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Shale Gas and Fracking

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Shale Gas and Fracking
The Science Behind the Controversy
By Michael Stephenson
Elsevier Inc. (2015)
ISBN: 978-0-12-801606-0

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 23, 2015

Mention the word fracking and most people will have a gut reaction for or against the practice, especially if they happen to live or work in an area where fracking is occurring. But what exactly is fracking, or more correctly, hydraulic fracturing? How many of these 'gut reactions' are based upon misinformation, greed, or simple lack of understanding about the science? Does anyone really know the truth about fracking? In Shale Gas and Fracking: The Science Behind the Controversy, Michael Stephenson, Director of Science and Technology at the British Geological Survey, strips away all the hype and propaganda to present an unbiased and highly readable overview of fracking. Along the way he explains what fracking is, how shale gas (natural gas trapped in shale rock formations) is formed and extracted, and the potential environmental impacts of the extraction process including the release of methane into the atmosphere and water supply. He also discusses the potential benefits of using shale gas to replace other fossil fuels.

The recent surge in natural gas production makes Shale Gas and Fracking an especially timely book. In addition to offering a broad overview of fracking, Stephenson also tackles some of the more contentious and 'hot button' issues that swirl around the issue of fracking. For example, does fracking cause earthquakes? Will it turn the landscape into one giant factory? What are the risks posed by spills and the disposal of waste water? What chemicals are used in the fracking process? Is the process regulated? If so, are fewer or more regulations needed? Although, when burned, shale gas has a lower carbon footprint than coal, what about when you factor in all the activities related to its extraction and production? As well as, who owns the shale gas in the first place?

Most of the information in this book was garnered from published scientific studies that were both publicly-funded and peer-reviewed. These studies represent the most authoritative and least biased sources of information currently available on the subject of shale gas and fracking. Stephenson has taken these highly technical and jargon filled reports and translated them into a format and language that ordinary people can easily understand. If you are a hard-lined fracking advocate, either pro or anti, the information in this book is unlikely to change your attitude by one iota. However, if you are honestly looking for solid information on fracking, the information in this book will help you to gain a firm understanding of the scientific, political, and economic factors surrounding fracking, and to make a more informed decision on this contentious issue.

While the United States currently has the largest shale gas industry in the world, shale gas is not 'just' an American phenomenon. Nor is it a new issue. The practice of fracking, where fracking fluid (water mixed with a variety of chemicals and oils) is injected into wells under high pressure to break up (fracture) rock, and to force gas and oil upwards, has been in use since the late 1940's. Consequently, Stephenson examines shale gas use and extraction not only in the United States, but also around the world, and he explains how extraction techniques have changed over time. He also looks at the worldwide implications that shale gas has, not only in the energy sectors, but also in the realm of geopolitics. Most important, he examines the safety and environmental concerns that swirl around the extraction process. He addresses the question of whether or not shale gas is really a 'greener' alternative to coal and other carbon-based energy resources, and if it is really being used as a bridging fuel to hold us over until more efficient and environmentally friendly resources become available. Or, is the use of shale gas actually impeding the development of greener alternatives? Throughout, if an answer to a question is uncertain, or questionable, Stephenson says that it is, and he explains why.

All of Stephenson's source material is fully documented, enabling interested individuals to explore this topic in greater depth, or to verify the veracity of his statements. In addition, this book is resplendent with charts, graphs, maps, and pictures which will help you to better understand the information presented. Shale Gas and Fracking: The Science Behind the Controversy is an important book that should be read by anyone concerned or interested in shale gas or the issues surrounding fracking. Accessible and informative, this book is perfect for general readers, industry and environmental professionals, regulators, politicians, community leaders, business people, students, and anyone else who might be impacted by the production and use of shale gas - which in the coming years is likely to be everyone!

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