This week, shale gas has hit the movies once again. I really need to get on with hiring my own director. Josh Fox, of Gasland fame, has released another short anti-shale-gas film. It's embedded here for your enjoyment:
As usual, a little balance is needed, so we'll swing to the opposite side of the political compass with a comment by EID.
The thing that struck me immediately watching this short was the apparent lack of any kind of geologist or drilling expert. The film shows papers from the standard literature that we work with everyday, but apparently he couldn't get comments from anyone? I find that surprisingly lazy if anything, because given enough beer you can usually get a geologist to come up with some kind of contrarian opinion about something. So why couldn't Josh get any geologists on film?
The other really noticeable thing is that the line of attack has completely shifted from fracking to well completion activities. I can only assume that this is a tactical retreat, a tacit acceptance that the fractures created during fracking are demonstrably too small and too deep to have any kind of influence of shallow aquifers.
And if fracking is not the problem, then the only other source of leakage must be from the well bores. Josh is right that well bores can fail. But this is a problem that we know lots about, because it's a problem in conventional gas drilling as much as it is for shale gas. So the question changes, from are you ok with having fracking going on in your back yard (and fracking sounds scary, new, dangerous) to are you ok with any gas well (conventional or shale gas) in your back yard? Which generally elicits a quite different response, because conventional gas is something people have more faith in, simply because it's been around for ages without causing many problems. For instance, Western Europe's largest onshore oil and gas field, Wytch Farm, is sited under some of the most prized and expensive real estate in the country, and noone seems bothered by it.
The failure rates cherry picked from the literature seem absurd to me:
Finally, even if failure rates were below 1%, doesn't that still sound pretty risky? Well, if well failure was a done deal "that's it, nothing we can do now" type thing, then maybe. But well casing failure is easy to detect - before you being production you run a tool down the well that detects failure. If there is failure, you do a workover to correct the damaged section. All you need to have is regulation that requires companies to do this. It'll cost them more money, and so they'll probably have a moan, but that's the kind of thing we mean when we talk about having a strong regulatory regime for shale gas extraction in the UK. Sorry Mr Company person, get that cement log running before you even think about producing from that well!