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Yet Another Study Shows Shale Gas Is Perfectly Safe

February 19, 2012

By Paul Homewood




Scientists at the University of Texas have found that hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination.

The study, released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that many problems ascribed to hydraulic fracturing are related to processes common to all oil and gas drilling operations, such as casing failures or poor cement jobs.


University researchers also concluded that many reports of contamination can be traced to above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather than from hydraulic fracturing per se, said Charles "Chip" Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project.

"These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing" he said.

The research team examined evidence contained in reports of groundwater contamination attributed to hydraulic fracturing in three prominent shale plays — the Barnett Shale in North Texas; the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York and portions of Appalachia; and the Haynesville Shale in western Louisiana and northeast Texas.

Other findings from the Energy Institute study include:

  • Natural gas found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can be traced to natural sources and probably was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
  • Although some states have been proactive in overseeing shale gas development, most regulations were written before the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing.
  • Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, and few news reports mention scientific research related to the practice.
  • Overall, surface spills of fracturing fluids pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.

This study follows a recent report by the British Geological Survey, which concluded “Most geologists think this is a pretty safe activity”.

Even the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change say “In the light of the robust controls in place, outlined above, to protect the environment and ensure safe operation, DECC see no need for any moratorium on shale gas. “

So why is the UK not developing its own huge reserves? According to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change , “it would jeopardise the UK’s international reputation on climate change”.


So that’s alright then.

  1. dave ward permalink
    February 19, 2012 6:03 pm

    And what “International reputation” would that be? – The last remaining headless chicken running into economic oblivion?

  2. February 20, 2012 6:19 pm

    Paul, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to marginalise shale gas because of environmental issues (or climate). Shalegas has a lower EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) than conventional gas. It is the high hanging fruit and it may be the last fruit in the tree.

    “We obviously need to continue researching other viable forms of energy, whether shale gas will last 20 years or 200 years,”

  3. Brian H permalink
    March 23, 2012 6:09 pm

    High hanging fruit — and yet the glut in the US has collapsed world prices for LNG, except where governments impose higher costs. UK’s problems are totally self-inflicted. Some desperately want them to remain unsolved.

    • March 23, 2012 7:37 pm

      One of the issues with the gas market, much more so than oil, is the logistical problem. Oil is relatively easy to ship around in tankers. Gas, being, well a gas, takes up much more space on tankers. Therefore we tend to be much more reliant on piped supplies, as we have limited storage facilities.

      This in turn means we in Britain and Europe are heavily dependent on Russia. Hence the monopolistic prices they are able to charge.

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