Update on Fracking

I have been expressing fears that fracking – the extraction of methane from shale gas by pumping water and chemicals into the shale- will lead to two major problems. The first is the contamination of underground water supplies and the second is the creation of earth quakes (probably of a relatively minor nature) by undermining the land under which the fracking takes place.

According to the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, based in Austin, my fears are ill founded. Studies showed that there has been no contamination of shallow groundwater but much more studies are required to establish a position that is beyond doubt, and the earthquake risk also requires more studies.

Ultimately I suspect that fracking will contaminate ground water, not because it is inevitable that it does, but because the oil and gas industry are very good at cutting corners to save costs. To use hydraulic fracturing safely means that the gas will be far more expensive to mine that it is at present, and like the extraction of many resources from the earth, without proper safety regulations, impeccably adhered to and enforced, accidents will happen and short cuts will be taken with environmental matters.

A proper understanding of what regulations are required to protect water supplies has not yet been achieved. Some folk can still set their tap water alight as a result of fracking carried out without regard to underground water safety. No doubt a system can be devised to prevent too much methane from leaking into underground water supplies, but it would be more logical to conduct fracking after such a system had been devised, not to find it out by trial and error as a result of fracking that has been carried out.

No doubt the United States with it great litigious culture will find many class actions in the future founded upon the health effects of methane contaminated water as a direct result of hydraulic fracturing. In the meantime the gas extracted is cheap and useful.

I do not understand what regulations can do to prevent earthquakes, if earthquakes are caused by fracking. Rocks of the earth’s crust can be broken by pressure, where they are weak, and the pressure of injecting them with enough pressure to force methane out can be enough to create earthquakes in places not prone to them.

The Energy Institute at the University of Texas concluded that more studies are required before we can understand what fracking really does; the issue is whether the studies should precede further fracking or follow it.