Yesterday the UK Government’s climate change advisory body said that in their opinion, the UK should push on with fracking. They dismissed claims by groups such as Greenpeace that fracking can cause damage to the environment.
What is fracking, and why does it create such strong feelings on both sides of the argument? Fracking involves drilling a vertical well to reach shale formations. When the shale is reached, the drilling becomes horizontal and water, sand and chemicals are pumped in allowing shale gas to be released. The pro-fracking lobby says that shale gas will reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign imports of fossil fuel and some say it will reduce household bills. They also point to the experience in the US where it’s claimed that emissions have been cut because it’s cleaner than coal. Greenpeace claim that gas and toxic chemicals used in fracking could contaminate water supplies and that exploding mineral reserves impairs efforts to cut emissions. But the advisory body are having none of that, they say “it just isn’t true that fracking is going to destroy the environment…”
So how can the two sides be saying what amounts to totally opposite points of view? Who is right? As usual the truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extreme arguments, and your point of view will be determined by the filter that you use to consider such issues. Everything we see in life, every decision we make is based on our particular filter which we create over our lifetime based on our experiences. This is one of the reasons why two people can look at the same event or issue and have opposite opinions. Of course our filter might not be pure, it can be tainted by greed, ignorance, ego, self-interest or many other things, but it is all that some people have. More about filters another time.
Back to fracking. I want to mention a recent study by Christian Klose, a consultant geophysicist, whose research in the Journal of Seismology identified 92 large earthquakes likely to have been caused by humans. Some he claims were triggered by water extraction (such as Lorca, Spain in 2011), others were caused by coal extraction (Newcastle, Australia in 1989 where 13 people died). Klose argues that the earth has thousands of geological faults under enormous pressure similar to those in a coiled spring. When humans pile up vast masses of water or minerals on the surface, or extract them from beneath, the weight of the overlying land can be enough to release that geological tension causing an earthquake. Sounds logical. In fact, Britain’s first exploratory fracking operation, near Blackpool, was shut down for more than a year when it triggered small quakes.
There are more questions than answers when we talk about fracking. In my opinion it cannot reduce household bills and it can only ever been on a small scale in the UK because of a shortage of water and given where the shale gas reserves have been formed. This debate touches on such wide issues. You get much wider than the environment, emissions and future energy programs. And herein lies one of the reasons why fracking creates such an intense debate, with former Page 3 models willing to risk prison to make their point.
I remain uncomfortable with the process of fracking and doubtful over its long-term benefits when compared to the potential problems. The UK needs to solve its energy issues, and I cannot help but look to the policy in Germany, but that is for another blog.