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Shale Gas Booming Globally, Despite Chemical Dangers

Fracking debate and apparent new caution in the U.S., but the rest of the world is racing toward natural gas

By Amy Westervelt

Aug 9, 2010

Energy industry analysts are predicting a global shale gas boom that could turn the cleaner-burning fossil fuel into the oil supply of the coming century. They are watching the gas industry undergo a global transformation that is starting to reshape the geopolitics of energy supply all over the world.

A dozen major natural gas pipelines that are either under construction or in the planning phases will link suppliers and markets in Europe, Africa and Central Asia, in anticipation of large new supplies of shale gas in need of transport to energy markets.

Confirmation that these analysts are reading the tea leaves properly comes in part from the recent behavior of the big oil and gas companies and oil field suppliers — Exxon, Shell, Schlumberger — which were initially slow to recognize the potential of the shale gas business. Now they're paying top prices to take over bold, pioneering firms and staking claims throughout Europe and Asia.

It's another fossil fuel boom in the making, but although cleaner-burning than coal, shale gas still poses a severe threat to environmental security. The drilling method that frees the gas requires the use of a cocktail of toxic chemicals that many fear could contaminate underground sources of drinking water that supply millions of people.

Concern over the drilling method called hydraulic fracturing ("fracking" for short) is most advanced in the U.S. Last week, the New York State Legislature imposed a moratorium on drilling in the gas-rich deposits of the Marcellus shale, also a source of drinking water for residents of New York City. In Washington D.C., Congress is conducting an inquiry into the fluid mix the industry uses in the process. Each company uses its own formula, and up to now they have opted to keep the specific chemicals used secret.

Paradox of Higher Prices

Still, it has been the rapid expansion of shale gas drilling in the U.S. that has created an oversupply and depressed natural gas prices not only at home, but globally. Analysts predict that if any of a host of proposed federal regulations is imposed, the cost of shale gas would rise, which would paradoxically provide an incentive for increased drilling.

“The most severe of the proposed regulations, which have to do with the monitoring of each well, are the most costly and are probably unlikely to happen,” Sebastian Brinkmann, a research analyst with MSCI told SolveClimate News. “But there definitely has to be a coming together where these companies will have to be more transparent.”

Fracking entails injecting water and a cocktail of chemicals into the gas-bearing shale at high force to bust open the rock. The fluid mix is extracted and then dumped into lined pits above ground, where producers are responsible for treating and managing it, but in some cases that water has contaminated soil and groundwater. Poorly lined wells have also resulted, in some areas, in natural gas and fracking chemicals getting into water supplies.

According to Brinkmann, what is most likely to happen is a tightening up of the regulations around the treatment of the process water.

“What that could do is reduce the potential of some reserves,” Brinkmann said. “For more marginal reserves, it would make it uneconomic to produce from those wells.”

While the fracking debate has become a stumbling block for the shale gas industry in the United States, a source within the Department of Energy with access to policy discussion, who asked to remain anonymous, echoed analysts’ predictions and said shale gas will unavoidably be a major part of U.S. domestic energy policy moving forward. The United States is not going to exempt itself from leading the development of the next big hydrocarbon market, the source said.

Brinkmann also said that in addition to being able to export technology and expertise to countries getting into the shale gas business, American companies could even end up exporting the gas itself.

Low-Emissions for China and India

China and India are both pursuing shale gas development, as it could provide an abundant and cleaner source of energy for economic development.


Why would shale gas be dangerous for the environment?

Please anser be soon.


Fracking is not new

The writing of this article distorts the actual facts of shale gas development especially with such an alarmist title.

While Shale Gas develolpment is new, hydrofracturing is not new and has been used to increase the formations permeability and improve the recovery of the gas and has been done so safely in the oil and gas industry for over 60 years in conventional oil and gas wells. The chances of contaminating ground water are from these practices are less than they ever have been due to the many improvements in the technology. When contamination does occur, its not from the hydrogracturing process, but from other conventional spills or releases. Compare the number of dry cleaner stores, retail gas stations, etc., that have had chemical releases into ground water compared to oil and gas drilling operations. The "fracking" occurs in deep saline and oil/gas bearing formations, not fresh water formations. While accidents and releases occur from pit or casing leaks, as in any other industry they are already regulated, monitored and controlled and cleaned up when they occur. Contaminated fluids must be treated or properly disposed of and do not contaminate the ground water. Frac fluids are mostly water, sand and guar gum with trace addititves, and they are pumped only into these oil/gas bearing zones, not into freshwater aquifers.

Chemical dangers of fracking

In the US, Contents of fracking fluids are posted on every drilling site on what are known as MSDS sheets as well on the Pennsylvania Dept of Environmental Protection web site. The percentages of various compounds are not generally known, but more and more, the gas companies are proactively releasing the contents and mix of chemicals being used. Range Resources just released their mixture and the list was underwhelming. The fear of fracking fluid is greater than the reality once it's known.

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