Ho Chi-Ping, former secretary for home affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HSKR) government, opines in today's China Daily that potential health and environmental problems associated with fracking may argue against a shale gas boom in China, despite enormous reserves.
Chi-Ping cites a list of familiar issues as reasons for caution:
- methane emissions
- water requirements
- potential to cause earthquakes (primarily from wastewater disposal)
- difficulty in measuring and predicting the results of industry performance
- leaks, spills and the radioactive content of produced water
- ongoing debate and angst about potential health impacts
- the need for close monitoring and open reporting, and for more research
“In the absence of strong regulation,” Chi-Ping writes, “companies are under no obligation to take measures to protect the environment. Thus health and environmental risks may go undetected. The situation in the United States should shed some light on what China will require to monitor and counter any environmental risks…(F)racking regulation, even in the United States, is not yet mature enough to protect the environment.”
While recognizing the economic development potential of shale gas development, Chi-Ping also recognizes the temporary local nature of some benefits, as well as their uneven distribution.
“The concerns I have raised above do not discredit fracking as an option for China. Natural gas and shale exploration may become an integral part of China’s energy consumption. But…(fracking) comes with potentially severe costs that need to be recognized. As we try to move towards a sustainable form of development, we need to be careful that we do not replace one set of environmental problems with another.”
All of the concerns can be addressed. Will China – and the United States – have the political and industrial will - and the foresight - to do so?