By GUY CHAZAN
A U.K. parliamentary committee said it had found no evidence that hydraulic
fracturing, the much-debated process used to extract natural gas from dense
shale rocks, poses any risk to water supplies and rejected calls for a
moratorium on permits for shale-gas activity.
The conclusion, contained in a long-awaited report, was condemned by environmental groups but greeted by producers, in particular Cuadrilla Resources Holdings Ltd, which is trying to extract gas from shales in northwestern England.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” is the practice of injecting
millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to free natural
gas locked up in the tight pores of shale formations.
Its widespread use, coupled with horizontal drilling, has revolutionized the
U.S. energy industry, allowing companies to tap vast new reserves of natural
gas. In 2000, shale gas made up just 1% of U.S. natural-gas supplies. Today it
is about 25%, and could increase to 50% within two decades.
The technology is now being exported to Europe and Asia, which also boast huge reserves of unconventional gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently estimated that shale gas adds 40% to the world’s technically recoverable natural-gas resources.
But environmental concerns have tended to slow its development in Europe. Critics fear chemicals used in the fracking process can leech into water supplies, a claim the industry rejects.
Earlier this month, a study by scientists from Duke University in North Carolina found that drilling for natural gas was allowing potentially explosive methane gas to seep into some drinking-water wells in Pennsylvania and New York. While not considered a toxin, methane bubbling out of the water can build up and cause fires or explosions.
Responding to such concerns, France’s lower house, the National Assembly,
passed a bill this month which barred shale-gas exploration and revoked permits
that have already been granted. The proposal will be debated in the upper house,
the Senate, next month.