What Is Fracking?

This video posted today by Get Up! got me thinking about “fracking”.

What is this “fracking” that I’ve been hearing so much about lately? It’s something I’ve been meaning to pay more attention to.

According to this excellent site put together by the ABC, “fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing”. It’s all about “coal seam gas” (CSG) or “coalbed methane” as it’s known outside of Australia. CSG is methane gas that’s trapped deep down in the earth under layers of coal. The objective is to drill down into the layers that contain the CSG and bring it up to the surface. Mining CSG is a fairly recent phenomenon and there are lots of environmental concerns about how it is extracted, the amount of water the process requires and what happens to the water afterwards. It is estimated there will be 40,000 coal seam gas wells in Australia – mostly in QLD.

So what is “fracking”? According to the ABC:

In the process known as ‘fracking’, a mix of water and chemicals is pumped at high pressure down the well and into the coal seam. This process creates a network of cracks in the coal, releasing the gas and water trapped inside it. Not all wells need to be fractured. In some places, the coal is permeable, meaning it already has lots of natural cracks. In others, gas companies drill horizontally into the coal seam as an alternative to fracturing.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? The answer is – we don’t know. There is a lot of debate between the various interested parties. The CSG industry claims the water that is extracted during the process will be available for irrigation but first it will have to be decontaminated and that’s a costly process. The environmentalists and farmers (nice to see them on the same side for once) are worried about the effect this entrance of this water will have on our water ecology. The bottom line is that this is a new industry that the mining companies are rushing into and I’m betting the majority of Australians have given little thought about what the long-term effect is likely to be on the country. A lot of money is likely to be made by a relatively small number of companies in the next couple of decades – but what will the long-term cost be to the country? To the farming industry? To the health of the people? As water is already a precious commodity in Australia, it’s something that needs serious debate and discussion before the government just hands out CSG licenses.