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Should fracking stop

Should fracking stop

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The widespread promotion of natural gas from shale as a clean fuel is based on the fact that it can reduce emissions and still supply abundant fossil energy for decades to come until renewable energy sources are available. However, shale gas should not be used as a bridge fuel.

Natural gas can be found in shale rock formations, which are mainly methane. This gas is much less permeable than conventional gas, so it was difficult to extract until recently. Two new technologies have been combined to extract shale gas over the past decade: "High-volume, slickwater hydraulic fracturing" (also known as 'fracking') in which high-pressure water with additives is used to increase the fissures within the rock. Precision drilling of wells can also be used to follow the contours of a shale layer for at least 3 km, and to a depth of 2kms or more (see "Fracking for fuel"). These two technologies were first used by industry in Texas 15 years ago. In 2007-09, significant shale gas production began in other states like Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. Only a few shale gas wells have been drilled outside North America.

According to industry sources, fracking has been used to produce more oil and natural gas wells than 1,000,000 since the 1940s. Only 2% of good fractures made since the 1940s used high-volume technology to extract gas from shale. This is almost all in the last ten years. This is a riskier and more expensive approach than conventional fracking. Each well is forced to pressure with 20 million liters of water. This is combined with large quantities of sand and other materials to keep the fissures open. Also, 200,000 liters each of acids, biocides and scale inhibitors, friction decreasers, and surfactants are added. Fracking a conventional well requires only 1-2% of the water required to extract shale. http://go.nature.com/yzponk ">1.

 

Many of the additives used in fracking are toxic, carcinogenic, or mutagenic. Many of these additives are kept secret. The 2005 "Halliburton loophole" (named after a Houston-based energy company) has helped to keep this secretive practice in America. It exempts fracking from many of the country's federal environmental protection laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. A 2-hectare area can accommodate up to 16 wells. These wells can collectively service an area of 1.5 km2 and use 300 million liters of water or more. One-fifth to one-fifth of the fluid from fracking returns to the surface within the first two weeks. More fluid will continue to flow over the life of the well. Fracking can also remove natural salts, radioactive materials, and heavy metals from the shale. These substances may pose a risk to ecosystems and public safety if they return to the surface. The blowback is stored in large tanks or open pits until it can be recycled or disposed of.

 

Due to the new nature of shale gas development, there is limited scientific information about its environmental impacts. Studies have only begun to appear in peer-reviewed journals this year, which is a reason for concern. To better understand the cumulative effects of shale gas development on water quality, air quality, and global climate, we call for a moratorium. Only then can the appropriate regulatory frameworks for this industry be created.

The well-to-consumer lifetime greenhouse-gas footprint for shale gas has been compared to conventional gas and other fossil fuels. This is the first peer-reviewed estimate 2. This footprint includes methane, which is a significant component. We estimate that between 3.6-7.9% and 1.7-6% of the lifetime production from shale gas wells is vented to the atmosphere via the wellhead, pipelines, storage facilities, and other infrastructure. Carbon dioxide is also released directly from the burning of gas for heat and indirectly from the development of the resource.

 

Even small amounts of methane can have a significant impact on the climate. The greenhouse-gas footprint of shale oil is more harmful than that of coal and oil over 20 years (see "A daunting climate footprint"). Because methane doesn't stay in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide, the influence of methane decreases over longer time frames. However, the footprint of shale gases remains comparable to that of oil and coal over 100 years.

The footprint of shale gas 3 is slightly smaller when it's used to produce heat rather than electricity. Even so, the greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas is greater than that of coal for a timeframe of fewer than 50 years.

It is possible to reduce methane leakage and venting by upgrading existing pipelines and storage systems and by using better technology to capture gas during the 2-week flowback period following fracking. However, current economic incentives will not be enough to encourage such improvements. Stringent regulation is required. The US Environmental Protection Agency published a draft rule in July that would encourage industry to reduce methane emissions at least partially by focusing on post-fracking flows back. Our 2 analysis shows that shale gas' greenhouse-gas footprint is likely to continue being high.

 

Another peer-reviewed study examined private water wells located near fracking sites 4. The study found that 75% of the wells within 1 km of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania were contaminated by methane from deep shale formations. The methane was found to be contaminated by deep shale rather than biologically-derived methane. This was based on isotopic fingerprinting. There were no fracking fluids found in the water wells. This is good news because these fluids can contain dangerous materials and methane is not toxic. Methane is a high-risk explosive at these levels. It also suggests the possibility for methane to mix with other gaseous substances in shale and cause water well contamination.

 

Global warming is a grave problem that fracking-related gas supply can help to address. Fracking is essential for global economic stability in a world where productivity is closely tied to energy consumption. These technologies have a long history of problems such as intermittency, lack of power density, and waste disposal. Fracking is a breakthrough that will allow mankind to reach 9 billion people. These breakthroughs must be supported by policies that benefit the economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, replacing coal in power plants with natural gas can reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 50%.

 

Fracking currently accounts for half of the locally produced natural gas (see "US natural-gas production set up to explode") and 33% local petroleum. America's gas industry is responsible for US$385billion indirect economic activity, and almost 3 million jobs. Gas wells are notorious for their steep production declines so stable supplies require a steady pace of new well completions. A moratorium on new wells will have a severe impact on the US economy and cause a ripple effect across the globe.

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