There is a lot of misinformation out there around what exactly fracking is and its impacts on the environment and the local community.
What is fracking – hasn’t it been going on for ages?
Fracking is a way of extracting oil or gas from the ground by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to split apart the formation and enable the oil or gas to flow up the well. It is normally used alongside horizontal drilling, in which the wells are turned to follow the rock containing the oil or gas. The process was transformed in the 1990s to extract unconventional reserves of gas and oil, such as shale gas, tight oil or coal bed methane. Fracking these harder to reach reserves is called “high volume” fracking because it uses far more water and chemicals. Fracking for unconventional oil and gas is new to the UK. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has confirmed that only one site in the UK has undergone “high volume” fracking for gas. This was Preese Hall, Lancashire where fracking induced earth tremors that caused deformation of the well resulting in its abandonment.
How much drilling will it need?
Fracking is an industrial process requiring large numbers of wells. A report by the Institute of Directors (IOD) for Cuadrilla suggests that UK shale could replace declining production from the North Sea (about half of UK demand) with around 1,000 wells spread across 100 drilling sites producing between 853-1389bcf (billion cubic feet) worth of gas, just under half of UK demand. But that relies on some pretty ambitious (and untested) assumptions. A independent study by Bloomberg found that to meet North Sea production levels (1,460bcf) and sustain it for ten years would need 10,000- 20,000 shale gas wells, with around 1,000 wells drilled a year at peak production.
Will there be local impacts?
One of the most significant local impacts of fracking will be the volume of truck movements and possibly new roads to carry them. According to the report Cuadrilla commissioned by the Institute of Directors (IoD), “Assuming truck movements are concentrated in the early years of drilling activity, this averages out at 6.1-17.1 per day over five years [for each well pad]. Spread over their estimated 100 well pads that would add up to between 1-3 million truck movements.” A report by AEA Technology for the European Union estimated that during the most intensive period there could be up to 250 truck movements a day to a single (10 well) drilling site.
A recent DEFRA report suggested that house prices near well pads could fall up to 7%. However, many people in the USA and Australia have found their property becomes worthless.
Will it lower my bills?
When one analyst Bloomberg looked at the likely cost of getting gas out of the ground in the UK they found it wasn’t very different to the current price of gas, which makes it hard to see how it could reduce bills. This argument has been countered, but most analysts agree that because the UK is part of a European gas market the impact of UK shale will be limited. Indeed shale explorer Cuadrilla asked Poyry to take a look at how much production from Lancashire could reduce bills and their analysis implies a cut of 0.7-1.8% for households. A spokesperson for Cuadrilla has been recorded stating that the impact of UK shale on bills will be “basically insignificant.” If the economics of fracking are shaky and it doesn’t cut bills, then it is likely to create fewer jobs. On its own website Cuadrilla quotes a Regeneris study which suggests its operations in the Bowland shale would create 5,600 jobs with just 1,700 of those in Lancashire. But most of those jobs are unlikely to be available within a few years, with just 200 jobs created from 2022 onwards. A study paid for by Cuadrilla suggested 74,000 could be employed, but that used labour intensive North Sea Drilling as a model. Poyry gave a similar number to parliament but warned: “A lot of things could happen in the process to delay that further — it depends on lots of things going well.” Meanwhile early reports of a study done by AMEC for DECC report that at peak shale gas will create 15,900 to 24,300 full-time equivalent jobs – direct and indirect – at “peak construction”, all of which will typically be short term jobs.
Read more – Fracking – The Evidence