Shale gas is natural gas produced from shale (the fine-grained, classic sedimentary rock composed of mud) and although interest is spreading to potential gas shales in Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe it has become an increasingly more important source of natural gas in the US during the past decade. But while drilling techniques for natural gas from American shale formations appear safe overall, health concerns are being raised as levels of cancer-causing benzene have been found in the air causing questions over the reliability and objectivity of current environmental assessments.
As reported by businessinsider.com news articles and latest statements seem to be causing a lot of confusion and distrust regarding this issue, the following was reported by Dallas News:
‘Nearly one-fourth of the sites monitored in North Texas’ Barnett Shale natural-gas region had levels of cancer-causing benzene in the air that could raise health concerns, state regulators said’
However, the article went on to say that gas companies have already fixed the worst emission problems which enables them to work on less-serious sites where the state still requires benzene levels to come down.
Further enhancing that fact that the issue is less serious is John Sadlier, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s deputy director for compliance and enforcement, who stated:
“We don’t have a widespread air-quality issue, at least according to the data”
On the contrary, Mayor Calvin Tillman of the tiny Denton County town of Dish criticises the study advising that it did not include enough tests in residential areas or enough long-term sampling and that is why the town commissioned its own monitoring last year which subsequently found extremely high benzene levels
“I don’t think they want to find anything in a populated area, and I think their sampling reflects that” Mayor Tillman remarked.
Although there are concerns regarding shale gas drilling safety tests it seems highly likely that these environmental concerns will eventually be managed following major commitments made by Exxon (through its recent XTO acquisition) and TOTAL (via its Chesapeake association) and how they intend to make American shale gas.
It is also suggested that in the end there will be a way to extract the gas safely without too much added cost, if it already isn’t safe enough!