Fracking has come into the public eye over the past few months as its use has increased in a number of countries, including the USA. However, the comparatively modern techniques for extracting gas and oil from shale, a type of rock, has gained a controversial reputation, and it’s place in Britain’s energy mix has been questioned before it has been granted legislative backing.
One of the main reasons is that industries have recently developed the technology to access areas previously thought to be out of reach. Particularly in the UK, massive reserves of shale gas and oil could be now accessible thanks to fracking, and this could bring significant benefits to the economy. However, sometimes this involves drilling near or along tectonic fault lines, which requires pumping gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the rock fissures found in the rock in order to force the oil and gas to flow out. This has two potentially serious implications.
First, fault zones are sensitive enough that, without good care, such action might cause serious tectonic activity. In 2011, small earthquakes in Lancashire were caused by fracking along what was later identified as a minor tectonic fault. Care needs to be taken to ensure that similar mistakes do not occur again.
Second, the chemical compounds used, in conjunction with water and sand, to release the gas have raised questions as some have been found to be radioactive. Naturally, people are worried about contamination of the water that they drink and the danger to the environment in which they live. Four states in the US – Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas – are questioning the social impacts of such issues.
With the UK’s domestic energy security relying heavily upon expensive imported gas, fracking does present a potential solution. However, it is not necessarily a desirable one. While the Green Party and many local campaign groups near potential drilling sights, such as the one in Balcombe, near Brighton, oppose the practice due to questions over its value for money and the fact that it is still harnessing fossil fuels, both Labour and the Conservatives are on the side of the industry. No surprise there, but what does the general public say? Surprisingly, they say yes, but for a good reason: domestic reserves of natural gas and oil are expected to run out in about five years. Until then, the UK has to find a way to address this situation, and while some more optimistic folk look at alternative sources such as wind and solar energy, many others take the more realistic path and stick to what is more reliable.
Although the UK cannot afford to pass on this opportunity, this must be done responsibly. Troubles in the US have already shown what happens when the industry goes unregulated. If the country is to get out of its energy crisis, it needs to tread carefully but step forward nonetheless.