Providing facts to inform decisions
A regional Council in Victoria has decided to seek more information about hydraulic fracturing before adopting a position on the issue.
The Geelong Council is doing the responsible thing in seeking more information before it adopts a policy position.
A recent opinion piece in the local Geelong Advertiser made several alarmist assertions about hydraulic fracturing, and failed to note the many potential benefits in jobs and regional income which could flow from responsible utilisation of Victoria’s onshore natural gas resources.
Demand for gas is growing quickly. At a time when manufacturing is contracting and unemployment growing, there is a big opportunity for regional Victoria to create jobs to meet this growing demand for natural gas.
The Energy Resource Information Centre provides a fact-based, evidence-led response to claims made about the natural gas industry, including the content of the recent opinion piece:
- It is a ‘violent form of gas extraction’: This is alarmist. Hydraulic fracturing has been used in Australia since the late 1960s. Globally, more than 2.5 million wells have been hydraulically fractured. More details on the process.
- The current CEO of Exxon in the US is going through a legal process to stop fracking on his own property: This is wrong. The lawsuit relates to the construction of a large water tower close to his property, not to ‘stop fracking’ on his own property.
- Corporations drill into the earth and inject millions of litres of drinking water: Construction of oil and gas wells is undertaken in accordance with strict regulatory, engineering and environmental guidelines. The wells are engineered to include layers of steel and cement to ensure the integrity of the well. In a typical hydraulic fracturing operation, around 9 Olympic size swimming pools of water are used. This is a short term process that is not ‘endless’ as claimed.
- 600 chemicals are used in the fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde:On average, 99.5% of the fluid used in fracturing operations comprises water and sand. The remaining 0.5% comprises compounds and chemicals to assist in the process. Contrary to the claim, around one dozen compounds are used in the fluid, not 600. A detailed list of these compounds shows that many of them are commonly found in household products . In Victoria, carcinogenic BTEX chemicals are banned.
- The toxic sludge dissolves deep underground and can poison aquifers. Only 30-40 percent of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground: The majority of the fracturing fluid is recovered from the well, where it is safely removed from the site and disposed of at registered waste disposal facilities. As more than 99.5 percent of the fluid is nothing more than water and sand, it is misleading to label it ‘toxic sludge’.
- Groundwater becomes toxic and methane can pollute rivers, dams and streams: Methane can be naturally occurring in groundwater supplies. According to West Australian experts, hydraulic fracturing has been used on 2.5 million wells worldwide without a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination.
- Recovered water is left in open-air pools to evaporate: Coal seams contain both gas and water. The water that is extracted as part of the process is managed in different ways, all of which are strictly regulated and managed. This can include storing water in lined ponds for later treatment, or utilising reverse osmosis to treat the water for reuse in industrial or agricultural operations.
- The gas is then sold overseas: Coal seam gas has been extracted and used commercially in Australia for more than twenty years. It is now an important contributor to Queensland’s domestic gas supply, and around 5 percent of the NSW gas supply comes from CSG. While Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals are under development in Queensland, gas companies have guaranteed they will supply domestic needs.
- Industry activity can cause real estate markets to collapse: The NSW Valuer General recently undertook a study into the impact of the Coal Seam Gas industry on land values in NSW. The report found that “A total of eight property transactions with CSG well activity located on the property were investigated through conventional valuation sales analysis. From the analysis the value of all of these properties did not appear to have been impacted by CSG activity.”
The opinion piece also refers to the ‘now famous’ footage of US farmers igniting drinking water from the kitchen taps.
While pictures of tap water set on fire make for good television footage and dramatic photos, it should come as no surprise that the claims flammable water caused by unconventional gas production in the United States are a complete fabrication.
The footage used in the 60 Minutes story came from the documentary film Gasland, and was of a Colorado ranch owner named Mike Markham. Gasland was recently found to be the least trustworthy source when it comes to getting information about hydraulic fracturing.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) undertook an investigation into the alleged methane contamination and concluded “There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water” and “Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic [naturally occurring] in origin.”
The opinion piece conveniently ignores the potential economic and employment benefits that the development of the natural gas industry can bring to regional economies like Geelong.
Across the United States, a boom in gas development has revitalized regional communities, and provided much-needed impetus for local businesses and employment.
For example, a mid-year economic update from a leading business school in Colorado states that the natural resources sector, including oil and gas production, has been ‘integral to the state’s post-recession economy’, with growth for the state now forecast to make Colorado the fourth fastest growing State in the country.
The Council of the City of Geelong should be applauded for wanting to find out more about the development of natural gas resources – a process that needs to be informed by fact.