What The Frack?!
I think hydraulic fracturing is one of those things that gets swept up in the momentum of fossil fuel hatred by proxy. It's obviously not good for the environment by any stretch, but it's not terrible, at the very least nowhere near as terrible as burning coal.
Fracking is complex, controversial, and as yet socially unresolved in Australia.
It is easy to pursue the ideal that we should just switch to renewables asap, but in the interim it is logical that we consider every energy source as an alternative to burning coal. Regardless, we need to remember the energy crisis can be contended from two directions: whilst we should definitely seek clean energy, we should also simply start using less of it.
This is basically a laymans-terms fact sheet I have compiled from half an hours’ worth of googling on hydraulic fracturing. What is it? Who cares? Should I care? Hope it's useful to at least one other person!
- fracking is the process of digging a well to extract liquid natural gas from coal seams or shale deposits. It is done by pressurizing a well to the extent that it fissures at strategically engineered pinpoints, fracturing the rock surrounding it. These fractures are filled with coagulants to keep them open, allowing flow of gas into the central pipeline to be transported to the surface.
- Australia has vast quantities of both coal seams and shale deposits, providing an inarguably compelling alternative to begin redirecting mainstream energy use away from coal.
- The primary concern with fracking is about the quantity of water required to do so. It is gargantuan. Aside from the implications of redirecting large amounts of water from where it is naturally intended to be, dangerous and unstable chemicals added to the fracking solution can permeate into the local water table. This can be avoided with extreme precaution, however due to the exploratory nature of fracking, this poses a very serious threat to local water supply.
- The open pits containing the fracking fluid, along with the environmental baggage of transporting both new and used water threaten local ecology and human health.
- Other environmental effects of fracking include methane emissions, interruption/destruction of sensitive local habitat, social and community concerns.
- Coal seam gas wells generally aren't more than 500m beneath the surface and fracking is therefore not always necessary; shale deposits however, can be up to 3000m below the surface and therefore always require fracking. CSG requires less water than shale, however produces proportionally more waste water.
- Many videos both domestic and international exist online demonstrating people lighting their tap water on fire, claiming fracking responsible. One bloke in Queensland is filmed in a tinny lighting his local dam on fire, compelling vision indeed. Despite the sensational nature of such footage, methane can find its way into a regions water table by natural means so not all videos should be interpreted as a result of nearby hydraulic fracturing. Gnarly but!
- Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham went to Chinchilla QLD and lit the Condamine river on fire on video in an attempt to draw attention to the dangers of methane seepage due to fracking. It has been criticised on the grounds outlined in the previous dot point.
- Gasland and Gasland 2 by Josh Fox are great documentaries demonstrating some terrifying implications of the widespread fracking of shale deposits across the US. Worth a watch, but not particularly applicable to Australia (…yet?) as most of our fracking so far is for coal seam gas.
Fracking is an extremely controversial topic in Australia.
From one side is seemingly justified social condemnation coming from outspoken environmental conservationists, however from the other side are the positively enormous financial benefits that stand to be gained by a mainstream transition to liquid natural gas.
Socially, local communities in target regions appear threatened by the potentiality for a bad outcome, despite evidence of ‘safe’ fracking - in WA for example, there is currently a moratorium on new wells, despite over 600 wells over the past 55 years allegedly producing no evidence of environmental harm (though this is according to the Department of Mines and Petroluem… hmm).
Anyway read more about at the following intentionally diverse locations it if you want more information from more sources (always a good idea!) because as my good friend Samurai Jack Thorburn consistently reminds me, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!