Shale gas fracking needs tighter regulation EU reports by Energy and Environmental Management, September 7, 2012
A new report for the European Union warns that tough new regulations are required for the shale gas industry because of the high risk it poses to human health and the environment. The study, ‘Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health’, the most comprehensive analysis yet of the shale gas sector, says that drilling for shale gas poses a “high risks”, worse than those posed by other fossil fuels. Amongst these is water contamination caused by the hydraulic fracturing of rocks to obtain the gas, known as ‘fracking’. The report warns that no fracking should be allowed in areas where water is being used to drinking purposes.
Seven other risks are highlighted, including contamination and depletion of ground and surface water, degradation of biodiversity, land, air quality and the danger of earthquakes. It also speculates as to whether the use of toxic chemicals for injection should be banned in general. At least, it says, “all chemicals to be used should be disclosed publicly, the number of allowed chemicals should be restricted, and their use should be monitored”. It notes that fracturing fluids contain heavy metals and radioactive materials, and that in the US many accidents have happened which have harmed the environment and human health. There, recorded violations of legal regulations amount to up to 2% all drilling permits, a very high level.
There has been groundwater contamination by methane and potassium fluoride, leading to salinisation of drinking water in the vicinity of wells. … So-called ‘fugitive’ methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, where the gas escapes into the rock and water as part of the extraction process, later to be released into the atmosphere, can also be high and have a huge impact on the greenhouse gas balance. There have been no studies done yet on methane intrusion into aquifers and in different instances these emissions might vary by up to “a factor of ten”, the report notes. It concludes that “the present privileges of oil and gas exploration and extraction should be reassessed in view of the fact that the environmental risks and burdens are not compensated for by a corresponding potential benefit as the specific gas production is very low.” Earlier this year, Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, warned that any energy strategy involving shale gas would be ‘not the optimum path’ for the environment or climate change.
Germany is already considering tighter regulation of fracking that occurs near water reservoirs and set to require developers to conduct environmental impact studies, according to a new report commissioned by the German Environment Ministry.
The EU study is one of five due to be released today, and identifies loopholes, gaps, scientific uncertainties and regulatory gaps in current EU regulation relevant to the industry. … Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, the Liberal vice-chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said: “There are a lot of potential dangers to water, the environment and biodiversity that we seriously have to look into. I don’t believe at this moment that a single directive for shale gas is the right approach.” Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: “This report silences industry rhetoric – shale gas is undeniably a high-risk activity. It threatens the health of local communities, and the environment….” [Emphasis added]