an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

fracking hell

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A very very brief piece in New Scientist back in August reported some research to the effect that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, is mostly responsible for a rise in atmospheric methane since 2008.

Having just spotted this today, I was somewhat shocked. I’ve heard news about fracking of course, and the damage report has grown – but it seemed to me mostly about local geological instability, overuse of water, and site pollution. So what’s the methane issue?

National Geographic reports on the same research (published in the journal Biogeoscienceshere. Methane is a major greenhouse gas, of course, heating the atmosphere as much as eighty times the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide, but the question surely is – just how much methane does fracking release?

The NG article also mentions a 2015 NASA study that found a sharp rise in methane levels from 2006, growing by about 25 million tons per year. It calculated that at least half of this increase came from fossil fuels. These findings happen to coincide with the growth in the use of fracking technology from around that time. Most of the emissions come from shale gas – that’s mostly methane – operations in the USA and Canada. The article describes the process:

Fracking involves drilling an oil or gas well vertically and then horizontally into a shale formation. A mixture of highly pressurized water, chemicals, and sand is injected to create and prop open fissures, or pathways for the gas to flow

But as more has become known about fracking, opposition has grown. While most fracking is done in the USA and Canada, a number of US states have either banned the practice or are considering doing so. It’s banned in France and Germany, and has become a hot issue in Australia, with the ‘unconventional gas’ producers, mostly operating in Queensland, seeking to expand operations throughout much of northern Australia. The NT government decided to lift its moritorium on fracking in 2018 after a comprehensive enquiry claimed that fracking could be brought to safe levels if 135 recommendations were followed. The government promised to follow the recommendations, of course, but the process smells horribly of back-door dealing. And in the USA the Trump anti-administration is doing all it can to further the practise, auctioning off drilling rights in large swathes of land to oil and gas developers. 

It seems to me that fracking is by its nature a short-term, stop-gap technology, which seeks to ferret out smaller and smaller reserves through applying more and more pressure, risking increasing damage to the environment, and to the health of local people exposed to under-reported leakages of the 650 or so chemicals used in the process, many of them well-recognised carcinogens. Australia’s Business Insider website has an article on the 10 scariest chemicals that have been used in hydraulic fracking. They are: methanol, BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene), diesel fuel, lead, hydrogen fluoride, naphthalene, sulphuric, crystalline silica, formaldehyde and ‘other unknown chemicals’. Now it’s likely true that any operations which employ chemicals would be found wanting under scrutiny, but it’s also true that the fracking industry, especially in the USA currently, operates under very little oversight, and will be seeking maximum benefit from a rogue regime. And it seems to me that some science-based organisations, such as the US Geological Survey, are minimising the damage and extolling the virtues, always pointing out that risks will be minimal ‘if proper practises are in place’. That’s an impossibly big ‘if’ when talking about the USA’s current dictatorship. 

References

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/18/not-safe-not-wanted-is-the-end-of-nt-fracking-ban-a-taste-of-things-to-come

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3#methanol-1

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/fracking-boom-tied-to-methane-spike-in-earths-atmosphere/

Written by stewart henderson

January 2, 2020 at 7:37 am

One Response

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  1. […] about 30% of emissions, the other 70% being with industry, agriculture, transport and mining (see my previous piece on fracking, for example, a practice that looks to be on the increase in Australia). Howden puts […]


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