a General review

Neither the hype about huge reserves in the Caspian Sea in the year 2000 (“…reserves could rival Saudi Arabia”), nor the deep sea discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico or West of Angola, nor tar sands in Alberta (cover story of the ExxonMobil publication “Oildorado” in 2003), nor the rush on shale gas developments in the USA, nor recent news of shale gas in Australia can do away with the fact that the era of cheap and abundant fossil fuels is coming to an end.  Rather, these new frontiers create more problems than being solutions to problems they promise to solve. (Energy Watch Group, Germany)

The EPA website deals with major study whose overall purpose is to understand the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. The scope of the research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal. Latest report: Progress in its Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources [pdf] (December 2012)

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany. The study describes the potential environmental impacts of fracking, and the potential risks for people, along with the additional findings and knowledge that is needed in order to properly assess such impacts and risks. In addition, it describes the existing applicable provisions under (the German) mining law, environmental law and – especially – water law, and analyses those provisions with regard to areas in which they agree, areas in which they differ and areas they fail to address.

“As we discussed in our previous report (Broderick et al. 2011), without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions. For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground. The availability of shale gas does not guarantee this. Likewise, new renewable generating capacity may cause displacement without guaranteeing that coal is not burned, but it does not directly release carbon dioxide emissions through generation. (…) A similar conclusion holds for ‘peak to present’ trends. (…) This is far short of the rapid decarbonisation required to avoid dangerous climate change associated with a 2°C temperature rise.”

An executive summary of the findings and recommendations of the research team concerning the relevant public policy issues and a number of other key issues that have thus far not been a main focus of public debate. The study revealed that hydrofracking entails serious risks, as well as minor risks.
This study was funded by Exxon-Mobil, one of the companies awarded exploration licences in Germany.

AEA group, a global sustainability consultancy, were contracted by EU Commission to carry out a study on the potential risks of fracking and to look at EU legislation relevant to fracking and gaps in the legislation.  They came to the conclusion that there are several high risk areas associated with fracking, including risk of contamination of ground and surface water, land use and risk to biodiversity.  Several gaps in EU legislation are described and an overview is given on possible approaches to improving regulatory and industry practice.

The various phases of the shale gas development life cycle and their associated issues are identified as follows:
• Drill Pad Construction and Operation
• Hydraulic Fracturing and Flowback Water Management
• Groundwater Contamination
• Blowouts and House Explosions
• Water Consumption and Supply
• Spill Management and Surface Water Protection
• Atmospheric Emissions
• Health Effects
(This report has now been discredited as the writer did not declare his connection with the oil/gas industry, it was not properly peer-reviewed and some of its conclusions are dubious. However, it does report how bad practice leads to contamination of air and water.)

Researchers at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester have investigated the environmental and climate change impacts of Shale Gas.

The report demonstrates how the extraction of shale gas risks contaminating ground and surface waters. The commissioned report calls for a moratorium on shale gas development until there is a much more thorough understanding of the extraction process.

The report concludes that in an energy hungry world, any new fossil fuel resource will only lead to additional carbon emissions. In the case of shale gas there is also a significant risk its use will delay the introduction of renewable energy alternatives. “Consequently, if we are serious in our commitment to avoid dangerous climate change, the only safe place for shale gas remains in the ground” says Professor Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester.

The Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board was charged with identifying measures that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact and improve the safety of shale gas production. The importance of this report is that it gives details of the problems associated with current practice in shale gas extraction.