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As corporates rush to fracking for gas extraction, experts argue it may lead to water depletion

By Our Representative
In a social network post, which is being widely circulated, Gujarat-based social senior Wilfred Dcosta has warned that fracking, slang for hydraulic fracturing, is finally set to come to India, and India’s top companies have already begun the job. Fracking means creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. But environmentalists say, fracking could lead to contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, noise pollution, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and the health effects of these, like cancer.
First experimented in 1947, fracking is being applied in 60 per cent of all new oil and gas wells explorations worldwide and, despite strong environmental concerns it continues unabated as it has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached. As of 2012, 2.5 million hydraulic fracturing jobs have been performed on oil and gas wells worldwide, more than one million of them in the United States. Latest information suggests that the US’ Uranium Energy Corporation is planning to use hydraulic fracturing to mine uranium.
Giving information on how “horrifying fracking” has reached India, Dcosta, who works as general secretary, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), says, “Oligarch Mukesh Ambani's promoted conglomerate acquired shale gas assets in the US in 2010 for $3.45 billion and has invested $5.7 billion in shale gas joint ventures till the June 2013 quarter. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) will invest $5.1 billion (Rs 30,290 crore) in the next three years in its US shale gas business, taking the total investment in the business to $10.8 billion.”
He adds, “Even the public sector Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) had taken up a pilot project for shale gas in exploration in Raniganj, West Bengal and North Karanpura in Jharkhand. All the seven phases of the project have already been completed. In the Raniganj sub-basin the Gas in Place (GIP) is estimated to be 48 trillion cubic feet (TCF). ONGC is planning to explore Cambay, Krishna-Godavari, Cauvery and Vindhya sedimentary basins for shale gas in alliance with US oil major ConocoPhillips.”
Already, in the US, there is a movement against fracking. Those who are part of the movement say, fracking is a “water-intensive process where millions of gallons of fluid – typically water, sand, and chemicals, including ones known to cause cancer – are injected underground at high pressure to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well. This releases extra oil and gas from the rock, so it can flow into the well.” They also point towards how fracking introduces additional industrial activity into communities beyond the well.
“Clearing land to build new access roads and new well sites, drilling and encasing the well, fracking the well and generating the waste, trucking in heavy equipment and materials and trucking out the vast amounts of toxic waste — all of these steps contribute to air and water pollution risks and devaluation of land that is turning our communities into sacrifice zones”, it is pointed out, adding, “Fracking threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the communities we love and the climate on which we all depend.”
Further suggesting that already over 250 communities in the US have passed resolutions to stop fracking, and Vermont, France and Bulgaria have stopped it, environmentalists also say that fracking is “inherently unsafe and we cannot rely on regulation to protect communities’ water, air and public health.” Yet, in the US and a few other countries, “the industry enjoys exemptions from key federal legislation protecting air and water, thanks to aggressive lobbying and cozy relationships with decisionmakers… An all out ban on fracking is the only way to protect our communities.”
While industry in India appears to go in favour of fracking, but the argument is growing that it should not even within the higher echelon. It is suggested that “India's shale gas could be an answer to the country's growing energy demand, but limited (and diminishing) water resources may prevent widespread implementation of the controversial gas-extraction technique”. Delhi-based think-tank The Energy and Resources Centre (TERI) has said that India’s lack of water is a “red flag” in the development of the domestic gas, as fracking is a water-intensive process. The country would be better off buying more natural gas from Australia, the Middle East and the US, it added.
RK Batra, senior fellow, TERI, in a recent article “Water or Shale Gas?”, has said, “While the potential shale gas reserves overshadow those of conventional gas, India has a long way to go in identifying shale gas rich basins and acquiring the necessary technology and experience to extract shale gas. Meanwhile, the water situation will only get worse due to the reducing availability of fresh drinking water year by year, dropping groundwater levels, and the increasingly polluted rivers and other water bodies. Unless there is some revolutionary technological breakthrough, which does not need the use of fresh water and chemicals, it is vital that India seriously asks itself this question: Should we further endanger a rapidly depleting resource on which all life depends?”
Yet, industry lobbyists argue that fracking could be one of the best green options of the decade. Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, has said that fracking has led to a “dramatic transition” to natural gas. This shift is important for environmentalists because natural gas produces 45 per cent less carbon dioxide than burning coal. Fracking creates channels in the rock, allowing natural gas to be extracted at a much higher rate than traditional methods “If fracking happened worldwide, emissions would likely decline substantially by 2020,” he claims.

Comments

Javed Ameer said…
Apart from the many ills of 'Fracking' as listed out on, one of the most visible effects of it has been on the price of 'Gavar'(Cluster bean). The international demand for the gum extracted out of it has increased manifold and India is the largest producer of the bean so far. This humble bean was actually introduced in India as cattle feed till humans developed a taste for it and the poor took to it in a big way. It was the cheapest protein source of the poor till the world discovered its gum and its utility in 'fracking'...

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