MOSCOW, May 27 (RIA Novosti) – As fracking gains momentum worldwide as an alternative and cheaper oil and gas drilling technology, the number of patent applications related to hydraulic fracturing rose nearly 30 percent last year, according to research released by Reuters on Tuesday.
The report by Thomson Reuters’ legal business tallied 706 applications for fracking patents worldwide last year, a 28-percent year-over-year rise. The United States and China accounted for three quarters of the total patents.
A large share went to power systems for isolated fracking projects and water-heating technology for regions lacking abundant electricity, the report said.
The extraction of shale gas through fracking, a mining technology that involves high-pressure water and chemicals injection into hard-rock formations to create fractures through which oil and gas can be pumped, contributes to lower energy prices and increases overall energy use, according to recent studies. The use of shale gas also encourages substitution away from sources such as coal, nuclear, renewables, and electricity, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The technology's benefits are controversial, however, since the process involves injecting liquids with carcinogenic chemicals, which stay in the ground and can pollute soil and groundwater. The water used in extraction can later be treated, but its subsequent safety has not been proven.
Several cases of the harmful effects of fracking on human and animals' health have been reported lately. Fracking has also allegedly caused nearly 50 earthquakes in Mexico since the beginning of the year.
Fracking has been completely banned in several countries including France and Bulgaria. The US government has launched an inquiry into the health risks of hydraulic fracturing.
Russia has the largest shale oil reserves in the world – more than 20 percent of the global total, according to official data of the US Energy Information Administration. It ranks ninth in shale gas resources, after China and the US, among other countries. Russia supplies a third of all natural gas used in Europe and has only used fracking for oil extraction.