Science Heresy - January 2012



Is fracking dangerous?

  We have long been sceptical of Gaslands type hysteria about fracking for shale gas extraction.

However we came across a quite even-handed article in Wikipedia (on 17 Jan 2012 - it may change):

It seems that the really nasty chemicals are not those which are put into fracking fluid (largely sand and detergent) but the chemicals which come out of the formation itself - viz.:

"Another group of emissions that are routinely vented into the atmosphere are those linked with natural gas itself, which is composed of methane, ethane, liquid condensate, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The VOCs that are especially impactful on health are benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene (referred to as a group, called BTEX). Health effects of exposure to these chemicals include neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer."

The other issue is the large amount of water which is involved and which finishes up contaminated by these naturally occurring poisons. I am no chemist but surely it is possible to clean up the fracking water after use in order to remove these nasties. Of course the miners won't want to do this because it will increase their costs. Surely it is a better option than closing down whole states or countries to this promising new technology as has already happened in Quebec, NSW, France and many other places.

Both sides are being thoroughly dishonest. The miners say that ground water is unlikely to be contaminated and they are right. Their opponents say that fracking is a public health risk and they are also right. Either from ignorance or guile, they are both missing the point. It is the Gigalitres of contaminated water at the surface which must dealt with. New technologies are commonly hazardous in their early stages but research and state regulation usually lead to improved safety over time.

Forcing the miners to clean up their act is surely the sane option but in these days of over-the-top Green hysteria about climate and over-the-top Tea Party style reaction that may not happen.

This shale gas issue needs to be driven by good science and a concern for public health not Green ideology or corporate greed.

 Is "good science" in the public interest still possible?


January 2012