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AT: Environmental Crackdown

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AT: Environmental Crackdown

There will be no environmental crackdown – environmental concerns aren’t conclusive enough

Dunn and McClelland, 13 – Professor of International Politics and Head of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham AND Associate Director for North America at the risk analytics consultancy Maplecroft in charge of energy policy (David and Mark, “Shale gas and the revival of American power: debunking decline?,” The Royal Institute of International Affairs, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-2346.12081/abstract)//eek

Environmental objections to shale gas extraction, however, are likely to prove a more serious challenge to the US shale gas industry and therefore to the central pillar of the argument. Like proposed exploitation of oil sands in Alberta, Canada, shale gas extraction in the United States is highly controversial. Three central environmental objec- tions to the development of shale gas have emerged: a suspected link to seismic activity; the pollution of groundwater and aquifers; and claims that shale gas extraction produces more greenhouse gases than conventional oil and gas and therefore could accelerate climate change. A series of earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2011, culminating in a quake of 4.0 on the Richter Scale on New Year’s Eve, is judged by many scientists to have been caused by wastewater injection wells linked to fracking.62 Similar concerns have been expressed about potential links between fracking and earthquakes in the UK near Blackpool. Water pollu- tion caused by the chemicals involved in the fracking process is also considered problematic. A report by the US Environmental Protection Agency released in December 2011 argued that groundwater and an aquifer had been contaminated near Pavillion, Wyoming, by a range of chemicals including benzene and methane that were suspected to be a result of fracking in the area. Concerns also arose in some areas in the Marcellus shale in the Appalachians, where residents claimed that tap water contained methane to the extent that they could set light to the water.63 Whether fracking contributes more or less to climate change than conventional oil and gas production is a matter of some contention. Supporters of shale gas production have claimed it can function as a bridge fuel to a carbon-free future, while critics argue that fracking could be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as a result of methane leaks during production. In 2011, an editorial in The Economist argued that talk about shale gas as a bridge to a cleaner future was misplaced. Although it is a cleaner fossil fuel than crude oil or coal, it is essentially not competing with these alone, but also with more renewable forms of energy. So every cubic foot of shale gas produced is not just reducing the consumption of coal or dirtier fossil fuels, but is damaging the competitiveness of renewable forms of energy including wind power and solar energy, so could be extending the period of reliance on fossil fuels and delaying transfer to renewables.64 Even though the mainstream scientific view states that shale gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than oil and coal, this has been challenged, with a research team at Cornell arguing that shale gas extraction produces more methane than conventional gas extraction or even coal mining.65 The environmental case against shale gas extraction, however, is not conclu- sive; and, given the likely economic benefits of shale gas to US economic growth and the revival of the country’s industrial base, there would almost certainly need to be more robust substantiation of serious environmental harm before any brake was applied to its development. The Oklahoma Geological Survey’s investigation into a series of earthquakes in the state since 2009, for example, concluded that a link between fracking and seismic activity was impossible to prove conclusively. Concerns are also largely related to wastewater injection processes, which are also a feature of some conventional hydrocarbon extraction activity and thus not really an argument against fracking per se. Reports of water pollution from fluids involved in US shale gas extraction also remain very rare relative to the number of shale gas wells in the country, suggesting that pollution caused by fracking could be a result of local conditions or slack practices rather than a more systemic flaw. And the Cornell study suggesting that shale gas extraction is producing more damaging greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuel extraction remains very much an outlier at present, with many other scientific studies instead stressing the low carbon intensity of production.

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