Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing). Is it really bad? What are the dangers?
What is fracking?
"Fracking" (short for hydraulic fracturing) is a very controversial process for extracting natural oil and gas from undergound shale rock layers. Gas which was once unreachable with older technologies can now be extracted using modern techniques.
On the face of it, fracking is quite a simple process. First, drilling into the rock layer takes place - this can be vertical drilling, but is more commonly horizontal. Then, a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The gas can then be brought to the surface. This high pressure mixture fractures the rock, allowing the gas to escape - hence the term "fracking".
So why is fracking so controversial?
Energy companies say they are doing all they can to make sure fracking in done safely. Governments say that is brings enourmous benefits to the economy. However, environmentalists say that fracking is potentially an environmental disaster. Ian R Crane, an ex-oilfield executive, has become a leading opponant of fracking in the UK
So why is it so controversial?
There are three main problems which have been linked to fracking;
- The sheer amount of water needed - so much so, that some have claimed that the process could make water shortages more common
- The risk of pollution from the chemicals used
- The risk of earthquakes - these have already been proven to be caused in some areas to the satisfaction of many experts.
A fourth problem, according to environmental campaigners, is that fracking is another process of recovering fossil fuels, which is diverting attention and investment away from renewable energy.
The sheer amount of water needed
Carbonbrief.org reports that
"One shale gas well might require anything from a few thousand to 20 million litres of water, according to the International Energy Agency. To put that in context, 20 million litres is equivalent to more than six hundred truckloads of water."
According to an article on the greenpeace website, concerns have been raised by Water UK, the UK environment agency and the UK Department of Energy and Climate change.
The risk of pollution from the chemicals used
There are many, many chemicals which can be used in the process.These chemicals are mixed and pumped at very high pressure into the ground, and could potentially get into the water supply. There is a spreadsheet available for download from here
And a list can be viewed online here
Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems, including cancer. The UK NHS website has an article about this here
The risk of Earthquakes
In 2011, newscientist.com reported that
In April and May this year, two small earthquakes struck the UK near the town of Blackpool. Suspicion immediately fell on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking – a controversial process to extract natural gas by fracturing the surrounding rock. A report has now confirmed that fracking caused the earthquakes.
In September 2013, nbcnews.com reported
"Wastewater from the controversial practice of fracking appears to be linked to all the earthquakes in a town in Ohio that had no known past quakes, research now reveals."
Review of the evidence
Many people feel that in Canada, the US and Australia, there is already a lot of evidence to show that high pressure fracking is causing contamination of the water, soil and air. A video has been released examining this subject called "The Truth Behind the Dash for Gas" a short extract of whch is below.
Energy companies say they are doing their best to minimise any problems.
So what are the facts? Do you have any first hand experience of fracking in your area, or do you know of anybody who has? If so, I'd appreciate your comments below so we can all increase our knowledge.