Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shale gas drilling in western Ukraine

Today Yulia and I attended a protest in Lviv against shale gas drilling in western Ukraine. Since the proposed drilling would affect Yulia and I where we live, we thought we'd talk a little about what shale gas drilling is and why we are against it.

Last year, the Lviv Oblast Rada (Lviv province's legislature) voted unanimously to not allow gas companies to drill for shale gas in this area. A year later, this was almost completely reversed. All of the representatives, save two members of the Svoboda party, voted to allow shale gas drilling. They have decided to allow the Shell and Chevron corporations to explore the Olenska Shale in western Ukraine, a deposit beneath a densely populated area. It covers a great deal of Lviv oblast, along with Ternopil and Ivano Frankivsk. Yulia and I live in the affected area.

Shale gas is a deposit of natural gas that is trapped within a shale formation underground. It is more difficult to extract than regular natural gas. Holes have to be drilled vertically and then horizontally into the shales. A chemical-water mix is pumped into these bores to fracture (or "frack") the ground. The natural gas that is locked in the shale in small pockets is released and, therefore, made extractable.

Shale gas drilling is much more capital intensive than regular natural gas extraction. It requires large amounts of water and chemicals to be trucked to the drilling site. The amount of gas retrieved from these shales is considerably less than the amount retrieved from conventional drilling. Until recently, shale gas was not profitable enough to justify investing in it. With rising prices and dwindling conventional reserves, it has now become profitable for gas companies to justify drilling shale gas.

Those are the facts as far as I understand them. This is why Yulia and I have come to the conclusion that the shale gas fracturing method is bad:

The drilling of shale gas near where we live means that the ground water we use for drinking will be poisoned by the chemicals used in the fracturing process. The irony is that we moved here for the abundance of clean drinking water. This area is dotted with a plethora of natural springs. But in places where shale gas drilling has occurred, locals have reported that pets and livestock have lost their hair. The water has a strong odor and is flammable in certain instances. The gas companies themselves have advised the locals not to drink their own well water. In short, the water itself is poisonous.

This is simple enough to understand, and it seems that our local legislature understood this last year. What happened since last year that made them change their minds? It seems fishy, to put it lightly.

Yulia and I attended the protest in Lviv today to remind our representatives that their constituency does not support shale gas drilling. Typically, Yulia and I do not attend protests, but this issue is simply too personal. We would also like to meet others who are interested in the issue. We have been collecting signatures to help show our representatives that their constituents do not support this issue.

 Let us be clear. This is not a political act. We do not care about political parties or individual politicians. This is not about them. It is about having clean drinking water.

Yulia and I are so interested in this issue because it is simple and straightforward. We do not want our drinking water to be poisoned. It is not a distant or theoretical issue.

We were bemused to read yesterday to read an editorial written by The Times of London. In their opinion piece, the newspaper claims that opponents of shale gas fracking do not understand the plight of poor people. Shale gas drilling will benefit them, they say. And this is what the authors have to say about water pollution: "Contamination of the water supply is not strictly impossible, in the sense that science does not rule absolutely preclude any scenario that meets the conditions of logic." Did you get that? Because we didn't. It seems that they got tripped up by their own poor use of language. Reading this sentence is like watching a figure skater attempt a tripple flip and seeing them fall on their butt. The sentence makes complete sense until the double negative in the introductory clause. So all we were able to understand is that "contamination of the ground water" is something, something. Curiously, that is the only statement the authors make about ground water poisoning.

If this statement says anything, it shows how rich people are hurting poor people for unclear reasons.They tell themselves that they are doing something that is good and necessary. They even delude themselves into thinking that they are helping poor people. But they are not, and they cannot explain why what they are doing is safe. The people making the important decisions are sitting in cities like London reading papers like The Times. These are cities that have made their fortunes by taking advantage of poor people in foreign countries. 

The Times's editorial is not related to shale gas drilling in western Ukraine. But the companies that will be doing the drilling here are foreign--Shell and Chevron. What do they have at stake in this process? Do they have friends that live here? Families that live here? Do the people that work for these companies live here? 

I didn't think so. Enough is enough. Let us care for our own land.

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