As Turkey seeks its own version of the “Shale Revolution,” what can it learn from the example of the United States where growing evidence points to the negative impacts of fracking on human and environmental health?

On August 23, 2011 the Hallowiches, a couple living in a ten-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania with their two young children, settled their lawsuit against certain shale gas development companies for $750,000, and as part of the settlement, gave up their rights to the property and agreed to a life-long gag order (including the young children), prohibiting them from speaking about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activity in the Marcellus Shale. In the transcript of the once-sealed proceedings, the couple admitted that they had agreed to the settlement for the health of their children. “We needed to do this to get them out of this situation,” Mr. Hallowich told the court.

Oil and natural gas trapped within subterranean rock or stone is known as shale, and the method of extracting it is known as hydraulic fracturing. A pressurized cocktail of water laced with sand and chemicals is injected into rock to crack (fracture) it to enable the trapped oil or gas to be pumped to the surface. The fracking boom, which began in earnest in the U.S. in 2003, “with more than 80,000 wells drilled or permitted since 2005,” has been touted as leading the U.S. to energy independence with cheap, abundant reserves of shale!

Are the economic benefits exaggerated?

Fracking has also arrived in Turkey. Shell and Turk Petrol Anonim Ortaklığı (TPAO) are exploring and drilling for shale in two regions in Turkey: the Southeastern Anatolian Dadas Shale near Diyarbakir (Shell), and in the Hamitabat Shale in the Thrace region: both regions have active fault lines. Drilling has already started in Silvan in southeast Anatolia. The Minister of the Economy, Taner Yildiz has stated extraction of shale gas cannot be expected until 2020, and that reserves may be sufficient for 15 years, although another report estimates the reserves to be sufficient for only ten years.

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It has been reported that the lack of consistency in estimating the amount of reserves is common (with US reserves commonly overestimated by 100% or even 400%), and the economic benefits appear to be seriously exaggerated.