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EMF Studies

18 March 2012

News from Geneva: "Non" to Fracking !

Threat of shale gas exploitation beneath Lake
Geneva near the Château de Chillon 
On 11 February 2012, braving Siberian cold, nearly 2,500 persons including mayors of the communes surrounding Geneva, participated in a demonstration in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, France, opposing exploration of shale gas. One of the participants was Anne Mahrer, Deputy of Geneva’s Green Party.   It has become urgent to resist actions of oil and gas companies because the first explorations could begin later in 2012.  Six requests for exploration permits have been made in the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Savoie, Gex, Jura.

Extraction of gas by hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been banned in France since 30 June 2011, however  permits for exploration granted before that date have not been revoked.  Companies can still explore shale oil and gas reserves in France, not by fracking but by some other extraction technique, such as acidification.

"Non" to fracking!
There is no federal law in Switzerland banning fracking.  The canton of Fribourg voted to ban exploitation, while canton Vaud has had no vote on the issue.   Following exploration near Noville in Vaud for gas deep beneath Lake Geneva, the Swiss company, Petrovibri is interested in the neighboring French communes.  The canton of Vaud has said “yes” to gas exploration.  According to the company, at best, the Lake Geneva reserve could contain 20 year’s worth of natural gas needs for all of Switzerland. 

Petrovibri is now interested in the area beneath Lake Geneva between Thonon and Saint-Gingolph.  The request for exploration was made in July 2009 but only brought to public attention recently.  A local newspaper mentions an area which could extend over 800 square kilometers. 

The impact of shale gas exploitation on the region would be costly.  Vineyards would be affected.  Residences would lose their value.  Roads would have to be created for trucks to carry drilling fluid and equipment to and from the wells.

To ecologists and biologists this is a scandal.  Lake Geneva is the biggest freshwater reserve in Western Europe.  It connects with the Rhône River and the Mediterranean Sea.  To allow contaminants to get into the water would be a catastrophe.  This area also lies close to the Evian and Thonon aquifers.  Petrosvibri denies there would be pollution to the aquifers. 

While Bulgaria, France and Germany have banned fracking, other countries welcome it:  Argentina, China and Poland are developing shale gas extraction and South Africa may soon follow.

“Fracking is a dangerous American export that should be viewed critically by countries just starting to engage in the practice”, says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch.  “Modern drilling and fracking have caused widespread environmental and public health problems, as well as posed serious, long-term risks to vital water resources.”

The process fracking injects a mix of water, sand and chemicals into underground shale formations under high pressure to free embedded deposits of oil and gas.  It can cause enormous damage to the environment and health. 

Earthquakes:  Fracking may have been responsible for the 50 “shallow, unique” earthquakes in Oklahoma in 2011, ranging in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8, most of which occurred within a 24-hour period.  It has been confirmed that the process caused 12 “low-level seismic events” in 2011 in Ohio, the most recent one of 4.0 magnitude, occurring on 31 December 2011.

Water utilization:  Fracking requires massive amounts of water, as much as millions of gallons of this precious resource for a single well.  This could create water shortages.  In the United States, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are pumped into 35,000 fracking wells annually.

Fracking for shale gas in Forest Lake,
Water contamination: Large amounts of pollutants, including heavy metals and radioactive elements, are brought to the surface during fracking.  The toll on health is documented.  In the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania, cows drinking water contaminated from the radioactive element strontium have had to be quarantined.  In Susquehanna County, three spills within one week polluted tapwater and killed fish in a creek.   Billions of gallons of the toxic fracking fluid could remain underground for decades after the gas has been extracted, threatening to contaminate groundwater resources for generations.  Over 1,000 cases of water contamination have been reported near fracking sites in the United States. 

Use of toxic chemicals:  Chemicals are added to the pressurized water to widen the shale factures.  Although they comprise only 0.5 to 1% of the water, in a 5-million gallon job, this amounts to 25,000 gallons of toxic ingredients.  The companies involved will not reveal the composition of these chemicals.

Air pollution:  Wells need to be properly cemented to prevent any gas or fluid from escaping before it is collected.  Hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds may be released during fracking.  Combined with emissions from heavy-duty truck traffic and machinery at well sites, this creates toxic smog.  In Wyoming, ground-level pollution from fracking exceeded amounts recorded in Los Angeles, affecting the quality of life of residents.  If cementing is done poorly, methane escapes and can contaminate the water wells of families.  In high concentrations, methane can cause water to burn and even explode.  This has destroyed homes in Pennsylvania.  The release of methane from fracking could speed up climate change.

Production of wastewater:  Over its lifetime, one well can produce over 1 million gallons of toxic, briny wastewater.  Companies store the wastewater in deep underground wells.  In Pennsylvania, where the geology makes this difficult, wastewater is shipped to municipal treatment plants which cannot screen all the waste contaminants.    According to the EPA, in the United States, there are over 144,000 Class II wells “injecting more than 2 billion gallons of brine every day.

Health effects:  Fracking is increasingly common in the Midwest where residents have reported health effects ranging from headaches and blackouts, noxious odors in the air and sudden blindness and hair loss among their livestock.  In one Texas town, located near 22 natural gas compression stations, high levels of neurotoxins and carcinogens were found, including benzene.   Scientists at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange testing fracking fluids found that 25% can cause cancer, 37% can disrupt the endocrine system; and 40-50% can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.

President Obama endorsed fracking in his 25 January 2012 State of the Union address. Congress has granted the fracking industry exemption from seven major federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  The U.S. House and Energy Commerce Committee has determined that 14 oil companies had injected 780 million gallons of fracking chemicals and other substances into U.S. wells between 2005 and 2009, including 10.2 million gallons of fluids containing known or suspected carcinogens.    The oil and gas industry says fracking is safe.

An article from Time magazine on fracking concludes, “the shale gas industry will remake parts of the United States and of the world, in ways we won’t always like.  But that’s the price of extreme energy and it’s one we’ll continue to pay until we can curb our hunger for fossil fuels or find a cheap, reliable and clean alternative to them… For some people, the price may be too high.”

by Meris Michaels

1. The Gas Dilemma, by Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine, 11 April 2011.
2. “New Jersey State Legislature First in U.S. to Ban Dangerous Gas Drilling Technique (Fracking)”, Food and Water Watch, 30 June 2011.
3“Fracking May Have Caused 50 Earthquakes in Oklahoma”,  by Brian Merchant, Treehugger, 4 November 2011
4. “Confirmed:  Fracking Caused Ohio Earthquakes”, Common Dreams, 9 March 2012
5. “Report:  Fracking Could Cause a New Global Water Crisis”, Common Dreams, 7 March 2012
6. “109 Organizations Take Issue With Obama’s Support for Fracking”, Environmental Working Group, 5 March 2012
7. “Regulation Lax as Gas Well’s Tainted Water Hits Rivers” – by … New York Times, 26 February 2011
8. “Refusé en France, le gaz de schiste tente l’Europe », by Cathy Macheret, Tribune de Genève, 5 October 2011
9.  La recherche de gaz de schiste menace encore le Léman, by Marion Moussadek, Le Matin, 1 March 2012
10. Recherche d’Hydrocarbures :  une pollution du Léman redoutée”,  Le Dauphiné, 28 February 2012
11. Prospecting for Gas and Oil in Lake Geneva, Swissinfo.ch, 20 January 2008
12. Ohio Fracking Wells Closed After Earthquakes, CNN, 2 January 2012.
13. “Europe Has Every Right to Be Emotional About Fracking by Anna Witowska, 11 February 2012, Food & Water Watch Blog.

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