Submission to current Wales Affairs Committee Shale Gas Inquiry

THE SCIENTIFIC & TECHNICAL EVIDENCE AGAINST ‘FRACKING’

ANDY CHYBA (BSc), WALES GREEN PARTY

SUMMARY

The technical and scientific issues span the spectrum from the molecular to the global scale. The key technical problems include:

  • Borehole casing integrity
  • Seismicity
  • Explosive fracturing
  • Chemical use and associated health impacts
  • Flowback water
  • Silica sand health issues
  • Airborne pollution
  • Water resource implications
  • Climate change implications
  • Miscellaneous other impacts

(1500 words excluding footnotes and summary.)

1. Borehole Casings

1.1. Borehole casings are supposed to ensure no subterranean water contamination. “It’s an engineering process that is too hard to do perfectly, even with the best personnel, cements and equipment.” (Prof. Ingraffea)[1] Leaking is inevitable due to failures in the metal casing or cement. Even new wells fail (6%) and this rises steadily with age. All ultimately fail. This has been known for decades.

1.2. “Well Integrity Failure“, by drilling service company Archer, reports that c. 20% of all oil and gas wells are currently leaking worldwide. Schlumberger, the world’s biggest fracking company, cites failure rates of 60% in 30 years. [2]

1.3. Reasons they fail: failure to ensure gas tight fitting of the metal components; technical difficulties of ensuring consistent flows and quality in cement; ground shrinkage around boreholes; poor mud displacement; seismicity (natural or induced) destroying cement integrity and distorting metal casings.

2. SEISMICITY

2.1. Fracking can induce it[3], but the areas being targeted are seismically active areas. Cuadrilla’s CEO stated “There are procedures we can put in place to practise earthquake prevention” [4] . In fact, “People can’t stop earthquakes from happening. People can significantly mitigate their effects by identifying hazards, building safer structures, and learning about earthquake safety” (US Geological survey)[5].Fracking is, patently, the antithesis of earthquake mitigation.

3. EXPLOSIVE FRACTURING

3.1. They trigger explosions at intervals along the horizontal section of the borehole within the target strata. Predicting the extent of the resultant cracks is impossible due to the vagaries of deep subterranean geology. All pre-existing faults cannot be identified by current survey techniques. Minor ones will be accentuated by the explosions. Fractures can extend for 2500 ft and are frequently 1000ft. They spread to neighbouring strata and through the target strata to neighbouring wells [6]. There can therefore be no assurance that the aquifers are secure above the target strata, either before or, especially, after fracking operations.

4. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING (fracking)

4.1. Fracking extends the fractures and props them open with sand. Because of the length of boreholes, the drilling technology, the high pressures being used and the nature of the geology, the process requires a cocktail of chemical additives. The industry admits to the need for the following ingredients [7]:

· Strong acids to dissolve minerals

· Numerous poisonous biocides to eliminate bacteria and algae

· Friction reducers such as acrylamides and mineral oils

· Corrosion inhibitors to protect drills and well casings

· Scale inhibitors to prevent furring

· Surfactants and cross-linkers to adjust fluid viscosity

· Acidity regulators

· Breakers

· Iron control agents [8]

5. HEALTH IMPACTS OF FRACK CHEMICALS

5.1. Dr Theo Colborn, who has identified a wide range of compounds in frack fluids and discerned an array of serious health consequences, from the immediate to the slow developing.

5.2. In many cases, parts per billion are all that is needed for devastating consequences[9]. 78% of the chemicals are serious irritants. The brain and nervous system can be harmed by 55% of the chemicals. Other effects (cancer, organ damage, endocrine disruption etc.) may not appear for months or years later.

6. DISCLOSURE OF CHEMICALS

6.1. It is a dangerous misconception to claim that we are assured of full disclosure of chemicals used in the UK due to some inconvenient truths. There is no such thing as proprietary frack fluid. It varies at every fracking stage and with variations in local geology. You would need to test every ‘frack job’, at every site.. This is a practical impossibility. So the EA asks the industry to declare what it is using. The deceits that UK frackers tell about the chemicals they use are well established [10].

6.2. EA analysis of flowback waters from the fracking operations in Lancashire [11] looked for just one of the declared frack fluid ingredients, polyacrylamide, in one solitary sample (and found it). This breaks down into the nerve toxin acrylamide. Radioactive isotopes (radium-226, potassium-40, radium-228, plutonium-241) were found at much higher concentrations than expected.

6.3. BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), known to be used were not found. Cuadrilla mentions them on a data sheet [12], as ‘hydrocarbon oil’. The EA did not even attempt looking for this it appears – nor the non-specific biocides Cuadrilla also own up to using.

7. HANDLING FLOWBACK WATER

7.1. Existing treatment plants have nowhere near enough capacity to handle the quantities of toxic flowback that full-scale production would generate. Currently it is being stored in double-skinned tanks on site. Cuadrilla is taking no chances: “Upon returning to the surface, they [frack fluids] are stored in steel tanks and at no point come in contact with the ground. In the unlikely event that any liquid was spilt on the surface, seepage at ground level is prevented by the installation of an impermeable membrane on land at and surrounding the well site.” [13] Extraordinary precautions for fluids we are told not to worry about. Storage is one thing, avoiding spills in transfer is quite another [14].

8. SILICA SAND

8.1. Silica sand is used as a proppant in frack jobs because of its hardness and grain shape. Well-established research shows that handling such sand, and breathing in its dust, is a very dangerous. The Lancet connects it with unacceptable levels of silicosis in shale gas workers – which is debilitating, irreversible and incurable. [15]

9. AIRBORNE POLLUTION

9.1. A major study[16] has shown that air pollution caused by fracking contributes to acute/chronic health problems for those living nearby. “The health science community is now looking at why health complaints are rising in fracking areas, particularly among children,” says Steinzor[17], reporting headaches, nausea, bloody noses and nerve problems.

9.2. The two main sources:

(1) The large amount of heavy diesel-powered machinery used. [18].

(2) Methane leaks and fugitive emissions[19].

9.3. With the methane comes a variety of VOCs. Even where these gases are flared, they lead to secondary pollutants, (sulphur compounds, nitrogen oxides etc.) which increase air pollution. The health effects of these compounds are well documented [20].

10. WATER RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS

10.1. “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources: Separating the Frack from the Fiction” [21], published in June 2012, is the definitive independent study on the subject.

10.2. It establishes six key water resource issues: (1) water withdrawals; (2) groundwater contamination; (3) wastewater management; (4) truck traffic impacts; (5) spills and leaks; and (6) stormwater management.

10.3. ‘Water withdrawals’ refers to the water withdrawn from existing resources for fracking activities. The report broadly supports established estimates: c. 500,000 gallons to drill each well; c. 4 million gallons for each frack job. Once you begin to appreciate the potential scale of the industry in the UK, the figures become astronomical.

10.4. Using established industry typical estimates: each well fracked 6 times in its lifetime; each well pad has about 10 wells radiating out. This gives 4x6x10 million gallons per well pad = 240 million gallons. Current technology has optimum spacing of sites at c. 2km apart. Pedl licences cover 10km squares. So that is 25 sites per 10 km square. There are about 185 of these 10km squares currently under licence onshore and all are potential targets of the frackers [22].

10.5. This gives 240x25x185 = 1,110,000 million gallons of water used for fracking. Add the water used in drilling (0.5x10x25x185=23,135 million gallons) for a conservative estimate of 1,133,125 million gallons of water. This is c. two billion Olympic swimming pools, or roughly 16.5 Lake Windermeres!!

10.6. Only 10 to 30% of the water used in fracking is ever recovered. [23] The industry says it is putting this water safely below deep aquicludes. We have examined reasons to doubt this, but if they are right they are putting water outside the water cycle. It will become (highly contaminated) fossil water that may not see the light of day for many millions of years. In an era of ever increasing pressure on water supplies[24], it is completely irresponsible to be putting 12 Lake Windermeres worth of precious water supply beyond reach.

11. CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS

11.1. The definitive report, “Shale gas: an updated assessment of environmental and climate change impacts” (Tyndall Centre)[25] is compelling. It concludes that any new fossil fuel resource will only lead to additional carbon emissions, thereby wrecking claims that shale gas is a transitional (or bridge) fuel towards a low carbon future. Its use can only delay the introduction of renewable energy alternatives by putting off the imperative. “Consequently, if we are serious in our commitment to avoid dangerous climate change, the only safe place for shale gas remains in the ground

12. POPULATION DENSITY

12.1. The Tyndall Report recognises that high population density is likely to amplify many of the issues that have been faced in the US. It is likely that the environmental and health consequences could be significantly worse, not less, on these relatively crowded little islands of ours.

13. IN CONCLUSION

13.1 Those that appreciate the full range of consequences of this industry want nothing to do with it – be it small villages in the Vale or Sussex, or whole countries that have banned it or imposed moratoria. The consequences extend well beyond the scientific/technical ones discussed here – noise, HGV traffic, property values, loss of amenity, and impacts on biodiversity, agriculture and tourism and so on. It has become a political issue in which choices about our relationship with the planet we depend on are central. Future generations will look back on this issue as a tipping point, one way or another, in that relationship.

References:

[1] http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June12/DCfracking.html
[2] http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Fracking-is-hardly-leakproof-3646458.php
[3] http://science.time.com/2011/12/12/fracking-sizing-up-the-quakes-that-come-from-hydraulic-fracturing
[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458
[5] http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/megaquakes.php
[6] static.ewg.org/reports/2011/fracking/cracks_in_the_facade.pdf
[7] http://www.worldoil.com/Marcellus-groundwater-claims-A-case-for-scientifically-informed-decisions.html
[8] See the Congressional Committee sequence near the end of the Gasland film. (from 5:00 of this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWYCxY9dx5w )
[9] http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/files/Multistatesummary1-27-11Final.pdf
[10] See the second half of:  https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/?s=fracking+cuadrilla
[11] http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Business/6th_Dec_-_Shale_gas_-_North_West_-_Monitoring_of_flowback_water_-_update_%283%29.pdf
[12] http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Chemical-Disclosure-PH-1.jpg
[13] http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/what-we-do/technology/fracturing-fluid/
[14] http://www.minutemanspill.com/hydraulic-fracturing-fluid-services/
[15] http://download.thelancet.com/flatcontentassets/lanres/edch/131112_1_3.pdf
[16] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120319095008.htm
[17] http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2012/07/fracking-fuels-energy-debate-and-controversy/
[18] http://www.oilandgastechnology.net/upstream/halliburton-technology-used-gas-power-fracking-rigs
[19] http://stop-csg-illawarra.org/csg-risks/leaking-methane/
[20] http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/files/Oct2011HERA10-48forweb3-3-11.pdf
[21] http://www.pacinst.org/reports/fracking/full_report.pdf
[22] https://www.og.decc.gov.uk/information/bb_updates/maps/landfields_lics.pdf
[23] http://www.energyfromshale.org/fracking-fracturing-water-supply
[24] http://cdn.environment-agency.gov.uk/geho1208bpas-e-e.pdf
[25] http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/coop_shale_gas_report_update_v3.10.pdf

5 thoughts on “Submission to current Wales Affairs Committee Shale Gas Inquiry

  1. Gilda Delacruz

    The study, announced in March [3], comes amid rising public concern about the safety of fracking, as ProPublica has been reporting [4] for years. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports [5] around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008. In September 2010, the EPA warned residents of a Wyoming town [6] not to drink their well water and to use fans while showering to avoid the risk of explosion. Investigators found methane and other chemicals associated with drilling in the water, but they had not determined the cause of the contamination.

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  2. akemi huish

    I agree this statement entirely. I am strongly against Fracking which will cause contaminations of drinking water, air and harms people’s health. Also it will cause earthquakes. Please don’t go ahead in this project. It will cause hell state in our living conditions and the future of this land will be left ruined. Also there will be a lot of accidents at work and the maintenance and compensations will not be provided with decent finance. The employees will end up to be slavery workers.
    The benefit of Fracking is not scientifically proved. The negative effects will be the result of Fracking to the ordinary people.
    .

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  3. Pingback: DECC Fracking consultation – have your say while you can!! | Bridgend Green Party

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