photo by EnergyTomorrow (Flickr Creative Commons)

Due in part to the popularity of the environmental documentary film Gasland, the practice of natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing, alternately known as ‘fracking’ or ‘fracing’, has been the subject of much debate.

The process of hydraulic fracturing involves drilling into shale reservoirs and creating fractures by pumping in water. The principle environmental concerns regarding fracking are the contamination of wells and aquifers with chemicals used in the drilling process, air quality issues and the mismanagement of solid waste.

The spread of fracking for shale gas in the United States has already partially revolutionized the natural gas industry there and the process has both advocates and detractors. But what about in the rest of the world? With much of Europe’s gas being imported from Russia and oil getting a particularly bad rap due to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, might European nations turn to hydraulic fracturing to access gas from shale deposits? Some think so.

Others are less convinced, such as Katinka Barysch from the Centre for European Reform – a London-based pro-European integration think tank – see laws, infrastructure, economic conditions and other factors as hindrances to fracking taking off on the continent:

A couple of wells in Hungary have been abandoned as unpromising. In southern Sweden, environmental concerns may make gas extraction impossible irrespective of whether the geology proves suitable. In Poland, the country considered most promising, not a single well has been drilled so far.

However, Poland seems to be poised to start fracking. Read more about plans for hydraulic fracking in Poland in this Forbes article.

For more on the unfolding fracking controversy in the United States, see the following Al Jazeera English video report.

Gas exploitation angers residents

Additional resources:

Scientific American – What the Frack? Natural Gas from Subterranean Shale Promises U.S. Energy Independence–With Environmental Costs

Economist – Gas or hot air?

Economist – Oil companies dash for gas