Whenever the subject of unconventional gas mining is discussed, underground water contamination is invariably the foremost concern. This contamination can result from leaked toxic drilling and fracking fluids, or through cross contamination of water at different levels facilitated by the fractured rock strata, or through fugitive methane leaks that can also pollute underground water.
There are also concerns raised by landowners who are reliant on bore water, reporting that the process of pumping out the groundwater, to allow the free flow of gas, is lowering the water table to a point where they are running out of water.
What isn't so commonly understood, is the amount of water that is actually trucked in for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a process the industry likes to claim is not especially water intensive. However, recent reports from the USA have highlighted the fact that hundreds of gas wells have required vast amounts of water. The Sabine Oil and Gas company owns the thirstiest well, situated in Harrison County, Texas, followed closely by Encana Oil and Gas' Federal 36 Well in Colorado, with both using well over 100 million litres each.
According to the researchers, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are located in dry states like Texas, and that water is ultimately pumped back out as toxic “produced water” requiring treatment before it can be reused. Unfortunately, some Californian operators didn't want to incur the significant expense of treatment, and simply pumped the toxic mix back underground into the state's drinking water source.
That is in America, and Australian companies are quick to claim it couldn't happen in Australia. However, in Queensland, ground water depletion and contamination is a real issue, with some landowners finding their bores now producing more methane than water.
Amazingly, the Energy Resource Information Centre, an industry mouthpiece, is claiming (The Daily Examiner November 20, 2014) that by treating the produced water and making it available for reuse, that Queensland farmers are benefiting from “new water availability”.
Make no mistake, in this the world's driest continent, water protection is of paramount importance, and fracking will put that precious resource at unacceptable risk.
- John Edwards
This post was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on December 8, 2014.