Frack off?

Originally posted on 17th April 2012

The United Kingdom is facing a potential shortfall in energy provision. New methods of energy provision are required. Today the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change published an independent expert report, recommending measures to mitigate the risks of seismic tremors from hydraulic fracturing. Whilst the report is inviting public comment on its recommendations, it has largely been seen as giving a ‘green light’ to hydraulic fracturing. The report looks at its safety and recommends that it should continue, under regulation.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the extraction of natural gas reserves from shale, a densely packed rock. The technique uses water, pumped at high pressure, into the rock to create narrow fractures to allow the gas to flow into the well bore to be captured (source DECC).

The exploitation of any British shale gas reserves does have its benefits. It will provide a British-born source of gas that will provide energy and could, potentially, lower rising gas prices, in an environment where other natural gas supplies are diminishing. Not just a source of gas as we receive it in our homes, but also it would be able to generate electricity in gas-powered power stations. A much-needed resource in a country where the oil and gas reserves are diminishing, companies are dropping out of providing new nuclear power stations and there is continued opposition to the exploitation of renewable sources of energy. There are also employment opportunities too, much needed in times of recession.

But fracking is hugely controversial. The procedure caused two earthquakes and several other seismic events in the Blackpool area in 2011. In the aftermath of Fukushima, there is huge concern over seismic safety. Fracking has also been linked to the contamination of drinking water aquifers in the US, the chemicals used in the fracking process have been linked with health problems for nearby communities and it has been reported that levels of methane get high enough in some domestic water supplies to catch fire. And that is before considering the environmental impacts of any gas power stations.

So where is the balance to be found? Decades of short termism and outsourcing of provision to foreign companies have left the UK energy poor. The renewable energy assets of the nation have not been anywhere near exploited to their potential. The UK lags far behind other European nations, such as Germany, in terms of renewable energy infrastructure and in terms of developing skills, employment opportunites and innovation. New nuclear is falling to the whims of the markets and fossil fuel resources are diminishing. The country needs energy. Fracking is potential dangerous and undesirable, but has the United Kingdom left itself with few alternatives?

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