Fracking study delivers mixed conclusions on environmental impact

Friday 11 May 2012 23.45
Fracking is a method of extracting gas from shale rock
Fracking is a method of extracting gas from shale rock

A new study on fracking, the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock, has outlined mixed conclusions over the impact of the practice.

Preliminary research concludes that the available information suggests there is a low and probably manageable risk to ground water from fracking.

However, it also concluded that the potential impacts on the atmosphere from methane emissions associated with the process, as well as the risks of increased seismic activity, are less well known.

Tamboran Resources, an Australian mining company seeking to exploit a substantial gas field on the Fermanagh/Leitrim border welcomed the report.

Chief Executive Richard Moorman said that "the report is balanced and in line with our own views on how gas can be safely extracted."

Responding to the reports conclusion that there is a "low and probably manageable risk to groundwater from fracking", Mr Moorman said that Tamboran has already committed to chemical free fracking.

The study, which was based on current knowledge about the impacts of shale gas exploration and extraction, was carried out on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency by David Healy of the University of Aberdeen.

His study will be used to assist in a more comprehensive study, which the EPA says it expects will be commissioned this year.

Dr Healy's study highlighted the integrity of the well used in fracking as being vital for minimising potential impacts - particularly ground water contamination from leaks and well blowouts.

Knowledge of local geology is also important to assess the potential impacts for groundwater quality and tremors/earthquakes, it said.

Good Energies Alliance, which has been campaigning against fracking, says that the report does not even scratch the surface of the studies needed about the process and it says far more work, studies and investigations will have to be done.

It said the Government must make full resources available to the EPA to carry out complete studies. 

It also said there should be a moratorium on further licences at least until enough time is made available to allow consideration of EU, US and Canadian experiences, reports and recommendation.

Dr Aedin McLoughlin of Good Energies Alliance said there would not be a "low and probably manageable risk to groundwater from fracking" as concluded by Dr Healy's report because of Ireland's unique geology and the depth of the wells that would be drilled here.

Dr McLoughlin said that the wells would be much shallower in Ireland.

He said in the case of the Lough Allen Basin in Co Leitrim, there is an aquifer underneath as well as above the shale layer which would be threatened by the process.

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