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Fracking is the future for the world’s energy? No thanks!

The International Energy Agency estimates that within 20 years as much as 40% of the world’s gas might be ‘unconventional’, of which by far the greatest part will be shale gas. The current estimate is that there may be about 200 trillion cubic metres (Tcm) of technically recoverable (as opposed to economically recoverable) shale gas reserves in the world.

This can be compared with the 425 Tcm of technically recoverable conventional natural gas, of which about Tcm are considered easily recoverable. Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) consists in fracturing the shale rock to provide channels through which the gas can escape, and then injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to force the gas out into the well.

Fracking began in Kansas in 1947, but the process only became economically viable when a US company started to use chemicals in 1997 and then when engineers developed ways of doing accurate horizontal drilling which dramatically reduced the costs by cutting the number of wells that have to be drilled. So is it the answer to all our energy worries?

The British Geological Survey estimated that Britain has between 1,300-1,700 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), enough to last us for a century. The government has gone potty over shale gas – Cameron and Osborne and Tory energy minister John Hayes (until he was moved sideways as an embarrassment) have all hailed UK shale gas deposits as the elixir to reduce household energy bills.

Lord Browne, the former chairman of BP and the Cabinet Office lead non-executive – and by coincidence the chair of directors of Cuadrilla, the UK’s biggest fracking company – has pledged ‘whatever it takes’ to deliver shale gas to Britain big time. Cuadrilla reckons its shale gas could ‘eventually’ meet a quarter of UK demand, but they have no idea when and it won’t have more than a miniscule impact on price because UK shale gas will be sold into the European gas market and the one for liquified natural gas coming out of Africa. Meanwhile there are big problems.

First, well integrity is the most likely point of failure, and checking the wells should clearly be made the highest priority, but neither DECC nor HSE have the resources to develop and implement a regulatory framework. The problem is that if they know no-one is checking – and with fracking they know no-one is checking – the temptation to cut costs is too big to resist.

Second, most of the UK shale deposits are in the south and east of the country. If HS2 and wind turbines meet with resistance, just wait till the first drilling stations start to operate in East Anglia.

Third, there are the obvious known dangers: chemicals used in the process can leak into the water supply, as has already happened in the US, and methane leaks (21 times as powerful as CO2) are possible, let alone small earthquakes as already off the Blackpool coast.   At the very least there must be a mandatory obligation for all operators to fully disclose the chemical composition and concentration of fracturing fluids, the effect of which on public opinion could be decisive.

One Comment

  1. Peter Chisnall says:

    Hi, can you tell me the source regarding your comment above that most of the UK shale deposits are in the south and east of the country.

    I live in the East of England and am trying to find out if fracking will be happening here.



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