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Why Is Hydraulic Fracturing So Controversial And Should You Be Afraid?

Concerned Residents Meet in Cowbridge, Wales
(c) 2011 by Theodora Filis, Contributing Editor
An increase in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is causing a great deal of controversy and fear over methods used to extract oil and gas from shale rock formations – both environmentally, and in terms of its effects on human health.
Environmental and health concerns have people around the world calling for a ban on natural gas drilling. Global warming effects of methane in natural gas are many times greater than the global warming effects of carbon dioxide. Subsidies granted to gas drilling promote the use of fossil fuels and undermine the development of conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources.
From the Permian Basin (western Texas and the southeastern part of New Mexico) to the Paris Basin, from Pennsylvania to Poland it is clear that in the next 20-years the global natural gas industry will not only be far bigger and more valuable than it is in 2011, but it will also be much more diversified.
Communities around the world will be faced with costs for baseline-testing of water pollutants, emergency response, health department monitoring of complaints, property tax assessment changes, building and repairing roads, and waste water treatment facilities.
Samples of flowback fluids in Pennsylvania and West Virginia have shown concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals that weren’t included in the list of Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) hydraulic fracturing chemicals, and that in some instances the concentration of a single one of these carcinogenic chemicals exceeded 0.5% of the fluid – which is the purported total concentration of all chemicals in fracking fluid.
Despite the obvious hazards and dangers of pumping 300 tons of toxic chemicals into the ground, governments around the globe now back corporate strategies strongly favouring the exploitation of oil and gas reservoirs in environmentally sensitive areas.

Igniting methane in water tap from the documentary film 'Gasland'
France, believed to have some of the biggest natural gas reserves in Europe, become the first country this summer, to put an outright ban on fracking. France’s bill to ban fracking, but not shale gas exploration itself, was drafted by the country’s ruling UMP party after months of protests by environmental activists concerned that the process contaminates drinking water. Earlier this year, France’s government granted energy giants exploration permits for work without public consultation, but announced a temporary freeze on shale gas exploration in February.
France’s ban on fracking came on the heels of reports that the US state of New York was about to lift its de facto moratorium on fracking, which has had an informal ban on the process since 2008. New York State is expected to lift the ban the beginning of 2012. New York’s new rules will ban the practice in state parks and watershed areas, but will be issuing permits after December elsewhere.
The government of Quebec has halted all shale gas drilling until it can conduct its own in-depth analysis.
In the UK, Cuadrilla Resources has completed a test well in the Bowland Shale formation between Pendle Hill and Blackpool, in Lancashire. The company is backed by Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm and former BP executive, Lord Browne, is a partner and managing director.
The citizen action groups The Vale Says No and Transition Cowbridge met last evening to inform a group of 100+ citizens of the dangers of fracking near their town on an industrial estate. At issue in the Vale is the political football nature of these discussions as the local Council, Welsh Government and Parliament struggle over who makes the call on whether or not to allow this controversial practice and whether or not a moratorium on all drilling should follow until further studies can be conducted.
There is a planning proposal to drill an exploratory well and the clock ticks towards the local council granting the application without the issue being settled at the national and UK-wide level.
Gas companies are leasing land across Europe for gas exploration. Engineers and geologists from Italy and Norway have been to Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to learn how to extract gas from shale, and oil executives are now in Asia and North Africa mapping out gas fields.
Most energy companies in the US are not required to disclose what chemicals they use while fracking, and widely use compounds include the carcinogen benzene, and more than sixty other chemicals that cause cancer or other serious health problems. Fracking also frees underground deposits of methane gas that can seep into groundwater or escape into the air. In some parts of the US, where fracking is widespread, water from an indoor tap can actually ignite due to methane released by nearby fracking projects.
The state of New Jersey has implemented the first statewide legislative ban on fracking, while other states and local US governments are now looking to stronger regulations to control the damage from natural gas extraction. In Texas, companies have finally been required to publicly disclose a list of chemicals they use during the fracking process, making it easier for environmental groups and nearby communities to judge the risk to local water supplies.
From South Africa to Canada, countries with large natural gas deposits are under pressure from the gas industry to allow fracking to move forward.
Though the fracking process appears simple, at first glance, in reality it is a time consuming process that requires a variety of special equipment, millions of gallons of fracking water, sand, ceramic balls and over 181 different types of chemicals. Fracking breaks up rock formations allowing oil and gas to rise through the drilled well. In order to avoid the collapse of fissures, sand is also forced into the well – this sand is called “fracking sand”.
A geologist in attendance at the Wales meeting said, “the nature of our fragile coast’s beauty is the 400 million years of limestone layering our soil. When you walk along Dunraven Beach and look at those cliffs you see the cracks in the cliff bedrock and those cracks are where these chemicals will burst through to the surface in every farmer’s field from St. Athan to Bridgend.”

Fracking rig lowered into place
As a farmer in the US state of North Dakota where fracking is widespread said, “This oil & gas can take over a person’s life. I have found, I spend way too much time daily with this. I need to get a real life. Waiting to hear on a deal that may happen so we can move before winter, then I can start a real life away from all of this. We so need to do this, it has taken a toll on us. A small ranch in the middle of nowhere Montana, pop 700, clean air & water, can’t wait to get there, my cattle will be so happy again.”
(Denis G. Campbell also contributed to this report.)
(Note: This article is not covered under our Creative Commons Licence and May Not Be Reproduced without express written permission.) 

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