Fracking: what you need to know

With ‘easy to reach’ oil and gas running out, fracking has been pushed as a way to plug the gap. But climate change means we can’t afford to dig up yet more polluting fuels. We need to switch to renewable energy instead.


Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used to get oil and gas out of the ground. Water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressure to open up cracks (or fractures) in the rock, releasing the oil or gas trapped inside.

As reserves of more conventional oil and gas have gone down, fracking is seen as a way of extracting even more of these polluting fuels. This has led to a boom in the US, which the UK government hoped to copy.

However, in November 2019, the government called a halt to fracking in England. This was after a report concluded that the small earthquakes caused by the process cannot be controlled.

The government briefly lifted this ban in September 2022, before quickly reinstating it a month later. But whatever some politicians are saying this week, fracking isn’t the energy security solution it’s often made out to be.

What’s so bad about fracking?

Fracked fuels can be even more damaging to the climate than regular oil and gas. The process of extracting these fuels risks causing pollution, harming public health and it wouldn’t even bring energy bills down. Here are some of the main problems with fracking.

It won’t help us limit climate change

Energy experts say that much of the gas that companies have already discovered but not yet extracted needs to stay in the ground. Otherwise we won’t be able to meet our emission reduction targets and limit the effects of climate change. So it doesn’t make sense to go after even more.

Fracking uses more energy to extract it than conventional oil and gas, and fracked gas appears to leak more into the atmosphere. Gas itself is a greenhouse gas so the overall climate impact it produces is greater.

It risks causing pollution and harming health

Not only is fracking bad for our climate, it risks causing air, water and noise pollution. It uses toxic chemicals that may not be regulated well enough. An accident could mean that these chemicals leak into water supplies or cause pollution above ground. In fact, this has happened many times in the US.

It would impact the countryside

The impact of large-scale fracking on the British countryside would be enormous. Thousands of wells would be needed to produce just half of the UK’s gas demand. This industrial operation would also require huge numbers of trucks delivering chemicals and taking away contaminated waste water.

Fracking licences granted in England cover counties like Surrey, Sussex, Somerset, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Many licences threaten environmentally protected areas, like national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Meaning protected habitats and species could be affected, as well as communities living nearby.

It wouldn’t bring down energy bills

On top of all this, fracking won’t even bring down our energy bills. The way the energy market works means any gas from it will be sold to the highest bidder globally, which won’t help reduce bills.

New oil and gas supplies can take years or even decades to get up and running too. So it wouldn’t solve short-term problems with energy prices and supply. And in the long run, climate change means we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not increase it.

Pretend fracking rig outside Westminster as part of anti-fracking protest

In 2016, Greenpeace installed a life-like 10-metre fracking rig and drill at Parliament Square in London to ‘bring the local impacts of fracking to the heart of democracy’. The rig emitted a realistic flame which is fired every hour using bio ethanol, while flood lighting and the sound effects of drilling and lorries are reverberating around the House of Commons. © Kristian Buus / Greenpeace

People don’t want fracking in the UK

People living near potential fracking sites said loud and clear that they didn’t want drilling in their local area. Attempts to drill in Sussex and Lancashire were met with strong local opposition. Elsewhere in the UK, fracking was effectively banned in Scotland in 2015. And in 2018, Wales refused to support any applications for drilling licences.

Ministers in Westminster continued to support it. The local government secretary overturned a vote by Lancashire County Council refusing permission for the oil and gas company Cuadrilla to drill there. And in 2018, three people were jailed for peacefully protesting Cuadrilla’s trucks. Although they were released on appeal, they are believed to have been the first environmental protesters to receive prison sentences since the 1990s.

In November 2019, the government announced a surprise U-turn. Following a report on the risks of earthquakes caused by fracking, all operations were halted. While not completely banned, the difficulties of undertaking fracking without causing more seismic activity forced companies to shelve their projects indefinitely.

In September 2022, the government briefly lifted the pause on fracking before quickly reinstating it a month later. This was after months of rising gas prices worldwide, which caused Britain’s energy prices to skyrocket too. Some politicians wanted more oil and gas production, so pushed for new oil and gas licences and fracking. But digging up more fossil fuels won’t solve the energy price crisis or create a cleaner energy system.

What are the alternatives to fracking?

Rather than pursuing fracking, our government should be investing in renewable energy to help reduce emissions and tackle climate change.

Upgrading UK houses with energy efficiency improvements can reduce the amount of gas we need. Doing this would also help warm homes, cut bills and reduce emissions. That means investing in things like insulation, double glazing and heat pumps.

We’ll continue to push for clean energy solutions and make sure fracking doesn’t make a comeback.