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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

French docs pan fracking; is good accounting the solution?

The Environment and Health Association (ASEF) of France, comprised of 2,500 medical doctors, said this week in a statement reported on by Platts that shale gas drilling poses risks to human health.

Platts quoted ASEF President Pierre Souvet:

"Hundreds of chemical products are used in the exploration techniques, which are for the most part toxic or even carcinogenic.  In addition, the fractured underground rocks also emit toxic substances such as heavy metals or natural radioactive substances. These pollutants can filter into groundwater supplies, contaminating the water that we consume and therefore affecting our health. Added to that is the question of the treatment of used water which returns to the service and which we do not know how to treat."

The French government will be discussing the current national moratorium on shale gas drilling at a conference on September 14-15.  According to Platts, Energy minister Delphine Batho said last month that the Socialist government of Francois Hollande has no intention of lifting a ban on shale oil and gas exploration, imposed last year by the previous center-right government of Nicholas Sarkozy.

ASEF's concerns are based on the risks posed by conventional hydraulic fracking. Getting the water and chemicals out of the process directly addresses these concerns.  Waterless, “benign”, or chemical-free fracking methods are being developed and must be proven and accepted (and regulated).  The selection by industry of these alternative technologies depends on many factors, including the characteristics of the target shale formation itself, productivity of the technique relative to conventional fracking, and, chiefly, cost.   

Waterless technologies are seen to be expensive compared to conventional fracking. Some waterless technologies contaminate the gas and require treatment before the gas is placed into pipelines.  However, alternative technologies reduce or avoid altogether the costs of buying, transporting, storing, treating, and disposing of water (and some or all chemicals, depending on the process); they eliminate or minimize the issue of radioactive contamination; and allow for shrinking of drilling footprints and reduced site development, restoration, and reporting costs.  They could also substantially reduce risk of contamination of water supplies from possible migration of drilling fluids, leaks, and spills. And if produced water is not produced and stored in open containment basins, the risk of localized air pollution and associated public health and wildlife impacts are substantially reduced. 

Alternative fracking technologies, if proven, could go a long way to allaying fears about fracking, reducing impacts, and in opening up currently blocked international and domestic resource opportunities for the gas industry.  Getting the industry’s calculus right – including an assessment of all of the costs and benefits – financial, risk, regulatory, intangible, and social - is a key step.


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