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I'm Iain Stewart and I'm on the trail of what is perhaps
the most important geological story right now.
The quest for a new source of power found deep beneath the earth...
..which could change the lives of us all.
Its discovery has sparked a rush for energy in America...
..for a type of gas that appears cheap and plentiful.
And with just one way of getting it out the ground -
hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking".
What is this energy lifeline that's shaping up to be
the saviour of America?
As a geologist I want to know what it means for the planet, and for us.
'I'm going to meet some of the people who have become rich from
'this new energy rush.'
This one here looks like a vehicle bought with gas money.
We see something we want, we buy it.
'And the communities who are worried about the potential
'risks of fracking.'
Oh, gosh, look at that!
-Would I want to drink that every day?
If I lived in this house, absolutely not.
'I've come to America to find out what fracking is,
'why it's a potential game-changer
'and to see what we in Britain can learn from the American experience.'
MUSIC: "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" by The Allman Brothers
'I'm starting off in the eastern state of Pennsylvania.
'The people here have long looked to the rocks that surround them
'for new sources of power and wealth.'
What's wonderful about geology, really, is this feeling
that you can read the rocks, read the landscape,
every valley and hill tells a story about the planet's past.
And if you go back far enough,
this region here was once swampy forest.
And that's left its legacy in the thick coal deposits that underlie
this area, that's made Pennsylvania famous, made it rich.
And that's the point, really, is that the towns
and cities that have flourished here in the past,
their success was down to the rocks and the minerals beneath their feet.
'The glory days of coal lie in the past here,
'but the people are now returning to the earth for a new
'and controversial source of power.
'It too comes from deep underground.'
There it is.
'And it's starting to make the state rich once again.'
Just glinting through the trees there.
That's what I've come to see, a live drilling platform.
There's something like a thousand of these drilling sites
scattered across Pennsylvania
because this site is the epicentre of an industrial
renaissance in America, one that's creating tens of thousands of jobs,
because things like these are looking for a new form of energy.
For some, the great hope of the future - shale gas.
'It doesn't come out easily, this shale gas,
'but a new form of extraction, a new technology has made it possible to collect.
'It's called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
'And we're all going to be hearing a lot more about it.'
Let me try and convey to you what hydraulic fracturing is.
If you imagined that this here is the ground surface, where we
are standing now, and that this is a drill.
The drill goes down vertically and it's going down ultimately about
two miles but the point is that when it gets down at depth, it can do
something really clever, starts to bend round and it goes horizontal.
And then what happens is you inject down millions of gallons
of water, tonnes of sand, some chemicals all the way down here,
and that fractures open naturally occurring cracks in the rock
and you create these fracks, and that allows gas that's been
locked away in the rock to leak out and then move back to the surface.
'This tangle of high-pressure pipes is the reason we're now able
'to extract the gas.
'Because drilling on its own doesn't release the gas.
'It's trapped in the rocks.
'You need to pump water under very high pressure deep underground.
'That fractures the bedrock and the gas can then be collected
'and pumped to the surface.
'It's a big engineering project and it's only possible
'because of millions of gallons of water
'and chemicals that are added to keep the process lubricated.'
What's really clever is you can do that again and again.
You can have another well that comes down and does that,
another one that comes across this way, another one here.
You could do 10, 20, whatever.
And so it's this combination of horizontal drilling
and also this hydraulic fracturing of rock that has created
this gas revolution.
'What all of this has done is given us
'access to vast reserves of gas we previously could not reach,
'and that has led to a full-scale dash for gas.'
This is a ten-well pad, we have ten wells on this particular pad,
six of which go out this way
and four of which go out that way.
So how far would they go?
-Would they go beyond that hill there?
-Oh, much further.
Way, way beyond there.
It's about a mile-and-a-half long outward under the ground
-and about a mile-and-a-half deep.
You know, it's the scale of it.
I'm looking round, I can just see stuff everywhere.
I mean, huge amounts of water, of sand,
of material - of labour, as well, going into these things.
They are huge investments aren't they?
There is, there's a lot.
There's great investment that takes place.
This frack spread probably cost anywhere from 30 million to 50 million
to put on just for the capital.
'But as a geologist,
'I'm interested in how they've been able to achieve all this.
'And the technology that's made it possible in the first place.'
So what are we looking at?
The top of the grey, that's essentially the ground level, is it?
The top of the grey is essentially the ground level.
And then that's the drill hole coming down?
'They can identify with pinpoint accuracy the fracks that occurred
'deep underground when high pressure water is injected into the shale.'
They're the pops and the cracks that occurred as we stimulated
the reservoirs, so we had geophones down the well bores listening
to it so that we could then locate where all this was happening.
So you can hear the pops seven thousand feet below you?
That's incredible, isn't it? Look at that.
And it gives us an idea as to how much of the rock we've stimulated
so we can figure out just about how much of an area we're
going to drain with the natural gas coming back through the well bore.
What I find extraordinary is this is you imaging things,
tiny things going on, thousands of feet beneath our kind of feet?
Yeah, exactly, it's pretty cool.
And it's actually a kind of subterranean world that
really no-one else sees.
You're the only person, people that really see this?
The first time you see the 3-D seismic is the first time
anyone's actually ever seen what the geology looks like 7,000, 8,000 feet under the earth.
'The United States has been leading the quest to extract shale gas.
'You can quickly see why some might find it attractive.
'It's unlocked a new source of power from the planet.
'But shale gas is not unique to America.
'Other countries, including Britain, are looking to follow.
'And to better understand the nature of shale, I've returned home...
'..to the Peak District, in Derbyshire.
'As ever, we're drawing upon pockets of energy laid down
'millions of years ago, which stretch right across the planet.'
So, to explore the origins of shale, I'm going underground.
I love places like this.
I think it's why I became a geologist actually, the idea of
exploring the nooks and crannies of the planet, you know, kind of
peeling back the skin and just diving in, understanding how things work.
And also that feeling that you're seeing a world,
a hidden world, that very few other people see or appreciate.
You know, we're only 50 metres below the surface
but we've gone back 350 million years.
'All that time ago, where I'm walking now,
'in fact, the rocks beneath what we call the Midlands,
'was at the bottom of a warm, tropical sea.
'A sea crucial to the story of shale gas,
'and evidence for that ancient, vanished water world is everywhere.'
This is such a great place!
Every so often, you get these tantalising glimpses
of how the rock used to be, forensic clues, if you like.
I mean, they're everywhere and there's a really nice bit,
actually, there's a cracker just here.
I'm going to get muddy now, but... see if I can get up here.
Look at this! Look at that!
You can see this texture here amid all this smearing
and that is a huge, branching coral.
Look at how it goes. That's huge.
And lots and lots of debris, shale debris around.
In the modern seas, coral reefs are
the centrepieces of marine eco-systems
and they were exactly the same 350 million years ago.
This tells us that the carboniferous seas were just teeming with life.
'But it wasn't just the sea that was rich with life.
'The land was, too.
'It was covered in tropical rainforest,
'with lush vegetation and trees up to a hundred feet high.
'Plant life which is equally important to the story of shale.'
The nearest coast was over in that direction.
There was lagoons and swamps
and a huge delta that kind of swept decaying tree and plant material
down into this, which would have been the ocean.
I've got a sample of rock that you would find here. Look at this.
You can see all the plant material, the leaves,
the ferns, absolutely gorgeous.
And so you've got all this decaying plant material deposited
alongside decaying sea creatures like we saw in the cave
and plankton and bacteria, and they all become this
kind of organic mush that ends up embedded in this shale rock.
So inside this shale rock you've got
these little pockets of organic material
that gets cooked up and transformed into shale gas,
and it's this shale gas that's getting touted as the saviour of the planet.
'I want to see for myself this ancient rock that contains
'the shale gas.
'So I'm off to visit a fellow geologist
'who really knows this rock.
'In a series of warehouses,
'the British Geological Survey keeps 250 kilometres of core samples
'from wells and boreholes all over Britain.
'Brought down from a dusty top corner is the rock we're all talking about.'
So is this it, this is the shale rock?
-Oh, look at that.
-It's pretty heavy.
It IS heavy. So this has been taken out of a drill hole
going down what depth roughly for this stuff?
This one's down to about 500 metres,
so about half a kilometre below the surface.
I guess that's why it's so compact? The layers are kind of squeezed in.
Yes, it's been crushed by a whole lot of rock, weighing down on it
over a very long period of time, so it's pretty hard and compact stuff.
The thing is the rocks that I normally associate with
having gas in them are kind of sands and you can see the pores
but here, completely different thing, isn't it?
Yeah, this is so compact, so fine. You can't see anything.
It's hard to believe there's gas in it at all.
It's incredible, isn't it?
'There's only one way to see what's trapped within the rock.
'By scanning wafer-thin samples with a focused beam of electrons,
'images are produced of the hidden world inside.'
So we've got a scanning electron-microscope image here,
a live picture, in fact, of a piece of shale.
The darker things here are probably plant material.
This might be a spore, for example, here, and what you're seeing here
on these small, dark grey areas are pores, or holes between the particles,
and it's in these holes or pores that the gas actually collects.
Tiniest little pinpricks of space inside this really compact rock.
Yeah, we're only talking about a micron across
so a thousandth of a millimetre across. Very, very small.
'This is the stuff that drilling companies are after,
'essentially natural gas, but stuck in solid rock,
'sometimes several kilometres beneath the surface of the earth.
'No wonder it takes all that high-pressure water to get it out.
'Shale gas isn't just found in remote deserts or beneath the sea,
'places far away from our homes.
'It's found under our backyards.
'So it's not only an issue for the energy companies, it involves
'whole communities and there seems to be winners and losers.'
# On the other side of Jordan
# There's construction on a mansion just for me... #
Here in Louisiana, in America's Deep South,
some appear to have benefited.
'It has at times transformed the lives of ordinary farmers
'because in the US, you can own the gas that lies under your land.'
This whole region is sitting directly on top of the shale rock
and it's the gas from that shale that's made
some of the farmers here millionaires overnight,
or as they're referred to here, "shalionaires."
So what was the kind of sum, then, that you got?
Well, I've got a copy of this...
-You've got a copy of what...?
-The cheque that they gave me!
Let's have a look at that.
And there it is, well, it's like 434,000.
I don't think I've seen a figure as much, as high as that.
'CB Leatherwood has made his fortune by selling
'drilling rights on his farm.
'And now the wells are producing, that lump sum is topped up
'by a steady stream of royalty cheques popping into his mailbox.'
And this right here is onions.
-Spring onions, I recognise those.
'He's given money to his children
'and it allows CB to live the life that he's always dreamed of.'
I have about 30 mules and, I believe, seven horses.
Got one for every occasion.
This is nice, isn't it?
This one here looks like a vehicle bought with gas money.
Tell me, this one's beautiful.
A Lincoln town car. We see something we want, we buy it.
So what do you put all this good fortune down to?
It was a gift from the good Lord.
A gift from up above?
-Gift from up above.
-Not from down below, not from...
-It was a gift from up above.
-I'm a geologist, I would have it as a gift from geology
but you have it from up there, upstairs.
That's right, that's who made it for me.
# I have a source
# Of strength when I am weak... #
So, I can understand that some people, if they've got mineral rights,
and they've got gas underneath their land, they're benefiting.
What about other people? How do they benefit from it?
Well, bringing work into the country, communities.
You've got...you bring the drilling rigs in to drill the wells.
It furnishes jobs.
You bring the people in to build the locations.
Jobs were scarce, the economy wasn't too good before this came around.
I mean, it was awfully slow.
So if we were to do a kind of a poll of all the houses around here
and all the people,
what proportion do you think would be for shale gas, be positive?
I'd say 90% of them.
Really, as high as that?
It was great to speak to CB today.
I know what he says you have to take with a pinch of salt.
He's made a lot of money on the back of shale gas, but what I thought was
interesting was the idea the whole community had benefited,
that the rewards had seeped through right to the bottom level.
'But not everyone in a community sees cheques or jobs.
'One of the objections has been that all that machinery involved -
'the pipes, the lorries, the rigs, blights rural communities.
'And fracking is now taking place across the US,
'from sea to shining sea.
'It's startling how widely it's already spread.'
Take a look at this.
You don't just find shale gas in Louisiana or Pennsylvania.
You find it right across America.
Energy companies reckon that there's more natural gas in America
than there is oil in Saudi Arabia.
I mean, look at it.
It's estimated something like a million fracking wells, a million!
Production or exploration in 30 states.
Now, what all that means is an energy renaissance,
cheap abundant energy right on their doorstep.
'Geology may be a science, but it seldom happens in isolation.
'It's tied up with politics, with economics
'and you don't have to look far to see how fracking is starting
'to change the politics and economics of this nation.'
The thing is, it's looking like a game-changer.
I mean, the price of gas in the US is something like a third
of what it is in Britain, and that should be
good for the American consumer, for American industry.
But actually, there's already signs that that's happened.
Those energy-hungry users, things like chemical plants,
manufacturing firms, they're already starting to
re-shore their operations
and that's because the cheap labour in places like that is trumped by
the cheap energy in places like this.
'But there's another reason why fracking is being
'talked of as a game-changer right across the world.
'It's about how safe our energy supplies are, about energy security.'
'To give you an idea why that matters, I'm going
'to leave rocks and geology behind for a moment.
'I've come back to Britain, to the nerve centre
'of its National Grid, to get a sense of the bigger picture.
'These are the people who have to ensure there's enough power -
'from nuclear, coal, gas, renewables -
to meet our energy needs,
'and I've chosen a rather special moment to visit,
'because tonight they're under pressure.'
'When Strictly Come Dancing ends,
'millions of us will put the kettle on.'
'And these guys need to bring on more power at that precise moment.'
'What really fascinates me is how they choose to deliver it.
'Hydro, water power.'
What we have is a top lake and a bottom lake, so during the night,
when electricity prices are cheap, we pump water up to the top lake
and during the day, we just let the water come down again
through the turbines to create electricity very quickly and flexibly.
So, basically, as soon as electricity demand starts to rise,
-you throw water at it?
-We throw water at it, yes.
Right, I'm going to ring the BBC controller now, Bernard,
to see whether he's got an update on the Strictly end time.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Hello, Jonathan, it's Neil Wise at National Grid.
'The closing minutes of Strictly are tense.'
-This looks like the end.
'They have to time the release of water precisely,
'to match the sudden surge in demand for electricity.'
Two seconds under, OK. Bye, now.
I think we're in business.
'When the moment comes, Bernard opens the flood gates.
I'll send the Foyers now...
..and Cruachan as well.
I think, probably do the Ffestiniog as well, there we go.
'Demand begins to level off. They've made it.
That was pretty impressive.
I mean, watching those guys operate, watching them
judge the moment-by-moment changes in demand and then match
that against electricity generation from coal and from nuclear,
from wind, and those injections of water - that's pretty special.
The thing is, for decades that energy mix is what's kept
the lights on in Britain, but things are changing.
'If we want to continue to have this level of control in the future,
'we're going to have to make sure we have the right energy mix
'at the right price and at the right time.
'You probably won't have heard of the Isle of Grain gas depot
'in Kent, but the chances are you may have used
'some of its gas to keep your house warm.
'It's a good place to see why energy security is so important.'
This is the biggest above-ground gas storage tank in Europe.
Look at that! It's absolutely humungous. Let's get up there.
Don't know if this is a good idea actually.
'And it's not the only giant container here.'
'In total, there are around a million cubic metres of gas.'
'That may sound a lot, but we're an energy-hungry nation
'and across Britain, we store only enough
'for around two weeks of supplies.'
Something like 40% of the electricity we get
comes from burning gas,
and in future years that's going to dramatically increase.
But the thing is, you see the gas that's in there and in there
and in there, it's not our gas.
Let me show you.
It comes from far, far away, brought in by ships like that.
'And this is not just any old ship.
'It helps keep Britain afloat.
'More than half of our gas is imported,
'a lot of it from one tiny country.'
It's just like a massive wall of steel.
Apparently, it's a quarter of a mile long from, bloody hell,
from there all the way across right to the far end there.
And this monster has come 7,000 miles.
This is from Qatar, in the Middle East, right beside Iraq, to here.
You can see the gas just getting taken off through these unloading pipes.
There's enough gas in there to power 70,000 homes for a year.
'We get our natural gas from countries in the Middle East,
'from Africa and from Russia,
'so the political uncertainties are obvious.
'And we're also subject to the vagaries of the market.'
Those beasts seem so slow and lumbering
but they operate in this fast-paced environment.
I mean, for a start, there's no guarantee that ship will
ever reach its intended destination.
It might get diverted, mid-ocean, from Europe to Asia, just
because there's someone there that will pay a higher price for gas.
And that's the nub of the problem, really.
There is no absolute energy security with ships like that.
'That's what we, and all countries, mean by energy security -
'the ability to have certain supplies of gas at a price they can control and afford.
'And that's the other attraction of fracking. It's home-grown energy.
'Many here in America have become almost heady with the potential
'of fracking, for its economic benefits and energy security.'
As a geologist, you're only too aware that the planet
can change our world either for the better or for the worse, and there's
something in these hills that... a niggling thought that something's
not quite right, that there's more to this than meets the eye.
'There's a lot of questions being asked about fracking.
'Some are about whether we should be investing in another
'carbon-based form of energy at all,
'and over the next few years, this charged debate is going to unfold.
'But what I want to look at now are some of the more immediate risks.
'I'm back in Pennsylvania, in the foothills of the Endless Mountains.
'It's a good place to get to grips with one of the concerns
'I'm most interested in trying to understand.
'The risks that gas and contaminated water
'might be leaking out of the wells into the surrounding land.'
For months now, I've been reading solidly about fracking, just about
everything I can find, especially on the internet,
and if you go onto the internet,
what you find a lot of the stuff is about, you know,
people falling ill and the health effects of it and you can't really
find very much in the scientific literature about this, so what
I'm really interested in is finding a bit more about this, and actually,
it's been surprisingly difficult to find someone to talk about it.
'That's because I've heard that some people who have fallen ill
'have received compensation and aren't allowed to talk about it.'
But I'm hoping today, up in these hills we're going to find
'a couple who are very happy to talk about it
'because they're in a bad way, apparently.'
-Hi, are you Janet?
-I'm a very wet Iain. Hiya, how are you?
-Welcome, come in.
When did you first hear that word, "fracking"?
How many years ago was it?
Two, at least 2½ years ago.
-Just as recently as that - two or three years ago?
I didn't really pay attention, you know,
until we got affected,
and then once we got affected, then you begin to wonder why.
That's when I actually looked at the word "fracking."
-You know what I mean?
Like, how could this have happened to us?
'Janet and Fred McIntyre live in a remote area of rural Pennsylvania.
'Two years ago, the energy companies arrived and began to frack for gas.
'Shortly afterward, the McIntyres and some of their neighbours fell ill.
'They fear that it might be connected to fracking,
'that somehow chemicals might have leaked into their drinking water.
'And they're now struggling to understand what is happening to them and their community.'
We got the flu, well, what we thought was the flu, got horribly ill,
violently ill and we were like that for a week.
'Because of their concerns,
'the McIntyres only use bottled water now,
'for drinking, washing and cooking.
'The US Department of Environmental Protection
'and the energy companies themselves tested their drinking water
'and they gave it a clean bill of health.
'But the McIntyres are unconvinced.
'It's a confusing picture.
'We simply don't have the scientific evidence that separates out
'coincidence from a direct cause.'
Since they began drilling here, I suffer from seizures
and through all this, right before our water turned purple,
I went into renal failure.
So it's quite a lot of completely different things, it's not just...
Yeah, it seems to affect the very old, the very young and
if you have like a low immune system or you're sick, you really get sick.
These things have happened to me.
You can't prove it scientifically, that,
but you're convinced, are you?
It just seems weird.
'Around 50 people in their community now only use
'water from bottles, and paid for by charity,
'which Janet helps to deliver to isolated friends and neighbours.'
-Hi, there, how are you?
-What's your name?
All the way from Scotland, to deliver your water.
Oh, bless you!
Six of these?
We've good water but it's contaminated now.
I've lived here since eight years old and now they're ruining it.
Where do you want it?
The water stinks. The animals won't drink it.
I don't drink the water any more,
and I have a hard time swallowing and breathing, and there's nothing they can do.
So do you know anyone around here, any of these houses,
that actually have decent water from their boreholes?
They used to but they're all on the water run.
They go to the water bank or...
They're all going to your water bank?
Yeah. That one, that one, that one, that one.
That one, that one, this one,
that one, myself over there, beside me.
'What I've found here is a community that's become afraid of fracking.
'But what I think it is that feeds their fear is that it's
'easier to ask questions than to get hard answers.'
You know, a number of people have said that fracking has ruined their
water but the trouble is that good, solid, scientific evidence is pretty
thin on the ground, and what makes it even more complicated is that
gases like methane, for example, can occur naturally in drinking water.
What mining bosses say is that incidents of contamination
are few and far between and the result of accidental chemical
spillage on the surface or not quite casing the drill holes properly.
In other words, that they're the result of shoddy practice,
'Although there are no national figures,
'here in Pennsylvania some 6-7% of wells have reported what's
'termed "well failures" in each of the past three years.
'But what we don't know is
'if those problems have led to ground water contamination.
'To make things even more complicated, US fracking companies
'have been reluctant to disclose exactly what chemicals they use.'
You know, the thing about the fracking chemicals is
that, in America, they're proprietary,
so that they're a closely guarded secret,
each company with their own particular mix
that they don't want the others to know about, so it's like a secret
recipe, really, like the ingredients of HP Sauce or Coca Cola.
In fact, even the guys that are handling
the chemicals on the fracking job might not know what
the particular chemicals are, and it's that secrecy that really
is at the heart of, I think, most people's suspicions,
that it's somehow, you know, a nasty, noxious cocktail of stuff.
'A new law in Pennsylvania does allow physicians special access to
'information about the trade's secret chemicals,
'but it's not straightforward.
'Dr Amy Pare has treated people with lesions to their faces who
'she thinks may have been exposed to the fracking chemicals,
'and the drilling companies will only tell her what those chemicals
'might be under stringent conditions.'
Well, they'll reveal those if you sign a confidentiality statement.
That's a lovely way, that's a Catch-22, isn't it?
So you can sign the form that says you won't tell anyone else
-and you know.
What does that mean, you can't tell the patient?
Oh, correct, you can't tell the patient,
so, say I suspected that you had been exposed to something.
If it's on a regular inhalational panel, fine,
but if you just can't figure out what exactly it was, you would sign
the confidentiality statement which is for these proprietary chemicals.
They say that they'll release the chemicals that they may have
been exposed to and then if those tests come back positive,
I can't tell you about it.
So, can you tell my doctor? Can you tell anyone else?
No, I mean, I'm a plastic surgeon so I would refer you to
an occupational medicine doctor but I would just refer you.
So you couldn't then pass the information on to that
person of what, the information that you'd found?
No, I would refer you because it's a proprietary chemical.
It's a trade secret, so...
But essentially this is a gagging order placed right across you,
So, for physicians, in order to take care of your patients,
there needs to be transparency and this completely breaks
that down, and so, yes, it's very upsetting for us
because you want people to get better but if you can't
explain to someone what's happening to them, how do you get them better?
And then how do you find out
if other members of their family may have been exposed or other
people that are in the area have been exposed?
Because no-one can talk about it so it's,
it really goes against any type of modern medicine.
You know, the thing is, I'm not one for conspiracy theories or
anything like that but this secrecy is just...weird, really.
You know, as a kind of academic, as a scientist,
you're wanting transparency.
You want openness.
I know it sounds cliched, but you're wanting the truth.
What Amy is talking about here is just that.
She just wants to know the data, the scientific data.
And the fact that that's been
kind of held back is just really exasperating.
It's really frustrating to try and get to the bottom of most of these
real, you know, controversies and what people want to know.
They want to know, is it safe?
We just don't know.
'But there's one scientist who has carried out a number
'of studies on the potential impact that fracking has on ground water.
'Rob Jackson and his research team have tested
'hundreds of samples from drinking water wells, like this
'one in north-western Pennsylvania, for evidence of contamination.'
So where's the water coming from?
Well, this is coming from a private well for the house
and it's coming from about 250 feet under the ground, and what Tom's
doing there is just hooking the hose up and we'll purge the water, run it
for a while to get a fresh water sample from that, from that well.
'The water is from a shallow aquifer which provides drinking
'water to the local community and, unusually, it's full of bubbles.'
What we have here is basically a methane leak detector.
This lets us determine if the bubbles we're seeing
are related to air trapped in the water, if it's
something combustible like methane or ethane. You'll see as we get.....
..Get closer, you know without a doubt this is basically methane
that's coming from the water.
'This drinking water is fizzing with gas,
'so saturated that bubbles trapped in a bottle quickly build up
'to worrying proportions.'
Oh, there's a pop there!
Look at that!
A flaming bottle of gas. That's a lot of methane.
-You don't want that in your water, do you?
'By analysing the different kinds of carbon
'and hydrogen that make up methane gas, Rob
'and his team are able to determine where this gas has come from.'
Natural gas that's found underground and is formed under high heat
and pressure, millions and millions of years ago,
has a different fingerprint than natural gas
formed in shallower layers by microbes, by biological activity.
'Lab results are consistent with water that's come up to the
'surface from the deep shale layer two miles underground.'
This gas looks like what you find naturally in the Marcellus.
The gas is actually mined by the companies for extraction.
Right, so that's down at that level where the fracking's going on,
-Could I drink this?
-You could certainly drink it.
I mean, yeah, all right, should I drink this?
I don't know, I probably wouldn't be crazy about drinking it.
I mean, apart from the bubbles, it looks pretty clear and all the rest of it.
It does. I certainly wouldn't want to drink it regularly.
Would I drink that now? Absolutely.
But would you, would I want to drink that every day
If I lived in this house? Absolutely not.
'One of his studies found measurable amounts of methane
'in 85% of the samples.
'Now, methane can leak naturally from deep underground
'but the pattern that Rob found is revealing.
'He found levels that averaged 17 times higher
'from water sources located within a kilometre of a natural gas well.'
Yeah, there's no question that there are homes
and historical data that show methane in people's water
long ago, and there are stories going back
generations of people being able to light their water naturally.
I think what we see is that you have a much higher
prevalence of that for people who are living near a natural gas well,
so it's not that that doesn't occur,
it's just it occurs a lot more often if you're near a gas well.
So, the million dollar question, then -
how is the gas getting to the surface?
Well, we think the most likely pathway is through the well
itself by drilling a hole into the ground, by not sealing it
properly with cement or by using steel tubing where the joints
aren't sealed, that it's actually kind of leaking out the well itself.
Probably not what people are most concerned about
and that's a direct communication from thousands of feet
underground, all the way up to surface through the rock.
So it's unlikely, then, that you frack, and that there's a fracture
goes all the way up and gas starts to kind of follow it?
Yeah, I think it's very unlikely.
It's not impossible in an area even like this where you have
natural fractures and fissures underground.
A frack might connect to one of those natural fractures
but in general, I think that's much less,
much less likely than in a well that's constructed poorly.
'If he's right, it suggests the problem here is not with
'fracking deep underground but nearer the surface with well construction,
'certainly when it comes to methane,
'but he didn't find any evidence
'there nor anywhere else that fracking fluid had leaked from a well.
'It makes for a complex picture, one that's just starting to emerge.'
So it sounds like there's lots and lots of questions,
and, at the moment, very few answers.
Yeah, there are a lot of unanswered questions
but a lot of good people in different groups around
the country and around the world trying to answer those questions.
'And those questions are being asked around the world,
'because other countries, including Britain, are set to follow
'the Americans and start fracking,
'because if you look at a geological
'map of Britain, it's clear we have substantial reserves of shale gas.'
So what we're seeing now is, flying over Britain, about maybe
300 metres above the surface,
and ahead of us you can see following the road, is Mam Tor.
So this is where I was just the other day,
walking around on that hill.
What a great way to see it.
And if we start to descend, now this is the beauty of this model...
We crash through!
That's the ground, looking from below, and what we see here is the
bottom surface of the shale, and now you can see clearly this landscape,
places where the shale is deep, places where the shale is shallow.
Now we're coming out somewhere in the north of England,
by the look of it.
And what we have here is the Pennines, and to the right
and the left or the east and west,
the shale goes down deep underneath those areas, so into Lincolnshire
and, for example, under Blackpool and under Lancashire,
but also there's shale underneath these areas here, north of London
then curling round south of London to Sussex and also into Hampshire.
So a big question, really, how much shale gas is there?
All I can say is we know a lot about how much shale there is
but we don't quite know how much gas there is.
But it looks to me that there's a lot of it.
Yeah, there's a lot of shale
so the chances are there's quite a lot of shale gas.
'The go-ahead to frack has been given by the Government in Britain
'but on a small scale, and it's going to happen differently here
'in a legal and regulatory framework that's tougher than in the States.
'For instance, in the UK, companies will have to disclose
'what's in their fracking fluids.
'But what I think British engineers
'and scientists will have to convincingly demonstrate is not
'just that they know the risks, but that they will manage them safely.
'There is one risk that arose here that needs to be put into context.
'When the first frack happened in Britain in 2011,
'it triggered an earthquake, a small one, similar to the 300
'or so that take place in Britain every year because of mining.
'So, despite the alarm, from that perspective,
'the seismic risks are small.'
I set out to explore the American experience of fracking,
and it seems to me that there's some real lessons to be learned.
From a technical perspective, there's a consensus emerging
that says that the risks of ground water contamination are fairly low
as long as you can ensure the safe engineering of those gas wells.
In the UK, a Royal Society report came to pretty much the same conclusion.
You know, there's broader questions.
I mean, should we do it?
Do we want to do it? And what is the ultimate price we're going to pay?
Answering those questions isn't just for scientists.
It's for all of us.
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