The risks in fracking


  • Many scholars believe that fossil fuel energy will decline markedly by 2050. Such conclusions have been challenged by others who say that the earth has enough resources to quench humankind’s thirst for development for many centuries to come. Among other energy supplies, shale gas and oil are likely to be abundant and available.

Shale Gas and Crude oil

  • Shale gas and oil are unconventional natural resources found at 2,500-5,000 m below the earth’s surface, as compared to conventional crude oil found at 1,500 m

Process of extracting Shale gas and oil

  • The process of extracting shale oil and gas requires deep vertical drilling followed by horizontal drilling
  • The most common way to extract shale gas is ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (fracking)
  • In this process, high volumes of water mixed with certain chemicals are pushed down to break the rocks and release the trapped energy minerals

Positive impacts of fracking on economies

  • Fracking is bound to have positive economic and political impacts
  • In the U.S., where shale gas has been commercially exploited for two decades, the prices of fuel and electricity have dropped
  • Similarly, if India commercially exploits shale deposits, it could meet its ever-increasing energy demand, decrease oil and gas imports, and improve the balance of payments

Fracking in India

  • Fracking seems an attractive tool, both politically and economically
  • To gain such benefits, the government introduced a policy on shale gas and oil in 2013, permitting national oil companies to engage in fracking
  • Under the first phase, shale gas blocks were identified in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu

The issue

  • Environmental groups have strongly criticised this move, which they say will have adverse environmental impacts
  • Countries like Germany and France and subnational governments like Scotland have banned fracking

Negative effect of fracking: Detrimental impact on local communities and the environment

  • As fracking consumes large amounts of water (average 15,000 m3/well) and relatively larger surface area, it is bound to impact irrigation and other local requirements
  • In the U.S. experience, out of 260 chemical substances, 58 have been identified to pose a risk to human life and environment, eight are carcinogens and 17 are toxic to freshwater organisms
  • Further, as 25-90% of the fluid is not retrieved and cracks in the shaft are possible, there is a high risk of pollution to nearby underground water
  • Instances of groundwater pollution have been reported in the U.S. and Canada

Other effects

  • Fracking has other impacts such as increased air emissions (including greenhouse gases) and seismic activity

Legal hurdles in India

  • The Supreme Court of India has ruled that every person has the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air
  • If the risk from fracking to underground water materialises, courts can hold the state responsible for it
  • Another hurdle that fracking might face is the ‘precautionary principle’, which has been incorporated into law
  • It dictates that where there is a significant risk to the environment or human health, precautionary measures must be undertaken, irrespective of any scientific uncertainty
  • Therefore, the government would be obliged to adopt measures to reduce those risks

What should be done?

  • The Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016, sets a priority for use of groundwater-
    Right to water for life, and water to achieve “food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs”
  • Only after satisfying those priorities can underground water be used for other purposes(like fracking)
  • In the light of the risks involved, the government should impose a moratorium on fracking


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