Fracking – hydraulic fracturing – is a process that has been mired in controversy ever since oil and gas companies first attempted to bring the process to onshore wells. Fracking involves injecting a slurry of water, proppants (solid materials, eg, sand, to keep the fractures open) and mixtures of chemicals (to change the nature of the cracks formed) into drilled wells in order to release oil and gas from previously stable rock formations.
This practice has aroused public concern and anger in communities and countries across the world. Opposition stems from real concerns about groundwater contamination, seismic activity, and leaking methane gas. A ban on fracking in the UK was lifted in 2012, despite seismic activity that could be felt by local residents and which damaged one of the wells. (See Gas ‘fracking’ gets green light by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, 17 April 2012)
The government and drilling companies are presently taking a softly-softly approach, not wanting to plough ahead with a deeply unpopular practice that runs counter to their carefully maintained ‘green’ image (which in reality consists of little more than a few tokenistic cycle paths).
Research on the impact of fracking is largely inconclusive, by design, focusing on narrow aspects of the technique and not on the practice as a whole. It would also appear that the government is withholding a report on fracking – one that may have influenced Yorkshire County Council’s decision to approve the first well since the ban was lifted four years ago.
The independent Committee on Climate Change presented its report to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd over six weeks ago, yet it remains unpublished, contrary to the Infrastructure Act 2015. (Fracking: ministers ‘sitting on’ Climate Change report on shale industry by Paul Waugh, Huffington Post, 25 March 2016)
Whilst this report been illegally suppressed, questions over the actual usefulness of fracking have yet to be addressed.
The British Geological Survey estimates there are 4.7 trillion cubic feet of gas lying under Britain, which, despite being only 2.5 percent of the fracking company Cuadrilla’s estimate, sounds like a lot. However, only 5-10 percent of this is likely to be recoverable, and would require thousands of wells, between 6-8 per site, meaning 800 in Lancashire alone.
The push for fracking coincides with the reduction and end of many subsidies for renewable energies, such as small-scale solar and onshore wind farms.
Usually when awful ideas are railroaded through, it is simple to figure out why: money. In this case, we are at a slight loss, as British shale gas will be more expensive to produce than the price at which gas is currently trading. (See UK gas: fracking up, Financial Times, 27 May 2016)
So it would seem that the plan to turn swathes of the countryside into Mordoresque gas fields is not only potentially disastrous to our food and water supplies, it is also unprofitable!
The only apparent reason for allowing fracking to proceed is to keep the fossil fuel giants happy. While they are not charging headlong into the breach, with relatively small companies presently taking the lead, it is quite possible they are keen to keep the door open should they wish to exploit these resources in future, if and when they become profitable.