The Fuss about Fracking

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The Fuss about Fracking

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With the recent explosion all over our news screens about fracking over the last month or so, and how it is looking to be the new method of obtaining fuel to provide us with a much needed source of energy, I thought it was only appropriate that I did some research into the matter of my own.


Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is a method of obtaining natural gas or oil (fuel) that is trapped within a layer of shale rock roughly 1-2 miles into the Earth’s crust. The well is firstly drilled straight down to the layer of shale rock, and then horizontally, progressing through the rock layer. The process involves fracturing this shale rock, in order to release the gas, by means of a high powered water jet that is mixed with sand particles and chemicals to encourage the fracturing process. As the rocks break up, the gas is released which is then transported back up to the surface where it can be used. Though this has taken its place in the limelight fairly recently, it is a means of obtaining fuel that has been used for some time now, with energy companies combining horizontal drilling techniques with “hydraulic fracturing” over a decade ago in the U.S.A.


Ratcliffe-on-Soar is a large coal-based power station near Nottingham. It can be seen from the nearby Attenborough Nature Reserve, which has become something of an iconic image, showing the stark contrast between the two sites.


It is a heavily debated topic and rightly so, with those opposing it bringing up the environmental, and public health issues that are a potential risk, and those supporting it reminding us all that it is important to move away from our current dependence on coal that drives our current power plants, and that the potential for economic growth should not be ignored. I’ve decided here, to try and bring the pro’s and con’s that I have found together, so that you can come to your own conclusions on the topic.


Positives

  • Job creation
  • Increased income for those who allow drilling on their land
  • Expand local business directly. For example, increased trade in local construction businesses
  • Expand local business indirectly. For example, increased business for local hotels and restaurants due to greater number of people coming to the area (those associated with the work and business involved with fracking)
  • Potentially cheaper source of gas, if production costs can be kept down
  • Published reports have shown that there is evidence of increased city revenues, property values, household income, and quality of public services.
  • It’s use in the U.S has allowed the U.K to see what needs to be done to make sure sufficient regulations are in place, and that the correct procedures are followed to minimise negative impacts.
  • carbon emissions of natural gas are estimated to be half that of traditional coal burning methods

Negatives

  • Anywhere between 2-10 million cubic feet of water per fracking well, which poses potential risks to the quality of surface water. This may seem like a lot of water, but compared to other uses such as irrigation, it is a small percentage.
  • Unknown how readily the natural gas in the UK’s shale rock can be obtained through the fracking process.
  • It is stated that 75% of the water will be reused for subsequent fractures, but this still means that the remaining 25% required will have to be supplied from somewhere.
  • Increased lorry traffic transporting the materials are likely to increase deterioration to local road systems.
  • Environmental damage will be sustained in order to make space for the well sites, as well as the connecting road networks necessary to allow transportation of materials.
  • Natural gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere during the fracking process are high, and can contribute to climate change. This being a finding from work carried out in the U.S.A, and something that I can only hope will be controlled more stringently in the UK.
  • Fracking was stopped in the UK back in 2011 after it became apparent that the process was responsible for causing small earthquakes.

I’ve tried to keep this blog post nice and balanced as I know this is a topic that could lead to heated debate. I am a great lover of the natural world and, as a wildlife photographer, there’s nothing I would love more than for our own flora and fauna to be put first in this instance. However, I think that fracking is something that will become more widespread throughout the UK, I can only hope that the value of the UK’s natural environment is kept in mind.


Comments
  • There is a great review article on exactly these issues in a paper called "Hazard Assessment Articles: Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective" if you can find it on the web. It's written by Theo Colborn and fellow authors.

    The terms used in the paper could be some cause for concern. It mentions the various chemicals used in the process and the health risks associated with them, though I always take these with a pinch of salt. Our drinking water already contains a number of chemicals in order to make it safe. These include liquefied chlorine, Fluorosilicic acid, Aluminium sulphate, Calcium hydroxide, and so on. Due to the pipes through which water travels you can never really guarantee the purity of drinking water anyway. The main issue I came across in my reading was that natural gas had been found to be seeping into drinking water in the U.S.

    Also, it is true Vanellus that a well can have a relatively short life-span, but there can be up to 30 wells per pad, making the overall life-span of the drilling pad quite extensive. Whether this would make it worth the environmental impacts is difficult to say. I'd rather not see wells popping up everywhere, ruining not only the habitats for local wildlife but the general beauty of an area.

  • Articles elsewhere also refer to potential ground water contamination and local pollution due the chemicals used in combination with the fracking solution, did you come across any information on these?

  • The life-span for an individual well is relatively short, less than a decade. So all that environmental upheaval is for a very short-term gain.