ISLAMABAD: The Planning Commission has warned of high risks of contaminating ground water during extraction of shale gas and has asked the government to put in place strict regulations and proper safeguards to counter environmental hazards.
In a report submitted to the cabinet in its recent meeting, the commission observed that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing would contaminate ground water with high level of methane component in water wells.
“Pakistan being an agrarian country must be mindful of this fact and exploration of shale gas should only be allowed under tight regulations and close monitoring,” the commission said in the report.
Agreeing with apprehensions of the commission, members of the cabinet stressed that exploration of shale gas should be undertaken with strict regulations and monitoring to avoid harmful effects on environment.
However, the commission cited example of the United States where thousands of wells had been drilled for extracting shale gas, but water contamination had been reported in only a few cases. This means that with proper safeguards and oversight, shale gas can be explored and produced in a safe manner and without any environmental hazard.
It suggested that the estimate of 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves in Pakistan, given by the US Energy Information Administration, should be verified through surveys and data acquisition to pave the way for preparing a comprehensive package to tap the potential.
Similarly, information pertaining to economic development (hydraulic fracturing, fracturing, pipeline, terminal, transportation, environmental impact, regulatory requirements, etc) along with required technological investment should be elucidated for proper analysis and decision-making.
Cabinet members told the commission that reliable data could be acquired once pilot projects of shale gas exploration were initiated. Similarly, information pertaining to economic parameters like well cost, number of wells, production profiles and processing plants would also be known from the data gathered from pilot wells.
In the report, the commission noted that the US was considered the pioneer and had taken lead in extracting vast shale gas deposits, which has led to a decline in natural gas prices globally.
“Shale gas has increasingly become the game changer for USA and it will meet 40% of gas requirements of the country in the near future. The explosive growth of shale gas in USA has sparked a global race to harness this potential,” it said.
The commission stressed that before finalising the shale gas framework strategy, a professional delegation could visit an operational shale gas facility in the US and make recommendations for developing the framework.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2013.
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