A CANADIAN water resource engineer says that hydraulic fracturing – fracking – for gas should pose minimal risks if there is adequate regulatory control, political leadership and “straight talking” with communities.
However, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte should visit communities affected by fracking abroad before making up his mind on the issue, Dr David Manz of Manz Engineering Ltd and the University of Calgary has said.
Dr Manz, who is speaking on the subject in Galway, Cork and Dublin this week, said that the Commission for Energy Regulation also needs to “get tuned in”, given the North American experience with “regulatory challenges” to date.
Fracking involves drilling wells and pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to fracture underground shale deposits and open fissures that allow natural gas to flow.
Three companies have been granted “preliminary authorisations” to carry out testing in the Lough Allen and Clare basins, straddling 12 counties.
The Environmental Protection Agency is due to publish a report shortly on the impacts, as requested late last year by Mr Rabbitte.
The desk study has been carried out for the EPA by the University of Aberdeen.
Dr Manz, who has designed an award-winning slow sand filter technology and has engaged in humanitarian work on safe drinking water in Bangladesh, Mexico and South Africa, said that gas well fracking was an “essential production development technique”.
Recent technological developments have facilitated economic exploitation of natural gas in shale or similar “tight” geological formations on land, promising “significant revenue and employment opportunities”, he said in NUI Galway.
However, he pointed to fears that the operations could damage or contaminate local aquifers, deplete local water resources and even damage surface water and the environment.
This was due to the large volumes of water required and the generation of toxic waste water, which must be disposed of or recycled, he explained.
Contamination of groundwater was less of an environmental risk than sourcing and delivery of water to large fracking operations, and disposal of the waste product, he said.
“If wells are deep enough, they won’t disturb aquifers, but management before and after is more significant,” he said.