In a bid for economic growth, the NT Government has commissioned the Hawke Report into the assessment of the environmental risks and actual environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the effectiveness of mitigation measures. With existing reserves of natural gas and oil diminishing, efforts are being made to find and exploit other sources of energy. One source being examined is coal seam gas. Coal seam gas is essentially methane, which is the main component of natural gas.
Methane is often found in conjunction with coal and the fact that it is highly explosive is one of the dangers traditionally associated with coal mining. Considerable reserves of onshore hydrocarbon deposits lie under the NT, pilot projects have commenced and there are plans for the larger-scale extraction of this gas; however, several negative side effects associated with these operations have become apparent and the current NT government have imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
Investigate the potential for the use of hydraulic fracturing in the extraction of onshore deposits of hydrocarbon resources in the NT.
Investigate the impact of hydraulic fracturing on existing farming operations, ground water quality, and other activities in the area.
Discuss the first two points, including your views on whether or not the imposition of the moratorium of hydraulic fracturing was a good idea.
Potential for the use of hydraulic fracturing in the extraction of onshore deposits of hydrocarbon resources in the NT
Potential for the use of hydraulic fracturing in the extraction of onshore deposits of hydrocarbon resources in the NT
The hydraulic fracturing or the fraccing is a form of technique that are used for the increase the permeability of the oil and the formation of the gas in order to maximize the amount of the products that are extracted. It involves the pumping of the fluids that are the mixtures that are comprised that are mainly of the water and proppant into oil and the gas formations at a higher pressure (Divko 2015). However, in the recent past there is a significant concerns regarding the potential form of the environment and the impacts of the health that are being associated with the activities of the hydraulic fracturing.
The hydraulic fracturing is the creation and the enhancement of the fracture of the rocks that are been used as a gas or the fluid for injecting the high level of the pressure. This phenomenon increases the ability of the water and the gas to flow through the coal seam that can be useful for the enhancement of the removal of the extraction of the water from the coal seam gas. The hydraulic fracturing are performed where there are natural permeability of the coal seam that sometimes become insufficient to allow the commercial form of recovery of the coal seam gas to increase the rates of production (Ingelson and Hunter 2014).
The extraction of the coal seam gases does not always involve the hydraulic form of the fracturing. It has been observed that out of the 1844 coal seam gases that have been drilled in Australia, over the period of fifteen months in the year 2012 and 2013. In this period it has, been observed that, 6% were subjected to the hydraulic fracturing. Moreover, Queensland has a good proportion that can be helpful in increasing about 10 to 40 percent of the expansion of the industry.
However, while following the production during the drilling of the well are found to be the extensive form of the assessment that are being carried out for the requirements of the optimisation for the process of hydraulic fracturing. The process of hydraulic fracturing involves the isolation of the target of coal seams through correcting the well construction and the perforations of the well that are casing at the specific form of interval where the target coal seems that have been located. For instance, it has been observed that when the coal seems are limited in form of their thickness, the hydraulic fracturing are then used for connecting the separate form of the seams for the targeted horizons that has the thickness of about two to five centimetres.
The integrity of the wells is of paramount importance for the sustainable development for the onshore oil and the gas industry of the Northern Territory. It has been seen that good form of the integrity adding up with the rigorous form of procedures that are well controlled ensures that the products that are extracted from the target formation are contained within the well that have been recovered from the surface (Maloney 2015). The failure of the well integrity can cause contamination of the aquifer, emissions that are fugitive in nature and the rise in the level of the gas that are present in the natural bores for water. Therefore, the careful form of the consideration of the design, operations and the constructions of the wells is very much needed for the long-term integrity.
Hydraulic Fracturing and its Process
It has been seen that most of the oil and gas extraction on the onshore requires a huge volumes of the water that are to be managed (Ingelson and Hunter 2014). The several other form of the natural gas such as coal seams, shells and conventional have the different form of the water profiles and the requirements. One of the important factors for the convention and hydraulic form of drilling is water. For extracting the natural gas from the formation of the deep shale in the horizontal form of the wells that are up to 20 megalitres per fracture events that can be required.
Nonetheless, the amount of the water that is required for the extraction varies greatly between the formations of the geography. However, there are general forms of the principles that are been applicable for all the forms of the natural gas that was extracted from onshore. The coexistence of the industry of gas industry with the industry of the agriculture that are highly dependent on the availability of water for their livelihood makes the efficient management of water management throughout the projects of oil and gas project life cycles have the paramount form of importance.
Considering the municipal form of the gas supply that are essential for the towns and communities of the Northern Territory are important for the activities concerning to the oil and the gas (Grinets and Kaznacheev 2014). The water management strategies took place with the early consultation with the local form of communities and the regulators that are been very much consistent with the requirements under the Act of Water. Therefore, it was established that the industry of Oil and Gas and the Government should work cooperatively towards the development of the framework of the database for the testing of the baseline and for the ongoing form of the monitoring from the aquifers of water.
The Government however, do not support the drilling actions in the towns and the increasing number of the safeguards in the place is to ensure the activities of gas and oil that can co exist with the other uses of the land. The blocks that are reserved are in the places after the consultation with the major towns and the communities that will be sought out through the reformation process for accessing the reserved form of the boundaries.
The unmanaged form of the noise emissions from the various projects of oil and gas may be important for presenting health, environment, safety and commercial forms of risks.
The main source of the emissions that includes the general construction of the noise that operation of the drilling the rigs, flaring, venting and the operations of the equipments. The potential form of the nuisance are to be caused by the emissions that are been associated with the extraction that are to be exacerbated by the lower form of the background noise levels that are very much predominant on the rural and the remote areas as well as the they need to operate it by overnight . It is very important that these issues that are being addressed in a very proactive way that can instil the confidence in the community and for maintaining the values of the environment (Furlow and Hays 2011).
Importance of Well Integrity and Water Management
For maintaining and enhancing the social license, and to operate the critical form of the ongoing success of the Northern Territory, the gas industries are built onshore. The Government of the Northern Territory have implemented the robust form of framework for ensuring the meets of the industry that have to meet the expectation of the community and performs it at an acceptable level. However, it is very important that all the operators have understood the importance for ensuring the social form of the license that is to be maintained and to be worked accordingly.
Impact of hydraulic fracturing on existing farming operations, ground water quality, and other activities in the NT
Unlike any other techniques, the procedure of hydraulic fracturing related to extraction of natural gas comes with a multitude of potential impacts that have been put under the scanner of scientific evaluations and in-depth investigations to identify the benefits as well as risks. The environmental implications of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas reservoirs have been explored in study.
The groundwater and surface water risks because of the rampant use of hydraulic fracturing have been a matter of great concern to the environmentalists and others associated with the process that in turn is dependent on the availability of water and its subsequent disposal. However, the growing earning of revenue and expansion of the oil and gas industry in the concerned region associated with the increased use of hydraulic fracturing has been indicated in the context of US where it is operational (Arthur et al. 2008).
The potential for environmental harm has been further scanned in the light of the psychological functioning of the fracking communities who are directly impacted by the process. Study has revealed that there is increased likelihood for such communities to encounter debilitating mental health symptoms related to anxiety, worry and depression surrounding health, safety, lifestyle, financial security in addition to exposure to neurotoxins and alteration of the physical landscape. Therefore considering the psychological ramifications of this vulnerable population more rigorous and suitable targeted interventions strategies need to be put into force so that the mental health status may be significantly improved (Hirsch et al. 2017).
Another interesting study explored the long-term impacts of unconventional drilling operations that included hydraulic fracturing on both human as well as animal health. Apart from the humans, investigations regarding the case studies included that of food animals, wildlife and companion animals. The results depicted that for humans and animals shifting from areas undergoing major drilling and fracturing operations or dwelling in areas where these operations are diminished, decrease in health impacts was noted. However, no change in health impacts were noted in case of families that thrived in places where these activities either remained same or increased over time.
The longitudinal data confirmed that for families and companion families the distribution of symptoms did not undergo alterations. However, observations related to food animals suggested that there was an increase in respirator and growth problems besides decreasing the reproductive problems. Thus, the necessity of evaluation of the epidemiological data on a longitudinal basis was emphasised to detect the potential environmental impacts of such operations (Bamberger and Oswald 2015). The economic benefits associated with hydraulic fracturing have been well established, but the health and environmental implications associated with such operations has been a matter of investigation to researchers.
Noise Emissions and Impact on Environment
Natural gas emission due to fracturing is associated with health hazards because of air pollution. Volatile organic compounds such as that of benzene and ethyl-benzene by- products of the process are considered as potent carcinogens that lead to adverse neurologic and respiratory effects. Hydrogen sulphide, another component of natural gas is a potent neurotoxin and respiratory distress causing agent that threatens the health of the nearby residents and workers associated with the operation of fracturing. Elevated levels of formaldehyde nearby fracking sites are alarming considering the adverse health consequences due to such exposures.
Contamination of water is more likely as the chemicals that are utilized in fracturing might permeate in both ground as well as surface water. The increased health hazards thus accentuates the risk of cancer due to chemical exposure. Exacerbation of climate change might also occur due to increased release of methane in the atmosphere, while disruption at the level of tectonic plates might culminate in increased occurrence of earthquakes in the operational belt. Thus, these data is suggestive of causing both health harms and environmental degradation associated with fracturing technique due to exposure to various chemicals (Carpenter 2016).
The detrimental effects adjoining the hydraulic fracturing operations are evident by virtue of various studies that have been undertaken to detect the health related consequences of such actions. The dramatic increase in the extraction of natural gas following adoption of hydraulic fracturing technology is achieved at the cost of certain adverse outcomes. Research conducted in regions overlying the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York in the corresponding aquifers demonstrated the presence of methane contamination of drinking water that in turn is attributed to shale gas extraction.
In contrast to the deep water brines or fracturing fluids, the shallow groundwater at non-active sites depicted greater biogenic or mixed biogenic/ thermogenic source of methane thereby necessitating the need for implementation of stringent regulation, stewardship alongside prudent data collection to allow for a sustainable future related to shale gas extraction (Osborn et al. 2011). In the recent years, the economic viability of shale gas extraction has received major impetus due to utilization of novel techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The high use of water setting apart the possibility of causing water pollution poses environmental risks.
The likelihood of water contamination from natural gas extraction in case of the Marcellus shale was evaluated through probability bound analysis. Epistemic uncertainty besides the potential risk for water contamination was noted in relation hydraulic fracturing associated wastewater disposal as opposed to other possible pathways of contamination such as transportation spill, drilling site discharge, well casing leaks and disposal of wastewater. Therefore, prompt and prudent actions are to be taken on the part of the concerned industrial authority to mitigate the risks linked with contaminated water leak.
Further, in order to curb the epistemic uncertainty, strengthening of the industrial as well as municipal wastewater treatment facilities must be streamlined for the sake of removal of contaminants due to used hydraulic fracturing fluids (Rozell and Reaven 2012). Water pollution due to contamination is a burning reality of today. The multiple components having the potential of contaminating drinking water because of hydraulic fracture fluids and wastewater generated from unconventional natural gas and oil production.
Maintaining Social License for the Gas Industry in NT
The study findings suggested that out of the identified 157 chemicals, 67 may be referred for a federal water quality standard or guideline owing to their linkage with reproductive or developmental toxicity. Known or suspected toxicity was detected in case of these hydraulic fracturing-related candidate analytes. Under such circumstances, consideration of data relevant to the potency, physicochemical properties as well as environmental concentrations has been suggested in order to carry out assessments concerning drinking water exposure or for reproductive and developmental health studies (Elliott et al. 2017). Thus, the hazardous effects of hydraulic fracturing impacting the water quality are well documented and established across literature findings and analysis.
In order to understand the effects associated with the components that are generated because of hydraulic fracturing (HF) technique, it is crucial to analyze and characterize their discrete properties. HF fluids were classified based on their physical and chemical characteristics depending on the publicly available chemical databases. Although most of the chemical additives found in case of HF fluid were non-toxic, three of them have been found to fall in the category 2 oral toxins as per the standards laid out in the ‘Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals’.
However, information related to toxicity was not available for the thirty of the HF chemicals that were assessed. Thus, narrowing of the knowledge gaps surrounding these chemicals have been emphasized to allow for the correct remediation of the hazards if detected through appropriate assessments (Stringfellow et al. 2015). In support of the chemical characterization of the HF fluids, the findings of another study may be referred to that stated, in comparison to those used in gas fields.
It has been found that a proportional amount and mass of solvents other than surface active agents were used in the process. Toxicity with respect to emission of certain chemicals have been retrieved, but certainly more needs to be done in terms of acquiring pertinent data related to mammalian toxicity, aquatic toxicity and environmental impact assessment to pursue the risk analysis of those chemicals (Stringfellow et al. 2017).
Argument in favor of imposition of the moratorium of hydraulic fracturing was a good idea
Empirical evidences have highlighted on assessing and expanding the knowledge base relevant to the hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices that encompass wastewater handling inclusive of storage and transport, treatment and disposal practices during development of unconventional shale. A common observation regarding these practices is that lacunae in knowledge exist that have not generated adequate legislations to carry out the optimal management practices paving the way for a sustainable future where the risks associated with following this technique is effectively eliminated.
Efforts must be taken in order to ensure that the cumulative effects of the technique are reviewed for assessment (Notte et al. 2017). The variations in terms of water use in case of hydraulic fracturing during extraction of unconventional oil and gas vis-à-vis conventional oil has been attributed to geological differences. Thus increase in water use during hydraulic fracturing technique due to expansion in oil production in the specific areas but not for the reverse reason (Scanlon, Reedy and Nicot 2014). Another study has explored the multi-scale problem associated with hydraulic fracturing technique.
The findings have highlighted that a mechanistic description in alliance to integration of the multiple scales for the sake of accurately predicting the productions apart from subsequent optimization of hydrocarbon extraction from unconventional reservoir source. Discussions have also been made in favor of utilizing CO2 as potential alternative source of working fluid that may be effectively usurped in case of fracturing and re-stimulating activities (Hyman et al. 2016). Therefore the growing volumes of evidence are proof enough to question the usability of hydraulic fracturing for the mere benefit related to economic viability of extracting natural gas as alternative sources of energy.
The downside of adopting this technology is many that mostly involve adverse environmental and health related impacts. The health hazards and negative environmental impacts in terms of affecting both the human as well as animal life has been noted in empirical studies. The impacts that are essentially negative have resulted in halting the technique usage in Northern territory of Australia followed by imposition of a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (Frackinginquiry.nt.gov.au, 2017).
The measure is quite justified as health should be prioritized over anything else in order to safeguard the lives of the residents and workers who stay or remain in close association with such projects meant for extracting natural gas. The health issues must not be ignored under any circumstances and pollution mitigation strategies must be necessarily implemented and the risk assessment and analysis must be strictly conducted to ensure that no compromise has been made with the health and associated impacts.
Short-term and long-term consequences of this technique must be closely examined so that optimal benefits from hydraulic fracturing may be obtained albeit the adverse effects. A closer look at the energy policy and economic development in the NT has thus been opined on part of the scientific inquiry committee panel members to allay any apprehensions regarding the harmful effects in health or environment due to adoption of hydraulic fracturing technique (Moore 2014). Therefore the imposition of moratorium of hydraulic fracturing is completely justified as knowledge deficits exist in terms of their potential impacts.
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