The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
Fracking will put Scots’ health
Tory MEP Struan Stevenson sparked a row by calling on policy-makers to send “trendy” environmental protesters “packing” and embrace shale gas. of Friends of the Earth Scotland says the country should be wary of fracking
As conventional fossil fuel sources dry up, industry has been developing ways of extracting alternatives that are trapped inside rock formations such as shale gas, coal bed methane and tight gas.
Together, they areknown as unconventional gas, because of the new techniques needed to access them.
The most controversial of these techniques is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, made infamous by the 2010 film, Gaslands, which showed people in Pennsylvania setting their taps on fire, and linked it to rampant gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Fracking i nv o l v e s drilling deep into the earth and pumping a mixture of water and toxic chemicals under high pressure into the bore hole to open up fractures and ease the flow of gas for extraction.
The energy industry promotes unconventional gas as a clean source of indigenous energy, and a crucial “bridging fuel”.
Opponents of shale point to the toxic cocktail of chemicals commonly found in fracking fluid – and an increasing number of studies showing that the carbon footprint of unconventional gas could be as much as that of coal.
Even if local environmental impacts could be mitigated, burning the gas will make it all but impossible to meet global climate targets.
All of these concerns have motivated people to join the protest at Balcombe in West Sussex.
Less well- known coal bed methane extraction is making an equally unwelcome impact, particularly in Australia where the industry is facing increasing opposition.
Unlike shale gas, coalbed methane does not always involve fracking, but extracting this kind of gas has its owndistinct risks as well as similar ones to shale.
Coal bed methane is extracted by de-pressurising the seams through drilling vertically and horizontally and pumping out water to release the gas. Where seams are less permeable, or as gas flow starts to decline, wells can be fracked to increase productivity.
In Australia up to 40% of wells are fracked. Communities living near gas fields link extraction activities to a host of health problems, including headaches, persistent rashes, nausea, joint and muscle pain and spontaneous nosebleeds.
Australian farmers are playing a key role in the widespread “Lock the Gate” coalition because of theimpactof de-pressuring on their water supplies.
The industry has admitted that it is impossible for it to extract the gas without affecting ground water lev- els. Scotland has some shale reserves, but the most immediate threat is from coal bed methane.
Australian gas company Dart Energy’s flagship coal bed methane project is at Airth, near Falkirk.
Still at the testing stage, the scheme already has 16 wells drilled, and an application for a further 22 wells is now heading for a planning inquiry later this year.
Full field development could result i n more than 100 wells in about 300sq yd.
What makes the prospect of schemes such as these so alarming is that most of theunconventional gas resource in Scotland is located in the most heavily populated parts of the country – right across the central belt, with pockets in the south.
In New South Wales the government recently introduced a ban on any coal bed methane extraction within a mile and a half of residential areas – a measure that forced Dart Energy to give up all work in Australia and cut their workforce by 70%.
Communities living near coal and shale deposits elsewhere may well be wondering why on earth they aren’t being afforded the same protection.