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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Hindu Editorial: The Risks In Fracking

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The Hindu Editorial: The Risks In Fracking
Title: The risks in fracking 

(The government should impose a moratorium on fracking as the negative consequences outweigh the benefits) 

Many scholars believe that fossil fuel energy will decline markedly by 2050. Such conclusions have been challenged by others who say that the earth has enough resources to quench humankind’s thirst for development for many centuries to come. Among other energy supplies, shale gas and oil are likely to be abundant and available. 

Shale gas and oil are unconventional natural resources found at 2,500-5,000 m below the earth’s surface, as compared to conventional crude oil found at 1,500 m. The process of extracting shale oil and gas requires deep vertical drilling followed by horizontal drilling. 

The most common way to extract shale gas is ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (fracking), where high volumes of water mixed with certain chemicals are pushed down to break the rocks and release the trapped energy minerals. 

Because of its benefits, shale gas is being perceived by some as a ‘saviour’ of humanity. Fracking seems an attractive tool, both politically and economically. To gain such benefits, the government introduced a policy on shale gas and oil in 2013, permitting national oil companies to engage in fracking. 

Under the first phase, shale gas blocks were identified in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. However, environmental groups have strongly criticised this move, which they say will have adverse environmental impacts. Countries like Germany and France and subnational governments like Scotland have banned fracking. 

Positive and negative impacts 

Fracking is bound to have positive economic and political impacts. In the U.S., where shale gas has been commercially exploited for two decades, the prices of fuel and electricity have dropped. Recent negotiations between the Secretary of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and American shale producers to control oil production and prices show that the U.S. has gained significant political advantage. 

Similarly, if India commercially exploits shale deposits, it could meet its ever-increasing energy demand, decrease oil and gas imports, and improve the balance of payments. 

In the U.S. experience, out of 260 chemical substances, 58 have been identified to pose a risk to human life and environment, eight are carcinogens and 17 are toxic to freshwater organisms. Further, as 25-90% of the fluid is not retrieved and cracks in the shaft are possible, there is a high risk of pollution to nearby underground water. 

Instances of groundwater pollution have been reported in the U.S. and Canada. Fracking has other impacts such as increased air emissions (including greenhouse gases) and seismic activity. Environmental impact assessments of the European Union and the U.K. have recognised these risks. 

Legal hurdles 

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that every person has the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air. It is also an established principle that the state holds its natural resources in trust for the benefit of the people, and has the duty to protect these resources from harm. If the risk from fracking to underground water materialises, courts can hold the state responsible for it, stop the activity, and order other corrective and preventive measures. 

Another hurdle that fracking might face is the ‘precautionary principle’, which has been incorporated into law. It dictates that where there is a significant risk to the environment or human health, precautionary measures must be undertaken, irrespective of any scientific uncertainty. Therefore, even though some scholars might contest the above-mentioned risks posed by fracking, the government would be obliged to adopt measures to reduce those risks. 

Final Words 

The Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016, sets a priority for use of groundwater — right to water for life, and water to achieve “food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs”. 

Only after satisfying these priorities can underground water be used for other purposes. In the light of the risks involved, the government should impose a moratorium on fracking. 

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) 

The Centre has announced that it revoked the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from Meghalaya from April 1. Here is what you need to know about the Act that has seen a lot of controversy surrounding it. 

What does the AFSPA mean? 

In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law. If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search a premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms. 

Any person arrested or taken into custody may be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station along with a report detailing the circumstances that led to the arrest. 

What is a “disturbed area” and who has the power to declare it? 

A disturbed area is one which is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA. An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities. The Central Government, or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area. A suitable notification would have to be made in the Official Gazette. As per Section 3 , it can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”. 

The Ministry of Home Affairs would usually enforce this Act where necessary, but there have been exceptions where the Centre decided to forego its power and leave the decision to the State governments. 

Vocabulary words: 

Fracking (noun) = The process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. 

Moratorium (noun) = A temporary prohibition of an activity (रोक) 

Outweigh (verb) = Be heavier, more significant than (अतिभार होना) 

Markedly (adv) = Noticeably, clearly (स्पष्ट रूप से) 

Quench (verb) = Satisfy one’s thirst (शांत करना) 

Exploit (verb) = Make full use of, utilize (उपयोग करना) 

Detrimental (adj) = Tending to cause harm (हानिकारक) 

Carcinogen (noun) = A substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue 

Seismic (adj) = Relating to earthquakes (भूकम्प सम्बन्धी) 

Hurdle (noun) = Obstacle, problem (बाधा) 

Discontent (noun) = Dissatisfaction (असंतोष) 

Insistence (noun) = Demand, instruction (आग्रह) 

Commemorate (verb) = Celebrate, recall and show respect for 

Bicentennial (noun & adj) = The two hundredth anniversary of a significant event (दो सौ साल का) 

Instigator (noun) = Planner, initiator (भड़कानेवाला व्यक्ति) 

Immolate (verb) = Kill or offer as a sacrifice (बलिदान करना) 

Broker (verb) = Arrange or negotiate 

Defang (verb) = Make harmless or ineffectual 

Detention (noun) = Custody, imprisonment (हिरासत) 

Frivolous (adj) = Not having any serious purpose or value 

Feeble (adj) = Weak (कमज़ोर) 

Straw that broke the camel’s back = The last in a line of unacceptable occurrences, provoking a seemingly sudden strong reaction 

Teeter (verb) = Move or balance unsteadily 

Egalitarian (noun) = A person who supports the principle of equality for all (समानाधिकारवादी) 

Fraternity (noun) = Brotherhood, fellowship (भाईचारा) 

Reverence (noun) = Deep respect for someone 

    

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