March 5, 2012

Fracking outside the U.S.??

Not much fracking is taking place outside the U.S., but it’s coming. Some countries, however, are taking a good hard look at this controversial technique before jumping on the bandwagon. Or have put the brakes on as they further study possible threats to drinking water.

The UK has one fracking site near Blackpool, but it’s has been closed for the past few months, pending a government review, after two minor earth tremors were attributed, in an official report, to the drilling.

The National Assembly in Paris voted last spring to suspend fracking in France – at least for now, though some suspect it will resume.

Poland is the first country where companies would like to develop shale gas on a large scale 1) Poland may have more than a third of the natural gas resources in Europe, and 2) Poland is desperate to reduce its dependency on Russian oil. Sound familiar? Russia now supplies about 60 percent of Poland’s natural gas.

I know this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke about Polish scientists, but just last Friday, the Poland Geological Institute found the fracking process safe for surface and drinking water and not a cause of earth tremors. And our EPA has been researching it for years without this definitive finding?

Although Shell does not currently frack for oil or gas in the rocks of Europe and focuses most of its attention on North America, it has acquired “acreage” in Germany, the Ukraine and Turkey. Just last month, Shell’s chief executive announced that Shell would invest $6 b in 2012 as they accelerate that company’s use of the controversial technology. He also called on Europe for a less “emotional” response to fracking. And said he does not expect fracking in Europe to become anything like as big as in North America, in part because the continent is more densely populated.

Energy companies are using fracking technology in parts of Canada too, bringing jobs and wealth to gas-rich provinces like Alberta and British Columbia. But residents near drilling sites have complained that natural gas has seeped into their water wells making their tap water flammable. Drillers have denied responsibility.

And with the greatest water crisis in human history threatening, fracking injects mind-numbing quantities of chemical-laden fresh water into the Earth. Can we afford to use up trillions of gallons of water in this procedure? South African drilling officials set a moratorium on new licenses for exploration until February to allow the government to conduct more research.

South Africa, a country where drinking water is only available in bottles, is among the growing number of countries that want to unlock previously inaccessible natural gas reserves trapped in shale deep underground, but the government placed a moratorium on fracking last April and haven’t lifted it yet.

Shell and several other large energy companies want to drill thousands of natural gas wells in arid South Africa. Water needed for fracking may be brought in by rail from the coast, which is hundreds of miles away in some parts, or drawn from aquifers far below the ones that supply water for farmers. The company may even tap into the aquifers that farmers use if it can prove no adverse impact. How ethical is that? Many residents say they would prefer to see the government bring in wind or solar farms, not new drilling.

More than 30 countries, including China, India and Pakistan, are now considering fracking for natural gas or oil, and the surge in gas production has spurred interest in building pipelines and terminals that liquefy the fuel so it can be shipped to far-flung markets.

Indonesia is a major exporter of liquefied natural gas, but it struggles to meet domestic demand.So the Indonesian government is considering allowing drilling for shale gas in a part of Java where, in 2006, drilling led to the eruption of a mud volcano that killed at least 13 people, and displaced more than 30,000 residents from 12 villages.