Everyone has heard of fracking but a lot of people aren’t sure exactly what it entails or whether it is a good choice or not.
For this reason, it is worthwhile learning about some fracking pros and cons.
What Exactly is Fracking?
Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is used to extract fossil fuels like natural gas or oil from deep down within the Earth’s surface.
Fossil fuels are processes that turn organic substances into oil, coal and hydrocarbon over millions of years.
These deposits can be extracted and refined to generate energy. Fossil fuels are both finite and carbon-intensive between extraction and end use, which is one reason there are mixed viewpoints about the whole fracking industry.
Fracking uses drilling operations to get to sedimentary rock formations known as shale, as well as high-pressure water pumps to release the natural gas and oil trapped inside.
These gases and oils are stored and refined and then used for energy generation and consumption.
So Why is It Controversial?
It isn’t possible to control earth tremors arising from fracking, which is the main reason it is so disputed.
People not in favor of fracking highlight the seismic activity, risk of contaminating the water supply, wildlife and local habitat damage, and contribution toward the climate crisis as being the main reasons why.
Communities like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace campaign against fracking.
Below is the list of pros of fracking.
1) Access to oil and gas reserves
This is the main purpose of fracking.
Getting gas and oil from shale might be finite but it still helps to mitigate exhaustion of gas and oil resources from more conventional methods of extraction.
2) Self Sufficiency
There are enough gas and oil reserves to meet national energy requirements for many years, meaning the country doesn’t have to reply on gas and oil imported from overseas.
This should result in lower energy prices for everyone.
3) Less coal production
Fracking can mean a reduction in coal production. As you probably know, coal is a dirty fossil fuel.
Swapping it for fracking could help with the climate crisis and perhaps meet targets for gas emissions.
3) More jobs created
The fracking industry in the UK could potentially lead to 60,000 new jobs, which can only be a good thing.
Opposing parties claim this projection is unrealistic since the jobs won’t be spread over the 4,000 fracking wells. Only one company so far has drilled a horizontal well.
4) Less water intensity than coal
The quantity of water needed to produce a unit of energy (also known as water intensity) in the first year of production is more than 50% that of coal extraction.
5) Energy security
Natural gas obtained from fracking may be used in cleaner power stations which are gas-fired.
This can make up for wind and solar electricity production affected by changing weather patterns.
Fracking offers natural gas which can help to sustain a good energy supply from sources which are renewable.
Here we list a few cons of fracking.
1) Contamination of water
Fracking uses chemicals which might be toxic enough to contaminate the local water supplies or create pollution on the surface.
Toxic fracking water in the US, for example, flowed for 12 hours continually at a Pennsylvania site.
In addition, researchers from Duke University found that drinking water close to Pennsylvania and New York fracking sites had dangerous methane levels.
2) High consumption of water
The quantity of water used to get one unit of energy in the first year of fracking is less than 50% that of coal extraction and water consumption increases sharply after the first year.
Sometimes the water intensity needed is more than that for coal.
3) Carbon emissions
It is fair to say fossil fuels released by fracking emit risky amounts of greenhouse gases which are bad for the climate crisis.
If we rely strongly on these fuels it’s tougher to meet the net-zero carbon emissions targets the government has set.
In addition, environmental studies show that greenhouse has emission reductions expected from swapping from coal to gas might not actually happen, since unused coal might be sold and used overseas.
A lot of fracking proposals come up against local community opposition because of the industrialization they create in rural regions.
Opposing parties claim that noise pollution as well as heavy traffic including huge trucks hauling water waste and equipment, are reasons why fracking should be avoided.
There have been earthquakes which are considered to be triggered by the fracking process.
A tremor of 2.3 magnitude was recorded in April 2011 near the Preston New Road fracking site and then a 1.4 magnitude tremor the month after.
A 2.9 magnitude earthquake was then recorded in August 2019 at the same fracking site.
6) Stunting renewables
Investing in fracking rather than renewable energy can put the future of green gas, solar and wind projects in peril, although they are more sustainable in the long run.
Seriously investment in the development of renewable energy is required in order to allay the climate crisis we are facing today.
7) Destruction of ecology
Fracking locations might include reducing, disturbing, fragmenting or destroying local habitats and the wildlife that depends on them.
Fracking licenses granted by the UK government in 2015 included 293 sites with special scientific interest along with 188 nature reserves of wildlife trust.
Some 65% of potential fracking sites have more biodiversity levels than the remainder of the country.
8) Net-zero emissions target
The UK was the first G7 country to set a net-zero emissions target, in June 2019.
They also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to zero.
Fracking is still a much disputed practice.
It is banned in some areas including France who banned it for environmental reasons, and Ireland and Bulgaria who followed suit.
The Netherlands, Tunisia and Scotland are still researching the practice while Germany allows scientific project fracking but not commercial fracking.