Shale gas exploration poses threat to ground water

Published: February 23, 2013
trillion cubic feet are the
estimated shale gas reserves
in Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE

51 trillion cubic feet are the estimated shale gas reserves in Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE

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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Reader Comments (3)

  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 23, 2013 - 7:09PM

    Shale technology is been very sucessfull in exploring oil and gas in u.s and espacially in texas and in north dakota work going on in very fast pace and results are so great. and it is true too that water shortages will be part of this tech in near future and one example of contamination happend in pensalvania state only. but its a great tech pakistan should use it.


  • T Boone Pickens
    Feb 24, 2013 - 4:27AM

    Major expenditure with shale gas wells is drilling and completions. At the moment, I wonder if Pakistan has appropriate technical expertise and financial backing to carry them out i.e. $ 10 MM/well. Exploitation of shale gas in Pakistan will not be as cheap as US. Shale formations in Pakistan are relatively deeper. The environmental concerns with development of shale gas are over exaggerated. Shale wells exploit formations way deeper than water channels above; so casing integrity is main issue here. Government needs to focus regulations on well completions to prevent any chance of water contamination.


  • Azam Khan
    Mar 2, 2013 - 7:26PM

    Shale gas must be rapidly explored and exploited in Pakistan to overcome the huge gas shortage of 6 BCFD expected by 2020 and 10 BCFD projected for 2025. Besides the assessed and estimated shale gas reserves of 51 TCF in Sindh and KPK, assessed but not estimated reserves of a similar volume are present in Punjab. The present recoverable regular gas reserves are only 21TCF with daily production of about 4.2 TCF. The 100+TCF of shale gas could result in an additional production of 10 BCFD, enough to meet our total shortfall for the next 30 years. Yes, we must take all measures to ensure casing integrity and to avoid ground water contamination and we can learn from the US in this regard. The cost of shale gas will decrease in the long run as has happened in the US where gas prices have dropped from $8.5/MMBTU to under $3/MMBTU. This is much lower than the price of imported Iranian gas as it amounts to about 30% of the price of oil in the international market.


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