by Hassan Abdullahi
The 21st century global energy landscape is undergoing major changes with the extraction of unconventional oil and gas resources leading the way. However, an increase in environmental awareness and the threat of climate change has many questioning the environmental and socio-economic impacts of such endeavors. At the forefront of this change is shale gas extraction, which has been commonly described by many as a “game changer” because of its relative abundance and its potential to bridge energy use towards renewable sources.
Shale gas is a type of natural gas that is embedded within shale, a sedimentary rock, and is found deep beneath the earth’s surface . According to the Canadian National Board of Energy, “there is potentially 30* 1012 cubic meters (1,000 trillion cubic feet) of shale gas in Canada if not more.” As such shale gas explorations present an opportunity for immense economic gain, at a time when conventional global energy reserves are becoming scarce. However, the uncertainty surrounding the extraction process of shale gas has many stakeholders concerned. The main issue being the environmental impact this extraction process would have both locally and globally.
Shale gas from an EIA perspective
Debates surrounding shale gas extraction has highlighted several key environmental impacts that at are of concerns for opponents. These concerns include the following.
The biggest concern is the contamination of ground or surface water sources and the substantial volumes of water needed for the extraction process . However significant technological progress in the last decade and experiential knowledge has alleviated most of the concerns surrounding water contamination. For example a study by the National Academy of Science on the Pennsylvania and Texas shale wells have concluded that contamination of water sources were not due to the fracturing process itself, but that faulting construction of wells were the cause . Thus future improvement in well integrity could potential eliminate this concern altogether. As for the volume of water used in the fracturing process, substantial improvements have been made by means of recycling water and through integrated water resource management.
By far the best selling point for shale gas is that it releases about half the carbon emissions as coal . It is estimated that in 2012, carbon emissions in the United States fell to a 20 year low . While energy efficiency and a shift to renewable sources have contributed significantly , experts point to a switch away from coal and towards the production of shale gas as another major factor. Methane leakage during construction and operation is a serious concern, however the good news is that we have the technologies and know the policies that would allow us to rein in these emissions. Due to the policies enacted by U.S. EPA in 2012, it is estimated that methane emissions will be cut by 13 percent in 2015 and 25 percent by 2035 .
Concerns over the seismic activity resulting from the hydraulic fracturing process have also been raised by opponents. However, a study done on the Horn River Basin in Northeastern B.C. “points out that none of the seismic events associated with hydraulic fracturing have caused any injury, property damage or posed any risk to public safety or the environment”. Furthermore, several monitoring and risk management strategies have been applied to mitigate and avoid the negative effects of seismicity.
The pace of shale gas development in Canada or elsewhere will inevitably continue to increase proportionally to the demand for energy security around the globe. The fact is, effective uses of renewable energy namely wind and solar, are still many years away. However with the advent of the shale gas industry, the drive towards renewable energy is beginning to lose precedence. This mentality needs to be reversed and the shale gas industry must be viewed as a bridge to the future; and the future undoubtedly is renewable energy. So short of holistic re-examining our way of life, the question that remains to be answered is, why the frack not?
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- Fig1< http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2012/02/13/china-closer-to-joining-shale-gas-fracking-craze/>