The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a report finding no evidence that hydraulic fracturing or fracking causes ‘widespread’ pollution of the US’s drinking water.
Fracking – involving a mixture of chemicals, sand and water being pumped into wells at high pressure to obtain shale oil and gas – is the reason that US production of oil and natural gas has surged in recent years.
The EPA did note that, while its findings could be correct, additional data might well lead to a different conclusion.
Possibly. However, I think the correct conclusion to take from the report is that fracking, like any human activity, involves risks and has costs as well as benefits. Some of the risks were noted in the report, with the EPA identifying some instances of contamination of drinking water wells, although ‘the number of identified cases…was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells’.
In any case, a rational government policy on fracking would involve finding a happy medium between the interests of frackers and the concerns of environmentalists and others in the community.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in New South Wales and Victoria: due to community concerns, NSW has limited coal seam gas exploration - where fracking could be used to extract any gas discovered - while Victoria has a complete moratorium on fracking.
The inevitable consequence of banning or severely limiting fracking will be lower supplies of natural gas and hence higher prices. Not only will this prove politically unpopular in coming years but will also likely mean jobs are lost in industries dependent on natural gas. The NSW and Victorian governments should take note.
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