Written by: Richard Clark
Fracking and its consequences have been described as everything from ‘revolutionary’ to ‘disastrous.’ As with many controversial issues, the truth lies somewhere in between these two polar opinions.
The debate over fracking was largely muted until 2014 when several stories emerged from America where the poor construction of wells led to hazardous chemicals leaking into the water supply, including methane which was responsible for ‘flammable water.’ In the last month, the issue has resurfaced with the news that Sajid Javid, the Communities secretary, approved Cuadrilla’s plans to drill four wells at its Preston New Road site, despite the local councillors rejecting the plan.
Fracking will undoubtedly lead to a boost to the UK economy at a time of economic uncertainty given the EU referendum vote, creating jobs and decreasing our reliance on imports. It also gives us an option to rely more on natural gas and decrease our coal consumption meaning a cleaner and cheaper source of energy helping towards decreasing our CO2 emissions. In the short term it is an economic benefit, but the UK must not become over reliant on shale gas instead of developing long term renewable energy sources. In an ideal world, some of the money made from fracking would be redirected to subsidising renewable energy but it remains to be seen if this will be the case.
While the decision in October to commence fracking may have been taken with the aim of boosting the UK economy, it also raises complex environmental concerns. Environmental campaigners argue that fracking will lead to local disruption and industrialising the landscape. Residents fear they will face the same problems caused by fracking in the US. Whilthe former concerns are well founded, with many lorries entering and leaving a fracking site every day leading to congestion in surrounding towns, and a loss of a certain number of greenfield sites, the latter concerns are unlikely to be replicated in the UK. The energy industry generally is far more tightly regulated and fracking is no exception. Wells must be properly constructed so no leakage occurs, and if tremors over 0.5 on the Richter Scale are caused, drilling must cease immediately. For reference, that’s too weak to be felt.
In summary, fracking is not without its problems. Fracking could potentially undermine industry focus on renewable energy sources, cause significant local congestion and severely damage the local environment. Fracking could however, provide a sizeable economic boost and provide a substantial amount of energy security for decades. This is vitally important due to the fact that the UK is projected to import 75% of gas by 2030 without UK fracking. Natural gas also provides a cleaner alternative to coal and in a properly regulated industry earth tremors and methane leakage will almost never occur. While fracking does not aid progress towards the ideal of society running on 100% renewables, it certainly provides a good alternative and will only increase over the next few years in the UK.