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25 Oct, 2012 18:44

Fracking and nuclear side by side in Pennsylvania: A match made in hell?

Fracking and nuclear side by side in Pennsylvania: A match made in hell?

Plans are afoot to drill a well that will use fracking technology only a mile from a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The parties involved say they are unconcerned, despite evidence showing fracking increases incidence of earthquakes.

"We’re not aware of any potential impacts and don’t expect any," said Jennifer Young, spokesperson for plant owner First Energy told Pennsylvania’s Herald Standard. "We see no reason to be particularly concerned."

Environmental authorities approved plans to construct a shale gas well near the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport earlier this month. State rules require any such well to be more than 500 feet from the edge of plant territory, though data indicates that there are no fracking wells that close to nuclear power stations anywhere in the US.

Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing, in full – is a recently-adopted extraction technique, which uses pressurized fluid to crack open impermeable materials deep underground, allowing gas or oil to escape.

It has been linked with a magnitude 4.0 earthquake in Ohio last year, as well as several seismic incidents in Texas and Canada just this autumn.

The US Geological Service has warned that the procedure can cause earthquakes, whose severity and frequency will only become obvious once fracking is more established.

A 2010 report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) listed Unit 1 at the Beaver Valley Power Station as facing the fifth-highest risk of earthquake out of all reactors in the entire United States.

But the NRC says the new well is none of their business.

“Our regulations do not speak to off-site wells,” said NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan. “Our focus is on on-site activities.”

First Energy officials insist that the plant is constructed to withstand a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, which is stronger than has ever been recorded in Pennsylvania. They also say that the safety of the station has been re-evaluated in the wake of last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident, which resulted partly from an earthquake.

Republican-governed Pennsylvania has drilled 3,000 gas wells in the past two years, and has given out 2,000 more permits this year alone.

Before the latest controversy, the state's environmental groups expressed anxiety about the environmental damage and potential water pollution caused by fracking.

Some countries, such as France, have banned fracking entirely – but in the US, it's booming in the United States. It now makes up more than a third of total gas supply, turning America into the world’s biggest gas producer, alongside Russia.