Before I’m accused of using any profanities, check that word again – yes, its fracking. This is the process of drilling down into the earth and injecting a high-pressure fluid into the rock which exposes the gas inside. Drilling companies have exclaimed that trillions of cubic feet of shale gas may be recoverable from underneath parts of Northern England. Whilst this sounds great; more resources which can be utilised through a distinctive technique – it has prompted environmental concerns despite revolutionising the energy industry.
Before the procedure even begins, each gas well requires an enormous amount of supplies; an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site. It doesn’t take a genius to highlight the environmental costs of such transport.
When the rock is split during the process, some experts worry carcinogenic chemicals escape and potentially contaminate groundwater, seeing as up to 600 chemicals are used in the fracking fluid. It has been reported that methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracking sites than normal wells. Yum, that’s just the thing you want to be drinking in the morning. It is suggested that this contaminated water can cause sensory, neurological and respiratory problems in the worst case scenarios.
Of all the fluid pumped underground into the rocks, only 30-50% of it is recovered. The rest is left in the ground in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful compounds into the atmosphere – creating contaminated air, acid rain and ground level o-zone.
There are also worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors; evidenced by the two small earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude in Blackpool which followed fracking in 2011. Might this be the Earth’s way of telling them to frack off?
An underlying issue away from the technique itself is the argument advanced from environmental campaigners, stating that the reliance on this process is detracting attention from investing in renewable energy sources. As we have all heard a thousand times before, we need an environment based on efficiency and renewable energy, of which shale gas is not the solution.
The recent heightened usage, particularly in the UK, means that overall it can be considered a young energy source – ironic given that the process has been around for decades. In turn, this means that fracking is relatively unregulated, which is concerning when it is a tool for mass-extraction. However, this is set to change given the increasing paramountcy of the energy source.
Given these (potential) flaws, why might the government heavily appraise the invention? Fracking allows the access to resources of oil and gas which are otherwise difficult to reach. Most extensively used in the US, it has boosted domestic oil production and driven down gas prices. Although not renewable energy, it has exposed the chance to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal. Some would therefore argue that fracking could mitigate of our detrimental contribution to the environment regarding the most troublesome greenhouse gas. Within the UK, this could contribute to our future energy needs by securing energy supplies. In the end, fracking approximately produces 300,000 barrels of natural gas a day.
One of the enormous benefits for the United States is that fracking advances energy independence. The country has been dependent on petroleum-extracting nations and therefore energy needs are inseparably tied to foreign politics. Fracking could potentially release a large part of the national economy from foreign hydrocarbon energy.
If the pollution associated is reined-in, this may downplay the importance of coal, which is currently the world’s leading greenhouse gas producer. The upshot of all this is that even if fracking does clean up its act, it is not the end answer to the world’s energy and environmental crisis. The only thing that a cleaner natural gas industry can do is lower greenhouse gas emissions temporarily; not omit them altogether.
The UK government has proclaimed many of the environmental concerns to be ‘myths’ and is so certain that fracking has a prominent role to play in the future of energy that they want to change the trespass laws to allow piping to be placed under private land without infringing rights. So if you’re woken up tomorrow by a man drilling in your garden, waving at you through the window, and kicking over your gnomes, just remember, it’s all in the name of fracking.
By Dre Efthymiou