The word on everyone's lips.
The word 'fracking' has been popping up everywhere recently, so what is it?
Fracking was stopped in the UK in 2019 due to increased pressure from environmental organisations and concerns about earth tremors resulting in earthquakes. Recently however, Liz Truss, the UK's ex Prime Minister, lifted the ban on fracking as part of her new energy strategy.
Update: The UK's new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has said he will reimplement the ban on fracking within the UK.
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is an extraction technique that pumps fluids at high pressure into shale rock underground. The high pressure fluids break the rock, releasing gas inside, whilst also causing tremors, small movements in the earth’s surface.
Deep holes are drilled into the rock, followed by horizontal drilling that allows more gas to be released. The liquid pumped in then creates small openings in the rocks, and allows the gas to float into the channels and up to the surface for collection and transportation.
Why is fracking controversial?
Concerns from; environmental groups, the general public and The Oil and Gas Authority put a halt to fracking in 2019. However, in 2022 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis, the government stated they needed ‘all options’ on the table to help boost the supply of energy within the UK.
There are many environmental concerns surrounding fracking, these include:
- Water contamination. The process can cause something called ‘flowback’ in which the liquid leaks from the holes and into groundwater. The liquids contain substances that can be harmful to health.
- Earth tremors. The high pressure liquid pumped into the ground increases the risk of earthquakes. The more it is done, the higher the risk. In 2018, a British Geological Survey recorded 120 tremors at a fracking site in Preston, Lancashire. Although most were not felt, this was a concern for local residents.
- Sites needed to be built. According to Greenpeace, thousands of wells would be needed to produce just half of the gas the UK needs. This would need an ‘industrial operation’, impacting Britain’s countryside with the removal of habitats and other beautiful scenery.
- It wouldn’t actually help. Experts say due to the size of the operation it would take years to begin extracting shale gas, and the amount of gas actually available in the UK means that we’d still be far short of being self-sufficient if we used fracking. Even in 2019 the operation had barely started when it was halted, and it would have to be kickstarted all over again.
As well as this, people simply don’t want fracking. There was uproar in several parts of the UK over the time when fracking was first introduced, including the process being banned completely in Scotland and strong legislation in Wales. Recent research from YouGov also shows the opposition to the process.
What are the alternatives?
With the clear controversy surrounding the fossil fuel fracking extraction process, we already have cheaper, alternative energy sources that must be utilised.
Fracking is deeply unpopular, in contrast to renewable energy, whereby 79% of respondents in a survey undertaken by Statista stated that they are in support of the use of renewable energy.
Community energy forms part of the solution for a more resilient and sustainable energy infrastructure. Whilst being renewable, it also helps the community, and doesn’t take years to set up (like a fracking operation would). Building more renewables would reduce consumer energy bills quicker than fracking within the UK, as fracking would only create a marginal difference in the future. Alongside this, the environmental benefits of community energy compared to making fractures in the rocks and extracting gas are endless.