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Not to mention the union government’s negligence and the consequential outrages from our people, the hydrocarbon extraction projects have their own importance and bad effects. No doubt that oil and gas are the need of the hour. Not just India, every single county in the world is exploring like a ‘bomb detector’ to find the oil reserves to fulfil the energy needs and save their respective economies. No wonder India which is such a big country with huge demands for energy is scanning the viable options to extract oil and gas. Not just in Pudukkottai, where the locals are protesting the alleged approval of central government to open a hydrocarbon extraction project, there are many places in and around India where these hydrocarbon extraction projects are going on. It is natural for the people to protest these projects given the awareness being created these days via different available media.
Coming to the hydrocarbon extraction project, being specific to the projects undergoing, it is a wholesome attempt from the oil and gas companies like ONGC to extract shale gas from sand beds. If you ask what is a shale gas, it is a natural gas trapped within shale formations. Shales are fine grained sedimentary rocks which are formed by the accumulation of sediments at the earth’s surface and within water bodies. These rocks could be porous or non-porous rocks which should be pierced or broken to get access to these shale gases. There comes the hydraulic fracturing into scene. It is the process of drilling exploratory wells in the chosen places to release natural gas and oil from deep beneath the surface of the earth.
Earth is no closed box. It is connected not just in macro scale but in atomic scale. The main risk associated with this extraction process is the potential contamination of drinking water with chemicals used in the fracking process. If the volume of water is 5 lakh litres, the volume of additives could be more than 40,000 litres. These chemicals are high likely to cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological, and ocular effects; 40% to 50% could be neuro-, immuno- and nephrotoxic; 37% could be endocrine disruptors, and 25% could be carcinogenic. The United states Environmental protection Agency have found high concentrations of benzene, xylenes, and other hydrocarbons in the shale gas extraction sites in British Columbia, Canada. Believe it or not, the authorities in British Columbia have even documented methane contaminated drinking water which could lead to adverse effects on safety. Other possible effects are fresh water depletion, air quality deterioration and greenhouse gas emissions. Added to this, the noxious flares and fume gas can cause immediate health threat to the locals and the labours working around.
Not all waste can be recycled or treated. There are certain wastes which when cant be treated, are dumped somewhere. In particular, if the radioactive wastes are present in a level higher than it can be treated, then it is dangerous to the environment. The best way to dump is to mix it in a river right? Because, a flowing water never exposes our human cruelty and safely stores the waste in her water bed. This radioactive wastes can go to any extent to affect humans, cattle and any living thing when got into contact. Added to this, the radio active wastes and the chemicals used for fracturing are not completely recovered from the well and they are often left in the ground. Those left in the ground are not even bio degradable, just like plastics.
Drought and water scarcity:
It is a mere joke if the projects try to convince that the water pumped inside can be recycled at one point by involving waste water treatment. More than 90% of water never returns to the surface. In other words, the water is just removed from the natural cycle and this will automatically lead to drought. In particular, Tamilnadu relies on monsoon rains. If the rainfall fails, the drought-led deaths are already visible. Why should this extraction process add on to the sorrow more?
The waste fluid left/stored in the atmosphere, no matter how much you close it or isolate from the atmosphere. It tends to evaporate which releases dangerous volatile organic compound into the atmosphere creating contaminated air which leads to acid rain, ground level ozone and so on. These contaminants include diesel particulate matter, hydrogen sulphide and other volatile hydrocarbons which lead to health problems like asthma, headaches, high blood pressure, anemia, heart attacks and cancer. It can also have a damaging effect on immune and reproductive systems, as well as fetal and child development. It is found that mothers who live near fracking sites are 30 percent more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects.
Not just water, but the process of hydraulic fracking involves the pumping of sand too. Now you could see why they choose places like pudukkotai, cauvery basin for this project. The sand at these river beds meets their requirements to be used for hydraulic fracking. Such sand is called a frac sand. This sand, taken from the ground is processed after mining. There it is washed to remove the fine particles.
Apart from the basic threat of shifting sand and creating an impactful imbalance to the earth surface, the sand is mainly made of perfect spherical silica particles, much customized to their requirements. Silica can impede breathing and cause respiratory irritation, cough, airway obstruction and poor lung function.Chronic or long-term exposure can lead to lung inflammation, bronchitis and emphysema and produce a severe lung disease known as silicosis, a form of pulmonary fibrosis. Silica-related lung disease is incurable and can be fatal, killing hundreds of workers in the U.S. each year.
Possible earth quakes:
This could be a threat in long term, not many proofs though. The process of fracturing to permeate the sedimentary rocks could lead to the brittle failure of the rock and lead to micro seismic events. Micro seismicity is the minor earth quake under a magnitude of 2.0 and it is small to be felt.
However, there are examples of earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 2.0 which speculated the geologists and scientists to study. The documents have conclusively linked the major earth quakes to the hydraulic fracturing for shale gas exploration/recovery. In the Etsho and Tattoo fields in Horn River, Canada, 216 earthquakes were detected during between 2009 and 2011 (BC Oil and Gas Commission, 2012). Twenty-one of these earthquakes had magnitudes of 3.0 or greater, and the largest event had a magnitude of 3.8 ML. In the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma, 86 earthquakes were detected during hydraulic fracturing in 2011 with magnitudes up to 2.9 ML (Holland, 2013). In July and August 2014, earthquakes with magnitudes of 4.0 and 4.2 occurred near Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada. Both earthquakes are considered to have been induced by hydraulic fracturing activities in the region (Atkinson et al, 2015). The figure below shows the increase in the magnitude of earth quake at a stage where the pressure is more, relatively.
Any technology found, is purely dedicated to the betterness of mankind. It is true that oil and gas is not an essential to serve comfort but is a livelihood thing. Oil and gas extraction, hydraulic fracking in particular, is for the energy needs. But the yard scale to measure the demands with respect to the risk factors should be highly introspective. A vast country like canada, can easily evacuate her people from the site of hydraulic fracking, not to mention the health effects of workers involved. But, a dense country like India cant afford to inject a generation with diseases and malnutrition. It is high time our country thinks about alternative energy sources like solar.
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