Risk of contamination of water sources with radiation, toxic chemicals and methane.
During the drilling and extraction process 20-40% of the contaminated, hazardous and potentially radioactive water used, flows back to the surface for disposal.
The remaining 60-80% of the contaminated fluids may remain underground. Then the only thing defending underground aquifers from contamination is the integrity of the drilled wells and cement well casing. Industry research states that many well casings leak and degrade over time, so the ongoing risk of pollution of underground water courses is a real concern.
Contaminated water from large-scale dewatering of coal bed methane exploration is likely to contain natural salts, metals, hydrocarbons, drilling fluids, injected chemicals and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM). This is either stored on site and treated for disposal to water courses, or tankered off-site for treatment and disposal.
Click here to see examples of how exploration has put peoples health and the environment at significant risk in the USA and Australia.
Hundreds of chemicals have been licensed for use worldwide, including Benzene, Toluene, Phenol & Formaldehyde, several of which are carcinogenic.
Underground migration pathways through layers of rock can bring pollutants to the surface, its never possible to eliminate all risks from the operations involved.
In 2011 a study by Duke University correlated gas in water in areas close to Unconventional Gas exploration sites.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has also linked fracking to drinking water contamination.
Radioactive isotopes (such as radium-226) and Radon can be leached out of the rocks that the fracking fluid passes through. Biological concentration of these materials up the food chain are of the greatest concern.
Leaking wells and condensate tanks exacerbate local air pollution.
Before commercial production, methane and nitrogen are vented direct to the atmosphere (‘fugitive emissions’), or flared (releasing carbon dioxide).
Noise Pollution & Light Pollution
Operations on drilling sites and gas processing also cause light and noise pollution – usually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Recorded Health Impacts
Air pollution from wells producing condensate are having major recorded adverse health impacts.
A study by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention in the US has shown counties over the Barnet Shale, that have been extensively fracked, are one of the only locations where breast cancer rates have been steeply rising against a wider national fall.
Health impacts such as headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties have all been recorded. There are also risks of contamination to human and animal health in our food chains.
Industrialisation of the Countryside with Boreholes & Well Sites
Figures quoted by the company UK Methane, intending to drill in Somerset, would necessitate the drilling of a large number of wells across the Mendip and Chew Valley areas. This would extensively industrialise any area of countryside and have a significant visual impact.
Pipelines & Plant
Gas pipelines, access roads between drill sites, and the construction of many ‘frack pads’ (drilling sites) are likely to be necessary to make production economically viable.
Increased HGV Traffic
There will be an increase in HGV movements to bring in the drilling equipment and the chemicals needed to drill and frack each well, and potentially remove waste drilling fluids.
It takes over 2-4,000 large truck movements to explore one well. These developments would lead to the industrialisation of our countryside and a huge increase in HGV traffic on rural roads, which struggle to cope with existing car and HGV traffic volumes.
Fracking has also been associated with earthquakes, in the UK fracking company Cuadrilla has admitted that its exploration in Lancashire has caused earth tremors. It can also cause subsidence.
Unconventional Gas exploration worsens climate change and extinguishes any opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a county or national level through:-
1) The release of significant quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – the exploitation of an additional fossil fuel resource will likely increase energy use, increasing global greenhouse gas emissions further and reducing the likelihood of limiting global temperature increases to within manageable limits.
2) The diversion of investment away from genuinely low carbon energy sources, and therefore risking the UK having to renege on its climate change targets.
3) Shale gas has been hailed as a reducer of greenhouse gas emissions as it produces less CO2 than burning coal. It remains to be seen just how “Green”a fuel it is, as recent research in America has shown that leakages of methane from frack pads and pipelines have been underestimated. As methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 this may cancel out the advantage of using shale gas as a transition fuel until we have sufficient renewable energy.
Read more here about how these issues could impact on the Mendips locally.
Click here to read about how the USA and Australia have been impacted by Unconventional Gas exploration and production.