The body of evidence is growing that fracking is not only bad for the global climate, it is also dangerous for local communities. In April, parliament member and Greens NSW mining spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham, demonstrated how it affects the environment by setting the Condamine River on fire. He called on the government to assess the true impact of these emissions saying, “The methane gas bubbling through the Condamine River could be just a very visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to fugutive emissions and huge quantities of gas that could be venting into the atmosphere because of unconvetional gas extraction.”
Fracking, or ‘unvonventional gas extraction’, is a form of extraction that injects large volumes of chemical-laced water into shale, releasing pockets of oil and gas. In the US, in 2014 alone, fracking created 15 billion gallons of wastewater. This water generally cannot be reused, and is often toxic. Fracking operators reinject the water underground, where it can leach into drinking water sources. The chemicals can include formaldehyde, benzene and hydrochloric acid. As concerns about the health impacts of fracking have increased, 20 US states now require the disclosure of industrial chemicals used in the fracking process.
If there is no need for concern, then one has to ask why 3 federal state senators for North Carolina, USA, introduced a bill that would slap a felony charge on individuals who disclosed confidential information about fracking chemicals. Many energy companies argue that the information should be proprietary, but public health advocates counter that they can’t monitor for environmental health impacts without it. Under public pressure a few companies have begun to report chemicals voluntarily.
Fracking, as Jeremy Buckingham emphasised, is also bad news for the climate. Natural gas is 80% methane, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20 – year period. Newly fracked wells in the US released 2.4 million metric tons of methane in 2014, the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 22 coal-fired power plants. Mr. Buckingham said, “Depresurising the coal seams to allow the gas to flow may well be causing gas to migrate up natural or fracked pathwasy, or water bores or abandoned wells, to seep out of the ground.” Researchers at Harvard University used satelite retrievals and surface observations of the atmospheric methane to suggest that US methane emissions have increased by more than 30% over the 2002-2014 period. While the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources, the increase occurred at the same time as America’s shale oil and gas boom.
Here in Australia, in 2010, the ‘Lock the Gate Alliance’ was formed following community meetings in NSW and Qld. A declaration was made that farmers would lock their gates to the rapacious coal seam gas industry. Six years on and the Alliance continues to gain momentum with rural and urban communities all over Australia. Tragically, the issue was highlighted in October of last year when Western Downs landholder, George Bender, took his life after a long-running dispute with resources companies, one of which wanted to put 18 wells on his farm near Chinchilla. We hope his death will count for something.