New moratorium in South Australia based on misinformation

Today, the South Australian Upper House has passed into law a 10-year fracking moratorium in the South East of South Australia, despite mountains of scientific evidence that fracking is a safe, well understood technology. In fact, in South Australia fracture stimulation has been safely used to enhance flows from both conventional and unconventional reservoirs in more than 750 wells since 1969.

Proponents of the ban have claimed, for years, that fracking contaminates groundwater, depletes water resources for locals and increases air pollution. But if you actually review the science, these claims don’t square with reality.

For example, a study conducted by the Australian Council of Learned Academics concluded:

“Community concerns surrounding groundwater contamination due to possible wellbore failure have led to moratoria on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction – though there is no evidence that these problems are widespread or common.”

And Western Australia’s Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs found:

“The Committee finds that the likelihood of hydraulic fractures intersecting underground aquifers is negligible.”

Similarly, the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory noted:

“The likelihood of spills travelling through the 30-100 m of soil and rock to the aquifer in the Beetaloo Sub-basin is ‘low.'”

Regarding water usage concerns, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) and The Department of the Environment found:

“Hydraulic fracturing requires access to volumes of water that are generally not large compared to other uses.”

But perhaps the most egregious claim is that fracking increases air pollution. In fact, just the opposite is true, replacing coal-fired generation with natural gas-fired generation significantly decreases air pollutants, and a lot of that natural gas comes from fracking. This is a huge benefit for countries that have high energy demand, but need to improve air quality, as the International Energy Agency described in their Energy and Air Pollution report:

“In general, natural gas-fired plants emit fewer air pollutants than coal and oil-fired power plants. In 2015, gas-fired generation emitted close to 20% of NOX from power generation but any SO2 or PM2.5.”

As for the air quality in the direct environs of producing areas, the Ambient air quality in the Surat Basin, Queensland: Overall assessment of air quality in region from 2014-2018, found:

“During the study there were no exceedances of relevant air quality objectives for any of the gaseous pollutant measured, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone as well as individual VOCs, aldehydes and hydrogen sulphide.”

As study after study concludes that fracking is safe and economically beneficial, it is becoming increasingly clear that these moratoriums are based on bad facts.

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