UNEP Global Environment Alert Raises Concerns About Gas Fracking
November 2012: Hydraulic fracturing, a gas extraction technique also known as gas fracking, presents considerable environmental and health challenges, according to a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Environment Alert. According to the report, the question of whether and how to allow fracking merits careful review of laws, regulations, and impacts on environment and health.
The UNEP Alert states that this unconventional gas (UG) extraction technique presents environmental risks, despite economic or energy security benefits, including: air, soil, and water contamination; water usage competition; ecosystem damage; habitat and biodiversity impacts; and fugitive gas emissions.
The Alert highlights public health risks, including: explosion from pipeline construction; release of toxins into air, soil and water; and competition for land and water needed for food production. The document raises concerns about lack of disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals, and suggests known fracking chemicals affect aspects of human health ranging from the immune system to the nervous system, and could cause cancer and mutations.
The UNEP Alert makes the case that lessening dependency on fossil fuels would be less risky than continuing UG development.
The Alert poses technical considerations for fracking, including: avoiding fracking in areas of water scarcity, dense population or agriculture; requiring training and oversight for waste disposal, spills, and leaks; using gas separation during drilling; and designing injection wells to minimize risk of carbon dioxide reaction.
The Alert poses policy considerations including: mandating disclosure of fracking products; banning harmful chemicals; developing monitoring and enforcement procedures; adhering to best practices; requiring companies to fund restoration and environmental impact mitigation; and transitioning from carbon-based energy sources, using UG-related profits to invest in research and development.
The UNEP Alert concludes that fracking may have environmental impacts even if done properly, and that existing regulations are insufficient. The report concedes that UG is likely to grow with energy demands, but remains a stop-gap measure in a transition to a low-carbon future. [Publication: UNEP Global Environment Alert: Gas Fracking: Can We Safely Squeeze the Rocks?]