Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is forcing fractures in a rock layer, by pressurized fluid.It is now used to force oil and natural gas from shale.Some hydraulic fractures form naturally: certain dykes are examples.Advocates of fracking point to the economic benefits from the vast amounts of previously out of reach hydrocarbons, as well as the necessity of finding new energy sources.Opponents point to potential environmental effects, such as contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and fracking chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and the health effects of these. The action group ‘Frack Off’ is vehement in its opposition:”Fracking is a nightmare! Toxic and radioactive water contamination. Severe air pollution. Tens of thousands of wells, pipelines and compressor stations devastating our countryside and blighting communities. All while accelerating climate change. And to produce expensive gas that will soon run out.”
It is certainly true that some countries have suspended or banned fracking but our government has recently lifted the bans. We now have regulations instead of outright prohibition and it turns out that the UK has huge gas reserves if fracking is used.Two areas of Surrey and Sussex are estimated by US authorities to hold 700 million barrels of recoverable shale oil – or more than a year’s supply for Britain.David Cameron is giving fracking the hard sell treatment.In a a column in The Telegraph this week he highlighted the benefits. They are: reducing everyone’s energy bills, the creation of 74,000 jobs, the payment of £100,000 to every community situated near an exploratory well and if gas is extracted, 1% of revenue which could be as much as £10 million will be go straight back to residents who live nearby-which could mean reduction in council tax or investment in schools.Persuasively put, it sounds a winner. He also puts the environmental argument to bed saying that if a shale gas well posed a risk of pollution “then we have all the powers we need to close it down.” And he stresses he “would never sanction something that would ruin our landscapes and scenery.”
It is true that in the US many landowners have made small fortunes when fracking companies have drilled on their land. However it is unlikely the British landowner will own the mineral rights and will therefore not enjoy any financial gain.The money website ‘Watch My Wallet’ recently highlighted the fact that the Land Registry have been sending out strange letters recently, many of which are sent on behalf of the Church of England. These confusing letters assert the church’s right to the minerals below their land.The church wants to formalise its legitimate claims to exploit the minerals located under people’s gardens. A recent change in the law means that ancient rights that they held must be formalised in order that they can exploit them in future. So they are sending out letters to any home owner living on land that was once part of a manor, that the church may have at one time administered.The church claims that it doesn’t want to dig up your garden, but it wants to retain its right to do so.In the face of all the news on fracking perhaps it has seen an opportunity to make more money.
The point is of course that it is about so much more than money; everybody is worried that the energy will run out and this will have an unimaginable impact on our lives; that we need to do something is incontrovertible. It would take a sea-change in people’s attitudes to reduce significantly our energy use so clean alternative energy sources are essential. More resources put in to solar and wind energy seems obvious.The problem is that nobody really knows the long-term consequences of fracking. The scale of these new intense methods are like nothing we have seen before. Up until now the largest onshore gas field in the UK was (not far away from here) in Saltfleetby and it has only 8 wells. To produce the same amount of unconventional gas would require hundreds of wells to be drilled. ‘Frack Off’ also points out the negative impact on health:”Cancer clusters, neurological and reproductive problems in humans and animals have all been reported and should be expected given the chemicals that are being emitted. In the vicinity of unconventional gas extraction, communities are getting sick and the response has been to make people prove that the industry is the cause, or shut up.” It doesn’t sound too promising all in all, but it looks like fracking could supply our future energy source, whether we like it or not.