mining. In New Zealand, they are likely to be similar to earthquakes that happen every day in New Zealand.
The conclusion is that fracking is no more risky or dangerous than conventional well drilling and could bring huge benefits to New Zealand. It is sad that so many people have jumped to the conclusion it is that it is unacceptably dangerous without bothering to study the evidence.