A new report has found that fracking can pollute the air with carcinogenic formaldehyde.
Tests around shale gas wells in the US have found that levels of benzene were up to 770,000 higher than usual background quantities. The quantities were up to 33 times the concentration that drivers can smell when filling up with fuel at a petrol station. Additionally, levels of hydrogen sulphide were up to 60,000 times an acceptable odour threshold.
The study has alarmingly revealed that the exposure a person would get in five minutes at one Wyoming site is equivalent to that living in Los Angeles for two years or Beijing for eight and half months. Tests have warned that one hour of exposure to chemicals at that level would cause diseases such as fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, irritability and poor memory. In relation to that, studies suggest that both benzene and formaldehyde cause cancer.
The UK Government has argued that gas can play an important role in fighting climate change by replacing coal-fired power plants. Also, experts have forecast that the new energy source could guarantee more than a third of the nation's gas supplies within 20 years.
On the other hand, some communities have criticized the plans for fracking, warning that chemicals used to fracture rock to extract the gas could seriously damage the environment.
According to the professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester, the studies indicate significant emissions of a wide range of volatile compounds from shale gas extraction. Many of these compounds are damaging air quality and human health. However, the situation in the US is not directly transferable to the UK due to the different legislative regulation regime and the different nature of UK shales. In addition to that, recent work has shown lower concentrations of these air toxins as benzene in the UK.
Many experts have stressed that this situation is very complex. The Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow has added that the government need to establish higher environmental standards than current objectives for shale gas projects in North America. This question represents one of the key difficulties faced by the incipient UK shale gas industry. Additionally, UK shale gas wells will have to capture and process all gases released rather than venting them as is customary in the USA and Canada.
Also, the question about the water used for fracking entails strong debates and doubts. In order to achieve concrete results, experts suggest that in all UK sites the water required for fracking will have to be stored, between fracking operations, in enclosed tanks.
In this framework, experts highlight that insufficient regulation can result in locally elevated concentrations of atmospheric pollutants in many urban and industrial situations.
Moreover, industrial emissions are regulated with effective measures in the UK and these regulations currently apply to those who have been producing conventional oil and gas in the UK for many years. In relation to that, experts hope the government will apply these rules to any future producers of shale gas.
In order to face to the main critics, the chief executive of UK Onshore Oil & Gas (UKOOG) has indicated that in the UK sites of shale gas, air quality will be monitored before, during and after any activity, with stricter controls on emissions overseen by the Environment Agency.
The gLAWcal Team
Thursday, 30 October 2014
(Source: The Telegraph)