France outlawed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in 2011, yet companies are being granted licenses for fracking – as long as the fractures will be used for geothermal energy. Do the risks of fracking evaporate when it’s used for sustainable energy?
Fracking is a procedure used in the oil and gas industry to improve the flow of hydrocarbons. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into existing fractures, causing more fractures and opening up routes for migration of fluids underground. It is a very successful method for getting oil and gas out of the ground.
There is a great deal of concern about whether the chemicals injected into the ground during fracking are making it into our water supply. Some areas are considering banning the practice. A town in Colorado was recently sued by the oil and gas industry for doing just that. Because fracking is exempt from the Clean Water Act, few studies have been done in the US to discover the effects on ground water.
France banned fracking in 2011, citing serious health and environmental risks. However, in February, Environment Minister Delphine Batho granted two geothermal exploration licenses and said she is looking at eighteen more. The process used in the geothermal exploration is similar to fracking.
Instead of injecting water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to open up cracks, the geothermal exploration industry will inject water and acid. One difference, according to French geothermal advocates, is that the geothermal exploration will open existing fractures that have been closed off by mineral deposits, allowing the heat to flow upwards.
The oil and gas industry is protesting the double standard created by allowing geothermal fracking, saying it’s the same thing as fracking to release hydrocarbons. If one is dangerous to ground water, then so is the other.
The geothermal permits already granted are to Electerre de France SAS in the Massif Central mountains and to Groupe Fonroche Energie in the Pyrenees.
Telera Peak in the Pyrenees photo via Shutterstock