Hydraulic fracturing is the controversial practice of injecting water, sand, and chemicals under extreme pressure into wells, which fractures shale so that previously inaccessible natural gas can flow to the surface. In the past six decades, this method has delivered 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to American consumers, but at a high cost. Professor Robert Mair, a founder of Geotechnical Consulting Group based in London, is optimistic about fracturing in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless he has serious concerns about operations in the United States.
Many hydraulic fracturing sites in the United States have recorded high levels of methane in well water and a number of small earthquakes due to improper drilling and weak government regulation. In Wyoming, a poorly constructed well was fractured at a depth of 372 meters. Regulations in the United Kingdom state that fracturing must take place between 2000 and 6000 meters below the surface. Practices in the United Kingdom call for mandatory risk assessment across the entire life cycle of gas extraction to prevent tremors and water contamination. Companies in the United Kingdom are required to disclose chemical mixtures put into the ground, whereas companies in the United States claim this information is proprietary. The Environmental Protection Agency had its authority to monitor hydraulic fracturing stripped by the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney guided this legislation and was a former CEO of Halliburton- a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing. Critics of hydraulic fracturing are opposed to the open ponds used in the United States to store wastewater due to the potential impact on surface water supplies; the use of such ponds is prohibited in the United Kingdom.
Natural gas is currently one of the major sources of energy in the United States. But following years of intensive fracturing operations, critics point out ravaged landscapes and contaminated water supplies, as well as concerns over the long-term safety of the wells. Professor Robert Mair states, “We emphasize the need for further development and support of the United Kingdom’s regulatory system, together with environmental risk assessments for all shale gas operations and more extensive inspections and testing to ensure the integrity of every well.” The United States is not taking action as a nation. As companies continue to perform fracturing in the United States, they must adopt the risk assessment policies that are under implementation in the United Kingdom.
“Fracking can be Undertaken Safely if Best Practice and Regulations are in Force” Royal Academy of Engineering, 29 June 2012, http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/releases/shownews.htm?NewsID=771
“Gas ‘Fracking’ gets Green Light” Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, 16 April 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/17/gas-fracking-gets-green-light
“Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)” As You Sow- Environmental and Social Corporate Responsibility, http://www.asyousow.org/health_safety/Frack.shtml
“UK Fracking Safe but US Operations Marred by Poor Practices” Leigh Phillips, nature.com, 29 June 2012 http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/06/fracking-safe-in-uk-but-us-home-to-poor-practices.html
Student Researchers: Brody Schoen, Hunter Leaman, Ashley Conard
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, Ph. D.
Evaluator: James Mills, Professor of Geosciences and Chair of the Geosciences Department, DePauw University