Gas well fracking under fire from US professor

A professor from Cornell University has called on Australia to halt coal seam and shale gas production, due to emissions and the risk of leaking wells.

A professor from Cornell University has called on Australia to halt coal seam and shale gas production, due to emissions and the risk of leaking wells.

Dr Anthony Ingraffea, an expert on “fracking” in the US and Canada, conducted the first peer reviewed study of methane emissions from shale gas development three years ago, which found that the range of unburned emissions falls between 3.5 and eight per cent of the total gas production in the lifetime of producing wells, much higher than previously thought.

Facing criticism from other scientists for looking at the entire life cycle of gas production rather than emissions at the well, Dr Ingraffea said that other scientists have their heads in the sand and only want to look at a part of the problem.

“The climate responds to the life cycle, climate doesn’t care whether the methane leaks at the well pad, or at a storage facility, or from a pipeline, or from a vent, climate responds to the sum total of all those leakages,” he said in an interview on ABC radio.

“If the primary concern of Australia, of the Australian people is as a country to do their duty about climate change, then the correct solution is not to increase the development of any fossil fuel, it’s to as quickly as possible decrease the development of fossil fuels and substitute non-greenhouse gas renewable energies.”

Ingraffea also pointed to a new study, soon to be published, which looks at gas production in Pennsylvania, and the damage to water supplies.

"There has been an onslaught of shale gas development there… Eight thousand wells drilled in the last five years, he said.

“We looked at the regulatory agency and discovered that there is a very significant percentage of those wells that are leaking."

"Hundreds of families have lost access to their wells because they've been contaminated."

The figure shown in the study is that one in 20 wells are leaking into underground aquifers.

"If you have tens of thousands of coal seam wells drilled in Australia you're going to see the same effect,” Ingraffea said.

"Shale gas and coal seam gas is not accumulated in a pocket, it's distributed throughout the shale and to get it you have to drill closely spaced wells and use fracking.

"At that scale you are using much higher volumes of fracking fluid, producing much higher volumes of waste, needing to drill many more wells resulting in much more land disturbance and more equipment on the surface, and all those wells have to be connected by pipelines and processing units and you wind up industrialising the country side."

Ingraffea said the gas industry does provide a short term economic boost for rural communities, but that is not long lasting, with the money leaving with the gas when it runs out.