The Northern Territory Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing is scheduled to deliver its final report by the end of March. One of the key issues the Inquiry is considering is whether or not fracking will harm water resources.
Its interim report, published late last year, concluded the risks were indeed manageable.
And that is exactly the message delivered recently to a similar inquiry in the USA, in one of the States which has reason to know better than most: Pennsylvania.
Hydrologist Dr Blayne Diacont, worked for many years for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a ‘water health’ supervisory body in Pennsylvania – one of the top natural gas fracking states in the USA (and the world).
In a submission to authorities in the Pennsylvania-neighbouring Delaware River Commission, Dr Diacont said many of the anti-gas activist claims about the impact of the industry were exaggerated.
As a specialist in his field, Dr Diacont has worked for oversight agencies as well as gas producers.
He told the Delaware River Commission:
“I am in a unique position to state that I strongly believe that these concerns are grossly overemphasized, misrepresented, and that each one of them can be addressed through appropriate regulation.”
He was talking about activist claims of poisoned aquifers and tainted water resources – the very claims which have been made, without substantiation, in Pennsylvania and repeated in Australia by organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Lock the Gate.
However, as the NSW Chief Scientist found after an exhaustive 18-month investigation, “there is a lot of misinformation” about fracking and coal-seam gas, which was no more dangerous than any other extractive industry.
Commonwealth Chief Scientist Alan Finkel also conducted a review and came to the same conclusion, as have a number of other State-based investigations in WA, SA and NSW. Even in Victoria, where the Government has capitulated to Greens politics and halted natural gas development, the state’s best environmental experts rated risk to land and water as “low risk”.
Back in the USA, Dr Diacont said that independently of his own views and experience, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission had reported no negative impact to water resources as a result of the extensive natural gas development in the area – most of which includes fracking to release gas trapped in shale formations more than a kilometre underground (well below aquifers).
This is particularly noteworthy in Susquehanna because it has been a centre for extensive and highly productive drilling, in many thousands of well sites.
Groundwater monitoring is an important part of the community reassurance the River Basin Commission provides. And the result of this monitoring in the Susquehanna Basin?
“To date, the Commission monitoring programs have not detected discernible impacts to the quality of the Basin’s water resources as a result of natural gas development.”
This matter of fact finding is in stark contrast to the stories told by activists such as Josh Fox in his movie ‘Gasland’. But then Josh Fox is a movie maker, not a scientist; he rates his success according to how much he is able to emotionally ‘move’ the audience (as he has admitted since making ‘Gasland’).
In that emotive sense, ‘Gasland’ and its followers in Australian activist cinema, serve a purpose for channeling emotion. But should these be the bases on which we make decisions which affect people’s livelihood and standard of living?