Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of creating fractures in rocks in order to extract natural gas. It’s also called coal seam gas exploration.
By drilling kilometres into the earth and setting off explosions, pockets of gas reserves can be extracted in the fractured rocks. Like all mining of this type, large amounts of water and chemicals are required for the process.
And despite it being around since the 1950s, it has been given recent prominence by a documentary called Gasland. The doco examines the environmental damage fracking causes, most notably the poisoning of water tables. There’s amazing footage of a water tap being lit on fire due to the gas being mixed with a water supply.
Fracking is being developed by a company in the Northern Rivers region. Metgasco has been granted a licence by the state government to mine using this technique, a spokesperson confirmed this week.
He said the area that they are exploring covers 43,000 square km, and stretches north from Coffs Harbour to the Queensland border. Funnily enough it was hard to extract more information from him due to his reluctance to speak, however the area is called the Clarence-Moreton Basin. Exploration for coal seam methane in the Basin is in its infancy, according to the Department of Primary Industries, with the first well being drilled in 1997.
The controversial technique has had hit and miss results – alarming levels of toxicity in water samples have been discovered in Queensland fracking ventures for example.
‘The Queensland government suspended Cougar Energy’s underground coal gasification project near Kingaroy, in the state’s southeast,’ says www.dailyexaminer.com.au/, ‘after underground water was contaminated with benzene and toluene.’
So the press on fracking isn’t great, but an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this week produced arguments in favour of fracking.
Founder and chairman of BP Capital, T Boone Pickens told Jon Stewart that the US is the only western country without an energy plan, and he is pushing to replace oil imports with a national model. In complete contrast to environmentalists, he claims fracking is safe and can enable the country to have energy self-reliance. With natural gas, he wants to demonstrate that the trucking industry can replace oil with gas in seven years. There’s support from industry, he says, just not the political will to make it happen yet.
Jon Stewart wants to know what the catch is. ‘So it gets us out of foreign entanglements, it weakens our enemies, it’s cheaper, we have an abundance of it and we have the technology to do it.’
‘We just got addicted to foreign oil’, says Pickens.
Energy companies don’t want to see self-regulated fracking either, according to Pickens – technology is available for individuals to use compressors to extract their own gas, which is a major threat to the outdated business model of supplying energy en masse from corporations.
As usual, Stewart has the final say: ‘People who owned horses wished that cars didn’t show up, but they did. And then they had to get out of the way.’
Our insatiable hunger for energy usage isn’t going away, and to replace the combustion engine will take much more than fracking. With all the tax breaks and free utility (ie water) usage mining and gas companies receive, it’s unfortunate our elected politicians won’t pass legislation to encourage localised energy self-reliance.