Shale Gas Plagued By Unusual Methane Leaks - a Canadian view

Social, legal and health issues related to air and water toxic pollution in Australia.

Shale Gas Plagued By Unusual Methane Leaks - a Canadian view

Postby HVPA_research » Thu May 08, 2014 12:48 am

Shale Gas Plagued By Unusual Methane Leaks
By Andrew Nikiforuk, Yesterday,

Scientists investigate high levels of damaging gas released in fracked areas.

These are highly significant observations. Fracking of the coal seams is exactly what the Australian CSG industry wants to do.

In some cases the volume of seeping methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat 25 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, is so high it challenges the notion that shale gas can be a bridge to a cleaner energy future, as promoted by the government of British Columbia and other shale gas jurisdictions.

In addition, methane seepage seems most pronounced in areas where industry has been fracturing seams of coal, a resource much richer in methane than shale rock, or where there are existing underground coal mines.

The researchers also hypothesized that drilling activity near active underground coal mines may inadvertently trigger the escape of methane from the coal by opening new pathways.

Unlike other hydrocarbon-bearing rocks, the softness of coal creates complex fracture networks that release large amounts of methane. In the past, unvented methane has caused horrific mine explosions.

Andrew Revkin, the respected New York Times environment blogger, noted that the results strongly suggest "that regulators should require monitoring of local air chemistry before, during and after drilling of gas wells."

From the same author:

Fracking Growth Outpacing Scientific Knowledge in Canada: Report

One of Canada's premier scientific bodies has issued a critical report on the state of hydraulic fracturing in the nation, saying the industry has outpaced credible baseline data, scientific knowledge and necessary monitoring.

Moreover, threats to groundwater are real and immediate due to stray gases migrating along leaky and abandoned wellbores, natural fractures in rock, and permeable faults, it found.

"These pathways may allow for migration of gases and possibly saline fluids over long time scales, with potentially substantial cumulative impact on aquifer water quality," noted the Council of Canadian Academies report.

Basic science on the 10-year-old brute force technology, which blasts rock formations open with water, chemicals and sand, remains in its infancy.

"The basic scientific knowledge needed to evaluate potential risks to groundwater on the regional scale is largely lacking," reads the report.

An industry too far, too fast

In the absence of credible environmental baseline data, the report notes that industry has probably moved too far, too fast and the report endorses a "go slow" approach.

"In most instances, shale gas extraction has proceeded without sufficient environmental baseline data being collected (e.g., nearby groundwater quality, critical wildlife habitat). This makes it difficult to identify and characterize environmental impacts that may be associated with or inappropriately blamed on this development."

The report flagged well integrity as a problem, because all oil and gas wells leak as they age. But fractured wells have a tendency to fail more often due to the high pressures they must withstand.

"Information concerning the impacts of leakage of natural gas from poor cement seals on fresh groundwater resources is insufficient," said the report.

The report also states that "it is recognized that Canadian regulation and accepted practices are somewhat more stringent" than U.S. oil and gas regulations, though Canada's regulators are 100 per cent funded by industry.

The Alberta Energy Regulator recently abandoned many cases of clear-cut contamination of wellwater by methane from oil and gas activity with no explanation (

It is currently arguing in court that it owes no "duty of care" to landowners (

VIDEO: What oil does to democracy: Andrew Nikiforuk at TEDxCalgary

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