To Frack or not to Frack by Angela Caldin
Giddy Gideon backs Fracking
I heard George Osborne’s honeyed tones on the news this weekend announcing big tax breaks for the fracking industry with the aim of kicking off a shale gas revolution in the UK. The Treasury has set a 30% tax rate for onshore shale gas production. That compares with a top rate of 62% on new North Sea oil operations and up to 81% for older offshore fields. Some say this is needed to improve Britain’s energy security but others say it will greatly increase carbon emissions. A day or so later, I heard Nigel Lawson on Any Questions extolling the virtues of fracking and rejecting concerns that it will contaminate groundwater and lead to damaging earthquakes. He maintained that shale gas will boost our energy supplies, and should help reduce the market cost, leading to lower energy bills. So far, no shale gas has been produced in Britain, but exploratory drilling is under way and the British Geological Survey recently revealed that there could be huge resources waiting to be unlocked, possibly enough to supply the country for 25 years. Many of these resources are up North in Lancashire and Yorkshire, well away from the stamping grounds of Conservative politicians.
What is Fracking?
A shortening of ‘hydraulic fracturing’, ‘fracking’ involves drilling down into the earth and creating small explosions to shatter shale rock. Water, sand and chemicals are blasted at high speed into a shaft to crack the rock and release gas. After fissures are opened, gas is driven out by the pressure and released up to the surface. The gas industry says it is safe, clean and sustainable, but environmental groups say it poses human health risks and presents a problem for global warming. Groundwater contamination is completely refuted by fracking’s supporters who say there has not been an authenticated case of groundwater contamination because groundwater is near the surface and fracking takes place far below the surface. They maintain that as far as earthquakes are concerned, while there have been a few instances of minor tremors deep down where the fracking takes place, these have no effect whatsoever on the surface, where we all live.
Nevertheless, fears surrounding fracking have escalated due to various horror stories from overseas, with the process causing problems in France, America and Australia. In the US, where fracking is widely used, and considered by many to be successful and beneficial, there have been reports of tap water igniting due to apparent contamination because of the drilling. Australian farmers have also united in opposition to the process, because of ground water and soil contamination fears. In France, President Hollande said recently: “As long as I am president, there will be no exploration for shale gas in France. The debate on shale gas has gone on for too long.”
Fracking in the UK
Here in the UK, the process was banned in 2011 when test-drilling caused two minor earthquakes in Lancashire’s Fylde coast. A 1.5 magnitude quake struck the area and two months later, a 2.2 magnitude tremor struck Blackpool. The Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change then asked three experts to make an independent assessment of fracking in the North West and its risks. Their report said that more earthquakes as a result of fracking were possible, but that the risk was low and structural damage very unlikely.
Greenpeace say that the Government’s plan to follow the US use of fracking is a ‘dangerous fantasy’. They also say there are fears over the quality of the drinking water near another proposed UK fracking site in Sussex. Criticism has also come from the likes of the RSPB, who say that plans for 800 fracking well heads in Lancashire will radically alter bird life in what is a special environmental area.
The Pros and Cons of Fracking
The advantages and disadvantages seem to me to be as follows:
Potentially greater energy independence
Cleaner burning than other fossil fuels
Process will create more jobs
Buys time to develop renewable energy
Possible lower energy prices
Risks to air quality
Leaks more emissions than coal
Linked to earthquakes
Companies don’t have to disclose chemicals used in process
Requires large amounts of water
Threat to special environmental areas
So where do I stand, conscious as I am of our huge appetite for ever increasing energy supplies and being an average consumer myself? I stand in the camp that says that we must urgently develop clean, green, renewable sources of energy. Why would we want to risk earthquakes, water contamination by unknown chemicals, vast usage of huge amounts of precious water and threats to the environment and to climate change? We have the sun, the sea and the wind: I want those resources to be harnessed, not the dangerous gases deep in the earth. As one resident said to a fracking company representative at a meeting in Sussex: “It’s about money for you, but for me it is about life.”
So where do you stand, dear Reader; are you with George and Nigel or are you with me?