Fracking is a nightmare! Toxic and radioactive water pollution. Tap water you can set on fire. Earthquakes. Runaway climate change. To produce expensive gas that will soon run out. So why are we doing it?
Our present system is addicted to fossil fuels but we are running out fast. As a result the system is turning to more and more extreme measures to feed this habit. Welcome to the world of extreme energy. Tar Sands, Mountain Top Removal, Deep Water Drilling, Coal Bed Methane and Shale Gas are all symptoms of this scramble to suck the last and most difficult to reach drops out of our planet.
In the UK a new method of Shale Gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is being trialled in Blackpool. Fracking has already become wide-spread in the United States where it is destroying the environment and making people’s lives a misery in many places.
What is fracking?
Hydraulic Fracturing is a method used to free gas trapped in rock (that would usually be inaccessible) by cracking the rock using a pressurised fluid. Wells are drilled and the fracking fluid injected into them under high pressure to crack the rock. The fracking fluid consists of water, sand and a lot of chemicals. Millions of gallons of water are used to frack a well.
Why is fracking a problem?
In the vicinity where fracking takes place the largest worries are water contamination. Fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals, a large fraction of which are never recovered. The fracking fluid also leaches chemicals like arsenic out of the rocks when it is used making it even more toxic and so the fluid that is recovered becomes a big disposal problem. Even more worryingly the fracking fluid can also leach radioactive elements out of the rocks causing radioactive contamination as well. The contamination of irrigation water means that everyone’s food supplies could potentially be affected. Fracking in the United States has already resulted in numerous spills of these fluids.
In addition fracking has been shown to result in the contamination of water tables with methane. In some cases in the United States this has resulted in people being able to set the water coming out of their taps on fire. Fracking also appears to trigger earthquakes and the first test well in the UK appears to have caused two earthquakes.
Fracking, like other forms of extreme energy (e.g. Tar Sands), is very carbon intensive. You use a lot of energy (and therefore emit a lot of carbon dioxide) in order to get a bit more energy back. In the case of fracking this is because you have to drill a lot wells, since each one only produces gas for only a short while. Fracking has the additional problem that the natural gas (methane) that it is trying to extract is a stronger greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide emitted by burning it and the method results in significant amounts of methane leaking directly into the atmosphere (fugitive emissions).
If all the conventional fossil fuels already discovered are burned, that will emit more than enough carbon dioxide to cause runaway climate chaos. Trying to find more that can be burned to fuel civilisation’s addiction using these extreme energy methods is complete madness. We need to leave this nightmare fuel safely in the ground.
Why is fracking not a solution to anything?
Like all extreme energy methods fracking is a desperate bid to suck the last, most difficult to reach, fossil fuels out of out planet. It is a road to nowhere. Unlike conventional oil wells that produce for decades, the output of fracked wells quickly declines and more wells need to be drilled until there is nowhere left to destroy.
So what is the solution?
To find a solution you must first correctly identify the problem. The actual problem we face is that civilisation has too much energy, not too little. This addiction to fossil fuels has driven a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures, that is threatening our very existence. Fancy technological schemes to try to continue our present orgy of consumption and waste indefinitely are inevitably doomed to failure. Only a transition to a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster.
What has happened so far in the UK?
So far there is only one test well using hydraulic fracturing to access shale gas in the UK. Cuadrilla Resources has drilled Preese Hall 1 well five miles east of Blackpool. However following the outcry over two earthquakes in the vicinity of the drilling operation in the space of two months, the operation has been apparently temporarily suspended. Cuadrilla have drilled (but not yet fracked) a second well nearby and are in the process of moving their drilling to a third site. France, the states of New York and New Jersey, the Canadian province of Quebec and the Swiss canton of Fribourg have all recently banned fracking. Fracking needs to be banned in the UK too.
What about coal bed methane and shale oil?
Coal bed methane and shale oil are similar to shale gas in a number of respects. Both are marginal, hot cost fossil fuels that have suddenly become attractive now that prices have risen so high. Both may also involve fracking in order to obtain them. Both are associated with a litany of similar side effects to shale gas. Both are just other ways to try to suck the last dregs from the bottom of the barrel.
What other extreme energy method threaten the UK?
The UK is also threatened by a massive expansion in opencast coal mining, deep water oil drilling in the North Sea, Coal Bed Methane and a new generation of even more dangerous nuclear power stations.