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Shale gas boom boosts fracking fears

04 July 2011

Fears over a correlated increase in ‘fracking’ and the United States’ anticipated boom in Shale gas have re-ignited the debate between industry groups and the environmental lobby, including concerned citizens living near gas-producing areas. Shale gas is projected to increase its share of production from 16 per cent in 2009 to 45 per cent in 2035, according to US government estimates.

Chris Tucker, spokesman for the industry-funded group Energy In Depth, recently said that North America’s Marcellus Shale alone could produce the energy equivalent of 87 billion barrels of oil.

While Tucker and other industry groups claim there is no link between water contamination and fracking, saying that methane produced during the fracturing process is separated from water, opponents claim the industry has moved too fast with little regulation. They also cite concerns about spills, leaks and contamination from chemicals used in the process.

A May 2011 study from Duke University does little to clarify the debate, finding 85 per cent of samples taken had levels 17 times higher at sites within a kilometre of active hydraulic-fracturing operations.  However, it found no evidence of contamination from the chemicals used to fracture the rock or from "produced" water – the wastewater that emerges from the wells after the shale has been fractured.

Amid the reports’ claims of poor fracking regulation, congress and federal officials are considering new regulatory efforts, despite industry claims it has been regulated by states for years.

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