Shale gas drilling and its impacts

In some downtime between meetings in our London office, I’ve been reading this fascinating and rather worrying piece in the Nation. Entitled “The Next Drilling Disaster”, it’s an in-depth look at new trends in fossil fuel extraction, such as shale gas drilling, and the dubious process used to get the stuff out, “hydrofracking”, which involves lots of water, but also plenty of toxic chemicals.

One huge area of shale gas in the US is estimated to be able to power the country for twenty years, but what about the environmental costs? They appear to be huge.

As the article points out:

“…the 246 products on a partial list of drilling and fracking chemicals used in Colorado, obtained with help from the Oil and Gas Accountability Project…228 have at least one adverse health effect. Most are known to have multiple negative health impacts, and many are endocrine disruptors, which cause developmental, reproductive and neurological harm”.

But yet:

“Hydrofracking is a hugely lucrative and rapidly expanding industry—the consulting firm PFC Energy recently reported that shale gas production accounts for about 10 percent of US natural gas production, up from 1 percent in 2000. It is bolstered not only by a powerful lobby but also by growing awareness of the threats posed by climate change and America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Now that we can all see the dangers of further fossil fuel extraction, particularly when it happens close to home, extra regulation and oversight is sure to put up costs from a very low base:

“In 2008 thirty-five inspectors were responsible for more than 74,000 wells in Pennsylvania”.

The inspection and enforcement situation is probably a little better in Western Europe. With all the shale gas rumoured to be underneath Wales and the North West of England, we’ll need all the precautionary principles we can get if the new energy ‘bonanza’ is to be managed safely.

The concern is also that renewables development will also suffer as a result.

If the BP spill has one siliver lining, it’s perhaps to show us how vulnerable we are when it comes to fossil fuels, in all sorts of ways. Let’s hope we don’t need a giant shale gas disaster (alongside the toxic bomb ticking in Canada’s tar sands) to show us that hard to reach gas is not worth delaying solar, wind and marine energy for.

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