The Divisive Topic of Fracking in UK
By Anne Lewis-Schneider
So much controversy surrounds the subject of Hydraulic Fracturing that it has become a hot-bed of discussion. Fracking as it is known is a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock where it is naturally stored. This would mean a new source of energy to boost gas production in the UK, but the question being asked most concerns the safety of the techniques which have been found to be responsible for water contamination as well as possibly a connection to earth tremors.
The process of fracking is not that complex. A shaft is drilled vertically for about a mile down into the earth and then drilling begins horizontally. A high pressure mixture of water, sand and a small amount of chemical lubricant then blasts against the rock which fractures the shale, thus allowing the natural gasses trapped underground to be extracted and piped to the surface where it can be stored and subsequently sold. This drilling process can take up to a month, with production being immediate. Water used for the fracturing is stored in pits and removed for treatment to remove contaminants.
Fracking is a common process in the USA where it has been done ever-increasingly from 2000, where 1% of the gas supply came from shale beds, to current times where a staggering 25% of America’s natural gas supply is now harvested by fracking. Fracking has still remained controversial in the USA, as it is in the UK. The benefits and draw-backs are numerous.
The greatest advantage of fracking is that it is an in-land rather than off-shore supply of gas that is readily available for use. However the infrastructure may be lacking due to slow developments in the technology needed, and the question of cost efficiency in the end product. Many job opportunities could be created by this industry which would be a boost for the UK economy, with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers quoting figures of 1300 jobs per annum over a ten year period on a site in Lancashire alone. It has been said that resources may be 50% more than conventional gas resources.
Negative drawbacks are the possible contamination of water supplies, and gas leakages from the wells polluting water. Along with this is the concern for underground instability which could lead to minor earthquakes, and damage to housing in towns surrounding facking sites. The debate continues.
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