Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fracking - opportunity or challenge?

On 14 August 2013, I woke to a news item on BBC about The Church of England has telling its parishers that fracking causes environmental problems and risks lasting harm to God's glorious creation. As an environmentalist and a Christian, I was very interested in the Article and decided to find it to read. This lead me to the website of the Diocese of Blackborn ( where I found the full article. I wish to share it with my readers so I have reproduced the article below.

Fracking - opportunity or challenge?
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a process for extracting natural gas from shale deep under the water table. It allows energy companies to reach natural gas that was previously inaccessible by breaking up the rocks in which the deposits form. While natural gas is domestically produced and considered to be a cleaner energy source, there are also environmental and human health risks associated with the extraction process
The Diocese of Blackburn has also produced a helpful leaflet on the subject.
Fracking - also called hydro-fracking or, officially, horizontal drilling coupled with multi-stage hydraulic fracturing - is a relatively new process of natural gas extraction. Here's a step-by-step guide to the process:
 A well is drilled vertically to the desired depth, then turns ninety degrees and continues horizontally for several thousand feet into the shale believed to contain the trapped natural gas
  1. A mix of water, sand, and various chemicals is pumped into the well at high pressure in order to create fissures in the shale through which the gas can escape
  2. Natural gas escapes through the fissures and is drawn back up the well to the surface, where it is processed, refined, and shipped to market
  3. Wastewater (also called "flowback water" or "produced water") returns to the surface after the fracking process is completed, and it is then contained in steel tanks until it can be stored long-term by deep injection in oil and gas waste wells, or other geological reservoirs
Fracking is fundamentally different than traditional gas extraction methods
  • Fracking wells go thousands of feet deeper than traditional natural gas wells
  • Fracking utilizes "fracking fluid," a mix of water, sand, and a cocktail of toxic chemicals. While companies performing fracking have resisted disclosure of the exact contents of the fracking fluid by claiming that this information is proprietary, studies of fracking waste indicate that the fluid contains: formaldehyde, acetic acids, citric acids, and boric acids, among hundreds of other chemical contaminants
  • Fracking removes millions of gallons of precious freshwater from the water cycle. Fracking requires between two and five million gallons of local freshwater per well - up to 100 times more than traditional extraction methods
  • About half of this water returns to the surface, but no one is entirely sure what happens to the other half of the water used in the process. Our best guess is that the water remains underground, though there are indications that at least some of this toxic cocktail makes its way back into the water supply
Fracking causes a range of environmental problems
  • In the USA, where fracking is an already established process, there have been reported surface, ground, and drinking water contamination due to fracking
  • Pollution from lorry traffic, chemical contamination around storage tanks, and habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling to environmentally sensitive areas have are all related to fracking
Fracking God’s creation: Where should faith communities stand in the arguments between economists and environmentalists over fracking?

Natural gas extraction is increasingly presenting people with a choice between economic gain and a healthy environment. A relatively new technique to extract natural gas from previously unreachable depths is prompting a rush to drill, despite virtually no history as to its environmental impact.

West Lancashire is very much at the centre of the debate about fracking with a pilot well in Elswick having been in operation since 1993, and more recently a systematic series of geological surveys have revealed there is potentially a significant amount of natural gas that could be extracted from beneath the region by using the fracking process, originally developed by the giant American Oil and Gas extraction corporation Halliburton, and now being adopted in Lancashire by a company called Cuadrilla.

People in favour of fracking claim it is a means of addressing economic necessity that can fill the shortfall in energy supplies that have hitherto been extracted from the North Sea oil and gas reserves. On a more localized basis, gas companies claim that drilling brings economic benefits, including increased employment. This premise is alluring to many landowners, including local farmers who may be struggling to make their land profitable. It has lured landowners to sign or contemplate signing leases to drill on their land. This is one way they can retain their land and make money, and money in today’s world seems to count for more than environmental stability
Those opposed to fracking are concerned nonetheless with health and the environment. They question the safety of the process, where will gas companies get the millions of gallons of water needed, where will it be stored once it’s brought back to the surface mixed with fluids from deep underground and those toxic chemicals. A point of contention is that gas companies are not required to disclose the chemicals employed in fracking, no doubt as a way to keep their fluid recipes secret from competitors.

Fracking produces gas that, when burnt, is as, if not more, toxic than coal, and for it to be considered as an environmentallly-friendly source of energy, can only be burnt in power stations that have installed expensive and effective carbon capture and storage (CCS) processes. This CCS technology is currently far from well-developed on an industrial and commercially viable scale.

 Those with reservations about fracking also want to know how it will affect the soil and, above all, sources of drinking water, including ground water. Human and environmental health are greater priorities for opponents than potential economic gain. An increasing body of reported evidence from the United States of America raises concerns about the structural stability of wells, explosions, combustible water, illness among humans, farm animals and plant life, and the necessity to purchase water for drinking, bathing and other common uses. Fracking opponents point out that we can live without gas, but not without water.
The rush to benefit from the gas-drilling bonanza is an obvious temptation for many and this, of course, raises the question of how consideration for God the Creator enters into the decision-making process. Is there a way for Christians to be guided by the scriptures in applying biblical and theological considerations to gas drilling?
Our solutions must be rooted in scripture, employ our ability to reason, stem from listening to people who have experienced fracking positively and negatively, and to discern under God’s guidance what is good and right. As local church members become more aware of the issues surrounding fracking, they need to engage in biblical and theological discussion about their responsibility as stewards of the earth.

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