UK Panel: No Water Risk from Fracking
Source: The Wall Street Journal, Guy Chazan (5/25/11)
"Committee found risks of water contamination were due to issues of well integrity."
A UK parliamentary committee said it had found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, the much-debated process used to extract natural gas from dense shale rocks, poses any risk to water supplies and rejected calls for a moratorium on permits for shale-gas activity.
The conclusion, contained in a long-awaited report, was condemned by environmental groups but greeted by producers.
Earlier this month, a study by scientists from Duke University in North Carolina found that drilling for natural gas was allowing potentially explosive methane gas to seep into some drinking-water wells in Pennsylvania and New York. While not considered a toxin, methane bubbling out of the water can build up and cause fires or explosions.
Responding to such concerns, France's lower house, the National Assembly, passed a bill this month which barred shale-gas exploration and revoked permits that have already been granted. The proposal will be debated in the upper house, the Senate, next month.
In its report, published Monday evening, the Energy and Climate Change Committee of Britain's House of Commons said there was "no evidence" that fracking posed a risk to underground water aquifers—provided the wells are constructed properly. It said the risks of water contamination were due to issues of well integrity—whether the well casing was intact or not.
At the same time, the committee recommended that the U.K.'s Environment Agency force companies to declare the "type, concentration and volume of all chemicals added to the hydraulic fracturing fluid" so they can be detected in water supplies should any leakage occur.
But environmentalists were disappointed. The conservation organization WWF said the committee should have given "greater weight" to the dangers of water contamination and increased greenhouse-gas emissions during the shale-gas extraction process.