Fracking in Australia: Should Policy be Changed?

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By ranina sanglap | January 5, 2012 9:47 AM EST

With evidence mounting linking the U.S. energy industry's use of the process of hydraulic fracturing also called fracking to the hundreds of small earthquakes from Oklahoma to Ohio, how safe is fracking in Australia?

The earthquakes in Ohio are just the latest case environmentalists are using against the controversial extraction technique called fracking. The technique involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to release vast reserves of natural gas.

Although the process provides natural gas for a public hungry for cheap sources of fuel, it's also been the cause of a number of dangerous side effects to human populations living near fracking operations. Fracking leaves behind dangerous toxic wastewater that must be treated or pumped back underground. It is this toxic wastewater that is causing the most problems. Injecting the toxic wastewater back underground can cause groundwater pollution. Last month, health officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned a Wyoming town that their groundwater contained hydrocarbons from fracking in their wells.

The pressure caused by water pushed far below the surface was also been linked to an increase in seismic activity. The toxic wastewater enters fissures and lubricates fault lines that can cause earthquakes. The Ohio earthquake during New Year's Eve prompted officials to shut down five wells used to dispose the toxic wastewater. The number of earthquakes surged in areas like Arkansas and Pennsylvania where hydraulic fracturing was being utilized.

Although the process of fracking is more commonly used in the U.S. it's fast being used in other countries like Britain. In Australia the debate over hydraulic fracturing has been reignited last November 2011 over a report that fracking conducted by Cuadrilla Resources which is 41% owned by Australian drilling company AJ Lucas, was the cause of two earthquakes near the British town of Blackpool in April and May.  Environmentalists like the Lock the Gate Alliance are calling for a rigorous regulatory approach to shale gas fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing has been suspended in NSW but it is still being used in coal-seam gas mining in other states. A Senate committee recently called for a moratorium on all future coal seam gas fracking in the Great Artesian Basin in Queensland and NSW. Greens senator for Queensland Larissa Waters said the Wyoming case should be wake-up call for the nation. The Queensland Government has introduced legislation banning the addition of chemicals benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene in fracking operations.

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