Fracking – or, to give its technical term, hydraulic fracturing – is a process to get at oil and gas contained within shale rocks. Water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals are blasted deep underground to release the oil or gas trapped within the rocks.
As reserves of more conventional oil and gas have dwindled, fracking is seen as a way of extracting even more of these polluting fuels. This has led to a fracking boom in the US, which the UK was keen to copy. However, in November 2019, the government halted fracking in England, following the lead set by Scotland and Wales.
Fracking has so many problems
Energy experts say that much of the gas we’ve already found 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, especially as fracked fuels can be even more damaging to the climate than regular oil and gas. That’s because fracking uses more energy to extract it than conventional oil and gas, and because fracked gas appears to leak more into the atmosphere. Gas itself is a greenhouse gas so the overall climate impact it produces is greater.
Not only is fracking bad for our climate, it risks causing air, water and sound pollution. It uses toxic chemicals where regulation may not be adequate. 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. On top of all this, the impact 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 won’t even bring down our energy bills because the way the energy market works means any gas from fracking will be sold to the highest bidder, which won’t help reduce bills.
People don’t want it
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 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.
But 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 mean it will be very hard for drilling to be restarted.
Now that fracking is off the cards for the foreseeable future, our government should be investing in renewable energy to help reduce emissions and tackle climate change. We’ll continue to push for clean energy solutions and make sure fracking doesn’t make a comeback.