As protest groups gather in the village of Balcombe in West Sussex, the Energy firm Cuadrilla has announced it will “scale back” fracking operations. In short, fracking (the colloquial term for ‘hydraulic fracturing’) involves drilling miles down into the earth, and then the same distance horizontally. A combination of water, sand and a few chemicals is then injected at a high pressure, causing the rock to fracture and the trapped gas to surface.
The said protest groups, whose campaign is called “No Dash for Gas”, are comprised not of locals but of Occupy movement types – the sort who would have been present at the G20 protests, and outside St Paul’s last year. Threatening behaviour towards Cuadrilla’s workers have prompted the temporary abandonment of works.
The tenuous grounds on which the protesters, not to be mistaken with the peaceful Nimbys, object to fracking can be summarised as follows: the unfounded belief that it will contaminate groundwater, the misrepresented assertion that it will cause earthquakes, and that it will blemish the countryside. Theirs is a frivolous campaign aimed at scaremongering local residents, and has already cost police an estimated £750,000.
In the US, where hydraulic fracturing of shale gas accounts for over a quarter of its natural gas production, there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate the claim made by opponents that the process contaminates aquifers and groundwater. Reports undertaken by both the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering have both given support to fracking, saying it is safe as long as properly regulated.
Documentaries, notoriously ‘Gasland’, depict videos of homeowners setting alight their tap water, alleging the cause to be escaped methane. Let’s dispel the misapprehension that this is attributable to fracking. To blame is shoddy regulation (faultily assembled pipes and so on), not the process of fracking per se. In accordance with the Royal Society’s findings, the Government has said it will impose stringent regulations to avoid such blunders. Furthermore, it was subsequently discovered that in the particular clip featured in ‘Gasland’, the homeowner’s well had been drilled into a natural pocket of methane gas. Indeed, naturally occurring methane has shown up in people’s water for years. The earthquakes that protesters claim fracking will cause, apart from being few and far between, are so minuscule that they are virtually undetectable except by the use of geoscientist equipment. They would not wake you from your sleep.
Actually, the potential benefits of fracking are immense. One has only to look at the US to see this, where energy costs are a third of ours. Then there’s the pressing need for the UK to decrease its dependence on the Middle East. Last year, the level of natural gas production in the UK fell for the first time below import levels, despite the latter falling by 0.9pc. Shale gas will also mean less reliance on coal (by far a more damaging source of energy if it’s the environment that the protesters are concerned about).
Contrary to what some may think, the process of fracking is not a new phenomenon, but has been used in the UK since the 80s. The UK has around 2000 wells, of which 200 have been hydraulically fractured. At Wytch Farm in Dorset, it has been going on since the late 1970s, unbeknown to local residents.
It is high time that the UK jumps on the shale revolution bandwagon. The sooner protesters step aside, the sooner we can all start benefiting from this plentiful resource.