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Rows of pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Pennsylvania, USA
Rows of pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Pennsylvania, USA
Image: (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

EPA fracking study reveals potential impact on groundwater and earthquakes

The study, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency, states that groundwater contamination is the most serious local environmental concern.
May 11th 2012, 12:15 PM 3,160 35

Updated 3.30pm

A STUDY INTO the possible environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’ – has identified potential risks to groundwater purity and tremors or earthquakes.

The importance of well integrity and knowledge of local geology are highlighted in the study, which was commissioned last October was conducted by the University of Aberdeen and is part of a wider study being undertaken on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said that no licences will be awarded for fracking before the EPA finishes its research into the area.

The research was commissioned following concerns raised by residents in the northwest and southwest of the country, as well as politicians and environmental activists.

In terms of potential environmental impacts the study identifies that the risk of contamination of groundwater is dependent on the integrity of the well. It also states that fracking fluid can contain chemical additives, methane, metals and naturally occurring radioactive material.

It’s also identified that detailed knowledge of local geology – particularly in Europe where it is more complex than the geology in the US –  is necessary in order to assess the potential impact of fracking on the quality of groundwater and tremors or earthquakes.

The research also concludes that the risk to groundwater – which it says is “probably the most contentious” local environmental concern – is “low and probably manageable” and that the potential impacts on the atmosphere from associated methane emissions and the risks of increased seismic activity are less well known.

Further investigation is recommended and the report identifies that much of the coverage of fracking so far has not been peer reviewed and is often “misinformed”.

Fracking is a method of pumping water and a chemical mixture underground at extremely high pressure, to break up – ‘fracture’ – rock formations and allow pockets of naturally occurring shale gas to escape

Earlier this year councils in Clare, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Sligo all banned fracking in their counties, while councillors in Clare called on the Government to implement a national ban.

A spokesperson for the EPA has told that this “very preliminary” research is part of a much wider study in order to evaluate the information which is already available. The agency has been waiting for the results of this study in order to determine where to go from here, and a project with a much wider scope is in the pipeline.

The spokesperson also said that the University of Aberdeen was the only institution which responded to the EPA’s calls for submissions, but that it’s expected that there will be a much larger response to the next invitation to carry out research.

Tamboran Resources, the energy company which has secured exploration drilling licences in the northwest region, has welcomed the EPA study, placing emphasis on the report’s conclusions that the “mechanical fracking process itself does not pose a significant environmental risk” and that there is a “low and probably manageable risk to groundwater from fracking”.

Chief executive of Tamboran, Richard Moorman said that the company will be undertaking comprehensive seismic data analysis, and that it is “committed to chemical-free fracking”.

Read the EPA study>

Rabbitte: No licences for fracking before EPA finished research>

Polish report: shale gas extraction ‘not harmful’>

Read more: Everything you ever needed to know about fracking>

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Emer McLysaght


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