Fracking: independent risk assessment desirable


p2298-shale-fracking-rigBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Risks of fracking of shale for gas and oil can be reduced by careful study of the geological layers above, and by avoiding the controversial process if these layers are prone to allow contamination of high-quality ground water.
This is the view of Dr Eric Roberts from the science department of the James Cook University in Townsville.
Shale fracking, such as it is now proposed to be done on a broad scale in the NT, has been in use for around half a century in the US, he says.
It usually takes place at a far greater depth than coal seam fracking which is much nearer to good water because it is done closer to the surface.
The water at the depth where shale fracking usually takes place is brackish and of a lower quality.
Dr Roberts says the key to reduce the risk of contamination – it can never be ruled out – is knowledge of the nature of the rocks between the fracking site and high quality aquifers – usually above.
Establishing the permeability and porosity of these layers would preferably be done by independent studies, not by the mining companies.
The fracking of shale is usually less risky because it is not porous; the gas or oil is contained in it because it could not get out until fracking took place.
“The deeper the targets, the less likely it is that you get seepage and contamination of ground water,” says Dr Richards.
“Although the risk of groundwater contamination is not necessarily high, it would be short sighted to start fracking without homework.
“Really good geological characterisation is necessary.”
He says public concern about fracking in the US grew when it became more wide-spread. There is a tendency to over-react, but regulation needs to be considered.
Another source told the Alice Springs News Online that shale fracking is not only deeper, it also requires fewer wells drilled from the surface as modern technology allows horizontal drilling in all directions under ground.
IMAGES: Top – shale gas rig. Below – Source: Ground Water Protection Council, Exxon Mobile, Austin Exploration Limited.


  1. Let’s face it, being such a young industry the results long term can only be speculative.
    Who can tell me the half life of the chemicals used in shale fracking in comparison to that of the concrete that lines and then seals each well? Which will last longer, and how can we be certain?

  2. @ Marli: Chemicals perform many functions in a hydraulic fracturing job. Although there are dozens to hundreds of chemicals which could be used as additives, there are a limited number which are routinely used in hydraulic fracturing.
    The following is a list of the chemicals used most often. This chart is sorted alphabetically by the Product Function to make it easier for you to compare to the fracturing records.
    Then you have to look at the Material Safety Data Sheet MSDS for each of them, this is a long process I put an example with a chemical known by all of us the naphtalene:
    Naphthalene MSDS
    The substance is toxic to blood, kidneys, the nervous system, the reproductive system, liver, mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract, upper respiratory tract, central nervous system (CNS). Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated exposure to an highly toxic material may produce general deterioration of health by an accumulation in one or many human organs.

  3. People who say it is a young industry talk without knowledge of fracking. Those who state 30,000 wells in Australia are toxic are talking without research as Australia onshore does not have 30,000 wells drilled to begin with.
    These groups who make news statements have no idea of EOR methods used to extract oil and gas.
    Frack and water floods have been around for years since the 1940s.
    I am an Australian working over in north America for 33 years and know more on fracking then most Aussies ever will as I have a petroleum technology background coming from the Aussie bush – fifth generation.
    Maybe lock the gate should not use the Aboriginals … help the traditional owners by education and jobs, by example not breed fear for fear’s sake.

  4. Evelyne: Your basic argument is the same as the one run by anti vaxers. There are chemicals therefore they are dangerous. Do you have any evidence that the concentrations at which these chemicals are used is harmful?
    We hear so much about the vast quantities of dihydrogenmonoxide these frackers use … how much of these chemicals and at what concentrations?

  5. @ I can google too: If I google to give some links, it is because you really do not want a post on the news paper two pages long.
    But I give my name and you hide yours. You have something to fear? You do not want a debate in the open? You are not certain of your ideas on the subjects? Instead to ask me what I know, why not tell us what you know?
    I do not try to scare anyone, I worked in sciences all my career life, did my studies in oil exploration in Africa and matter of fact in Australia, I worked as representative of schools when the Occupational Safety and Health laws were discussed and put into place.
    For me everything is safe if used properly and in the conditions they are made for.
    To know all there is to know about chemicals used in our everyday life. There are material safety data sheets, regularly adapted as new studies come to light.
    A chemical can be safe for a quick exposure even if concentrated, but harmful in small dose on a long run.
    We are talking about the risks of our water supplies being contaminated. We use some of those chemicals everyday, at work, in our home, but would you put antifreeze or exit mould in your drinking water?
    I gave the link to the list of possible chemicals used and if you are patient enough and really want a good discussion, study them, and then come back and argue.

  6. The Alice Springs News is to be congratulated on providing the public with an unbiased report on Fracking.
    The diagram explains the procedure well and the interview with Dr Eric Roberts is balanced – for there ARE both great outcomes for society and also some risks associated with fracking.
    To apply fracking without scientific evaluation for each location would be unacceptable. Not to proceed if risk can be ruled out could be very damaging to our economy and leaves the population without a suitable source of energy.
    It is also up to the community to decide if they wish scientists to ascertain the situation using the latest technology or the popular press and their associated allies such as the philosophical opponents of natural gas and its extraction i.e. the Socialist Alternative (see their Facebook page) or their website the Red Flag – for this is the source of the anti-fracking movement.
    1 Territory also has a similar stand on fracking … perhaps we need an interview with Sue Fraser-Adams so she can explain in scientific terms her specific objections to this method and why her party has adopted this platform.

  7. @ Geo1: I don’t believe your claim that the anti-fracking movement is coming from the Socialist parties of Australia.
    I hate those feminist hippies and I am anti-fracking. My opinion is formed from the opinions and experience of farmers in the NT, environmental effects in Queensland and the states, the fact that it’s large international corporations making the profits from fracking, and the existence of alternative energy supplies which the fracking / mining lobbies have suppressed.
    All in all, the fact remains that the Territory will have a ruined environment scarred forever with wells and pits unless our government stands up to the internationalists.
    It’s time that we took back our land, and our rights, before we’ve sold our grandchildren’s future to the gas markets of Asia.

  8. @ Frederick Jenson: There are two main interest groups: the Socialist Alternative and Land-leasing graziers.
    The Socialist Alternatives (I am writing with my cousin in mind) have a belief system about the land and wish to see it remain unused and the Graziers have a financial interest in the land and wish to ensure clean water for their stock and station.
    This is understood and any company acting without due care or is disinterested in the preservation of the land for future generations must be made to conform to strict safety methods of production.
    But fracking has been used over many, many years with good results and some poor results. Microwaving is almost certain to replace fracking as it is less invasive.
    Australia does need natural gas to supply its population with energy and this is the responsibility of governments of either political persuasion to provide this service – and they will.
    So, given that the government of the day WILL proceed with gas extraction, the only thing we can do is to demand open and honest assessment as to the risk and benefits of a given area to be fracked or microwaved.
    Demanding that fracking be stopped altogether is unlikely to result in the cessation of gas production and only serves to shift the focus of managing gas production to a wish that is unobtainable.

  9. @ Geo1: In reality there are three main interest groups: the Socialist Alternative (opposed to all mining), Land-leasing graziers (financial interest in clean water supply) and Territorians under the age of 30.
    The youth of our Territory do not want hydraulic fracturing, because there is significant risk of polluting our aquifers, and irreparable damage to our environment. One mistake is all that is needed – and then what? Will we simply build a new ecosystem?
    Think to the future – if our population grows, eventually we will need to use the land which is being fracked, for whatever purpose. Be it agriculture, tourism, defense training, or new townships, nearly all sectors of our Territory’s economy (except the resource sector, which isn’t nearly as large as their overseas profits) are negatively impacted by the flow on effects of fracking.
    You know as well as I that this gas will be sold to other states or overseas. This is the whole purpose behind the pipeline announced last week. Don’t pretend that we need this industry because we need to supply our population with energy. There are proven alternative sources of energy. Solar, wind and geothermal can provide us with clean energy within five decades, so why even bother beginning with fracking?
    It is clear to anyone with the mind to research the companies wanting to frack in the Northern Territory that internationalists are behind this push.
    The only people I’ve ever seen entertain the idea of widespread fracking in our Territory are people working for or with oil and gas companies, and our government. Which leads to the question of who is pulling our representative’s strings?
    The government of the day will be changing in August 2016.
    I’ve had it with defeatist views on our options about this topic. The government works for us! How could you even think that all we can do is hope for a open and honest risk assessment – we have the right to demand our opinions be followed.
    If demanding that fracking be stopped altogether is unlikely to result in cessation of gas production, then what will?
    I don’t believe you’re unbiased on this issue.
    Follow the money, my friend and fellow Territorian, and you will see that we the people are getting the slice of the pie which is thinnest of them all.

  10. @ Frederick Jenson: We have to stop putting labels and grouping people in a stereotype manner. If not you need to add a fourth group for people like me: Not 30 but double +10; not Socialist Alternative opposed to all mining (I let my membership for the Green Party go when I realised they were in fact oppose to nearly everything), and not land-leasing graziers (financial interest in clean water supply), but earth citizens, who want a future for the next generations with natural environment and clean water.
    The 4th group thinks and is concerned for Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future: Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.
    They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature, this generation and the ones to come.

  11. @ Frederick Jenson: As a geology student I make no pretense of understanding “the whole thing” as my previous posts point out in great detail.
    I am a cautious person by nature and I also promote caution when it comes to mining / fracking (but less so microwaving) and have stated my opinion clearly on these issues.
    To benefit from gas production at the expense of contaminating the water table would be a dubious practice.
    I have also stated that governments, be they CLP or Territory Labor will HAVE to find a source of energy for the population of the Northern Territory and will do so.
    The only political party as far as I know that will kill gas extraction and has no alternative energy plans for the population is – The Greens.
    The government of the NT is definitely changing in August 2016 you say? How do you know? If it does change, should the population be worried about cheap energy sources? Are the Greens to pull the string of Territory Labor if they are elected? With what result – no more gas mining at all?
    Alternative sources within FIVE decades you say?
    Thermal energy may not the saviour you seem to think and has the following risks: “Geothermal power plants can have impacts on both water quality and consumption. Hot water pumped from underground reservoirs often contains high levels of sulfur, salt, and other minerals.” Sound familiar?
    Unlike you, I don’t know what the future holds, but I am guessing environmentalists may oppose it. I might too. And there has been no great progress in wind power unfortunately.
    It would great if we only needed the wind and sun to power us … now back to the real world.
    Will gas be sold offshore? I should imagine so, it raises revenue and as a high percentage of the NT’s population is on welfare the money must come from somewhere.
    So, if not from commodities such as gas, where then? Workers paying more tax? The latter would perhaps be the only possible contributors if the former is ruled out.
    Just to clear other things up … I do spend a bit of time in the NT but do not live there at present.
    I am under thirty and find that contrary to your statement that Territorians under the age of 30 are all anti-fracking a bit of a sweeping statement as many of my NT friends and cousins are not yet 30 and do not share such an opinion.
    I am aware that teachers certainly lobby their students and declare fracking evil. But as this is done in a “religious” manner based on a belief system where such opinions may not be questioned, rather than an educational process followed by group discussion.
    Students could change their minds if offered a scientific explanation – to which, as students, they are entitled. But then there are those who wish to keep them in the dark ages. Who will win?
    So if the youth of the Territory are only prepared to accept a religious-type viewpoint in lieu of education and debate, they will probably either pay very high energy prices when they get into the workforce or leave and live elsewhere.
    Am I unbiased on this issue? I am cautious about many forms of mining, and would feel happier to see microwaving offered as an alternative to fracking.
    Do I want reasonably priced energy – yes. Should we destroy the water table to obtain it? A no-brainer – no.
    Should we continue to debate the issue? We need a full and frank public debate from senior geologists with full media coverage.
    The Alice Springs News Online, as far as I know is the only media outlet that offers such an unbiased forum.
    Finally, am I prepared to change my own view about giving a cautious “go-ahead” to fracking or microwaving if offered solid evidence of a catastrophic outcome to gas production. Yes. But I have been studying this subject for a long time and can see benefits in some but not all circumstances.

  12. You are spot on, Frederick Jenson, (Posted December 2, 2015 at 4:13 pm). Amongst the pro-frackers, there are a few powerful, privileged and/or influential people who just want to take the money and run, while there is still a demand for fossil fuel products, and while they think they might have the chance to exploit a resource that will be worthless in a few decades.
    They don’t give a damn for the wellbeing of the mass of the people, future generations or eco-systems, and they think that we who do care, are just sentimental fools and dupes who can be disregarded and ridden over.
    They are gamblers and fortune seekers who are prepared to gamble everything for the sake of living the high life themselves for a few short years.

  13. As well as wind, solar and geothermal there is another source of clean, renewable and sustainable energy. Tidal.
    I read recently that in (I think WA?) this was being pursued.
    Might it help? The vast majority of mankind lives on or near an ocean (I think that’s true – certainly it is in Australia), tides rise and fall usually twice but definitely once a day and energy can be produced from motion.
    I have often wondered if the constant motion of tides could be harnessed to a turbine.

  14. @ Hal. Tidal energy sounds good but there are in fact lots of problems and limitations with it. Easily looked up.

  15. @ Hal Duell: Wonder no more. The Rance Tidal Power Station is a tidal power station located on the estuary of the Rance River in Brittany, France.
    Opened in 1966 as the world’s first tidal power station, it is currently operated by Électricité de France and was for 45 years the largest tidal power station in the world by installed capacity until the South Korean Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station surpassed it in 2011.
    Its 24 turbines reach peak output at 240 megawatts and average 62 megawatts, a capacity factor of approximately 26%. At an annual output of approximately 540 GWh, it supplies 0.12% of the power demand of France.
    The West Australian government has approved plans to build a 40MW tidal power station in the West Kimberley, paving the way for the development of the state’s first such utility-scale ocean energy plant.
    The proposed plant, which is being developed by Tidal Energy Australia (TEA), is earmarked for Doctor’s Creek, near Derby, where extreme tidal movements are expected to be able to generate enough electricity to power between 10,000 and 15,000 homes.
    List of others around the globe

  16. Geo1 (Posted December 2, 2015 at 7:20 pm): You make a number of interesting points, but you seem to be fixated on the idea of one dominant source of energy for the NT, and underestimating the growing role that solar is likely to be able to play in the near future.
    PowerWater is already starting to increase the general reliance on solar in its remote operations, to offset diesel costs.
    As solar storage technologies continue to improve, do you not think there is also likely to be much greater use of solar energy in our urban areas, in combination with other fuels when needed?
    Of course there will probably still be a need for making use of some gas (amongst other options), for some time. This gas could come from the safer instances amongst the NT’s fracking options; or from conventional wells, either on or off shore, while economically viable supplies remain available. The shale gas extraction process itself uses massive amounts of fossil fuel, normally in the form of diesel.
    But eventually we are going to have to shift to renewables, whether because of the need to curb carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, or because exploitation of gases is no longer economically viable. It will probably be sooner rather than later, and be spurred on by a combination of these two factors.
    To me there seem to be bigger long term problems associated with fracking, apart from the obvious issue of ground water contamination, which you acknowledge, and which is recently summarised here
    These other major issues are likely to be the those around the monitoring and management of problems arising from both currently operating and abandoned (spent) wells; (for example, see a whole range of issues identified in America here:
    Not least, these long term problems will include the ongoing payment for the costs of these monitoring and management activities, and, where needed, repairs and rehabilitation work, over coming decades and centuries (overseas experiences are showing a continuing need to detect and prevent leakage of noxious and “greenhouse” gases when the lining and capping of both active and spent wells has been done by dodgy companies or cost-cutting contractors e.g. in the highly publicised methane hot spots over areas of Oklahoma and adjoining US states (; or when a percentage of the wells and pipes deteriorate over even a relatively short period, due to more natural factors, as they will, e.g.; and of course, there will be similar problems associated with the contaminated water in some of the wells and the fracked strata).
    Another long term issue concerns who will take responsibility for problems associated with the residues left once the huge amounts of highly salty contaminated liquids, that result from most fracking operations, have evaporated, or been injected back into the earth (see examples in some of these points
    By the way, Geo1: You are a bit harsh on the Greens, saying they have “no alternative energy plans for the population”. Obviously they have a plan to maximize the deployment of renewable energy sources (principally solar in the NT), as fast and efficiently as possible.

  17. @ Bob Durnan @ et al: This will be my last post as the comments are now coming from Bob Durnan who I believe is this Bob Durnan who writes for the Greens –
    My objection to the Greens’ view of science is simply that they do not present the subject in an unbiased way.
    I don’t doubt their sincerity in their beliefs, but that’s just it – the Green view of the Earth appears to be a religious one … the Earth is sacred and pristine and we humans must serve its interest.
    I agree that we must certainly respect it or lose our food and shelter source, but that is common sense anyway.
    There are many reasons why we should consider and try all of the less invasive methods of power and energy generation, including some suggested by Bob Durnan.
    However, some of these have already been researched and while they sound like a “kinder” method of obtaining energy, they don’t work particularly well, and the population is growing and so is the demand for energy.
    I have explained my reasons as to why gas extraction is a reasonable option in certain circumstances, but may not be suitable for all geographical locations.
    I have pointed out that microwaving may replace fracking anyway. All of this needs to be considered. When I say “considered”, I mean either accepted or rejected according the risk to the water table at a particular location.
    Bob Durnan accuses me of being fixated on one “dominant” source of energy, but then lists his own “fixations” – that is not science as I know it.
    I will conclude by saying that gas will probably be the main option as governments are obligated to provide energy to the people they govern. It is for the experts such as Dr Eric Roberts to determine if fracking or microwaving should be used and more importantly, to reject locations that may result in pollution or destruction of the water we need to survive. That is science.

  18. You are a bit of a muddle-headed wombat, Geo1 (Posted December 10, 2015 at 4:07 pm).
    I do not write “for the Greens”.
    You appear to have completely misinterpreted some critical comments I made under a Green Left article five years ago.
    I was simply pointing out what I considered to be some inaccuracies being put around by an anti-NTER activist who was quoted in the article.
    Nor do I share a “religious … Green view of the Earth”.
    With any luck your supervisors will assist you to become a little more accurate with your research skills before you complete your studies.


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