What is it?
You’ll be familiar with the fact that we can find oil and gas buried deep in the earth, and it’s accessed via drilling. Fracking, or to give it its full name ‘hydraulic fracturing’, extracts gas from shale (a sedimentary rock) deposits and is a much more complex process when compared to ‘traditional’ gas and oil drilling.
During the extraction process fluid (water) is injected into existing cracks in rocks until they break open and create larger breaks in the rock formations. Oil and Gas from surrounding shale moves into the cracks and is forced down into a bored well, from where it can be extracted. The diagram below shows the basic principals.
In the modern version of fracking at least a million gallons of high pressure water can be used per ‘frack’. It’s this method of fracking that has been proposed for UK sites.
Who wants to get involved and what are the regulations?
The companies in the UK that are involved with onshore exploration for shale gas deposits are listed below:
The UK law which governs gas and oil licensing dates all the way back to the 1960s and many have concerns about its relevance today. There are elements of the fracking process which would not be regulated under current law and those opposing Fracking argue that the inadequate regulation means there is no enforcement when measuring flowback and waste water from fracked wells. Even Cuadrilla, one of the most prominent drilling organisations in fracking, has called for better regulation for fracking in the UK.
What impact will it have?
Fracking helps drilling firms get to difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. Looking at previous case-studies, fracking in America has significantly boosted domestic oil production and subsequently given America and Canada gas security for 100 years. It has helped to lower gas prices and has created the opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.
In the UK it is believed that shale gas and fracking could be significant in securing future energy needs. A more recent report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee last year has supported the above theory, but suggests that fracking may not affect gas prices in the UK.
Much of the controversy surrounding fracking comes down to environmental worries. The process of fracking requires millions of gallons of water which usually wouldn’t be available onsite and would need to be transported, which has a high environmental cost. There are also worries of pollution; that carcinogenic chemicals used may contaminate nearby groundwater if they escape the fracking site. Many people from the industry suggest that pollution results only from bad practice rather than from proven fracking techniques. Other worries are that fracking can cause tremors or earthquakes (there have been previous reports of two small tremors in Blackpool at fracking sites) The industry answer is that the quakes will only be noticeable to a few and will not cause damage.
Finally, environmental campaigners say that fracking is distracting the government and energy firms from investing in sustainable renewable energy and is causing further reliance on oil and gas.
Fracking, like many other energy extraction techniques, has its positives and negatives; with advances in its regulation and investment from energy companies it looks set to be a popular choice for the UK government in creating new oil and gas reserves as we go into 2014.
You can follow updates on UK fracking news from our Twitter account @KingsbridgeProf and let us know your opinion on the practice.