What is fracking?
Fracking is a way of extracting gas or oil which is trapped inside rocks – such as shale.
Conventional ways of getting oil and gas out of the ground basically involve drilling a well vertically down to a gas or oil reservoir, through the layers of rock above it. The oil or gas then flows up the well under its own pressure.
Because it is trapped like this it won’t flow freely on its own. So a well has to be drilled into the shale layer, often 1000 to 4000 metres below ground. The well can then continue horizontally for up to two kilometres to access more of the shale.
To get the gas or oil out, the rock has to be fractured – this is known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or fracking for short. Once the well has been drilled, a charge containing explosives is passed along the well fracturing the rock. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped down the well at very high pressure. This opens up the fractures in the rock and, when the pressure is released, the gas or oil flows back up the well.
Fracking can also be used to extract coal bed methane, another fossil fuel.
What is so bad about fracking?
Fracking risks contaminating our water supply
This is important because, in England, groundwater is used to supply a third of our drinking water.
Lord Smith, when Chair of the Environment Agency said “groundwater contamination is the biggest environmental risk in this activity”.
According to the British Geological Survey, “Groundwater may be potentially contaminated by extraction of shale gas both from the constituents of shale gas itself, from the formulation and deep injection of water containing a cocktail of additives used for hydraulic fracturing and from flowback water which may have a high content of saline formation water.”
There is evidence of problems in the US: the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has published details of 243 cases where oil and gas drilling contaminated drinking water wells between 2008 and 2014.
Fracking uses high volumes of water
It is estimated that between 2-5 million gallons of water are needed per well, depending on the type and duration of the operation.
This ‘produced water’ cannot be introduced back into the water supply due to its toxicity. 80% of this water is usually lost during the course of the operation, with the remaining 20% that is retrieved being temporarily stored in evaporation pits.
At a time when water is becoming an increasingly precious resource, can we afford to lose this amount of water from our supplies? Especially when considered that each frack pad may contain up to ten wells.
It is proposed that toxic waste water will be stored in wells that have reached the end of their life. This means that the well casing needs to have permanent integrity, far beyond the duration of the fracking operation. Such storage methods have also been linked to earthquakes and landslides in the USA.
Fracking brings big health risks
Following a two-year study, fracking has been banned in New York State because of significant public health risks.
A draft UK Government report warns that “there is a risk that even if contaminated surface water does not directly impact drinking water supplies, it can affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock, or agricultural products”.
The fracking industry and the Government try to convince us that stronger regulation in the UK would avoid such problems, but the Government is weakening regulation of fracking rather than strengthening it.
Because of the risks of fracking, even strong regulation wouldn’t solve the problem. The United Nations Environment Program has concluded “fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [the gas] is extracted properly”.
Will fracking benefit local communities?
Will fracking affect traffic volumes?
Each frack pad will need a supply road to be built to allow the movement of vehicles on and off site.
It is estimated that each pad requires in the region of 1500 – 5000 one-way lorry journeys3. As the majority of pads will be located away from main centres of population, this means that all of those lorry journeys will probably need to pass through a number of villages on existing small roads, having a negative impact on traffic flow, air quality, noise pollution, road surface integrity, road safety and quality of life for the residents of those villages.
Will fracking bring jobs to my area?
Although new wells will create some local jobs, Regeneris’ report for Cuadrilla based on three test wells in Lancashire6 showed that only 43 local jobs would be created.
A new frack pad may well bring a few workers into an area, which would have a positive impact on local economies in the short term, but long term effects could be detrimental due to the ‘boom and bust’ nature of fracking operations, which have relatively short life-spans. Once the wells are closed, the jobs are gone.
Will fracking bring down energy prices?
The Prime Minister’s claims that fracking would cut energy bills were dismissed as “baseless economics” by world-renowned economist Lord Stern. And even the former chairman of leading fracking firm Cuadrilla, Lord Browne, said that UK shale gas would not have a material impact on gas prices.
The forecast for the amount of shale gas that can be extracted in the UK has recently been downgraded. The shale gas industry in the USA has been revealed to have lost hundreds of billions of dollars5. The financial viability of fracking is looking increasingly uncertain. Considering the likelihood that any UK shale gas will be sold on the open market, there is no guarantee that it will supply UK homes. This means that shale gas could play little or no significant part in contributing to UK fuel security or bringing down domestic prices.
Will fracking affect the value of my home?
In the only area of the UK that has so far hosted fracking activity, Blackpool, house prices have fallen as homeowners find their homes difficult to sell. A report in a national newspaper suggested that properties within two miles of a fracking well could lose as much as 24% of their value.