By Lynda Williamson
Friends of the Earth have reacted with alarm to the news that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”, is to resume in the UK.
Fracking is the means by which natural gas is extracted from underground shale rock formations and involves the injection, under high pressure, of water based fluid. The fluid splits the shale causing gas to be released which can be collected at the surface.
In June last year the energy company, Cuadrilla, suspended its fracking operation in Lancashire after it was found that fracking in the area was the likely cause of two separate earth tremors. The first tremor, which hit the Flyde coast on April Fools’ day 2011, measured 2.3 on the Richter scale. The second smaller quake, with a magnitude of 1.4, followed on the 27th of May 2011.
Liberal Democrat energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, has announced that the government would be lifting restrictions on fracking, giving the green light for operations to resume.
Mr Davey said that “Shale gas could contribute significantly to our energy security, and reduce imports of gas as we move to a low carbon economy. It could substitute for imports, which are increasing as North Sea gas is decreasing.”
Davey also gave assurances that seismic activity will be closely monitored and if tremors above an agreed level are detected, drilling will be halted pending investigation. Chemical additives will also be regulated with the Environment Agency approving their use.
These assurances are not enough to satisfy Friends of the Earth. Their Executive Director, Andy Atkins, responded saying that “Giving the green light to fracking for shale gas will send shock waves across the UK.”
“Communities up and down the UK will be disturbed by this reckless decision which threatens to contaminate our air and water and undermine our national climate targets.”
“George Osborne’s short-sighted dash for gas will leave the country dependent on dirty fossil fuels – MPs must stand up for a safe and affordable future by insisting on clean British energy from wind, waves and sun”
Friends of the Earth oppose fracking as they believe that its use “risks major impacts on the local environment and human health.” They fear that investment will be diverted from clean, renewable energy into the unconventional gas industry jeopardising our likelihood of meeting climate change targets.
They have called on the Government to respond to 10 key questions which they say need to be addressed covering issues such as local employment opportunities, the likely effect on house prices, agriculture and tourism and whether fracking would aggravate water shortages in areas susceptible to drought. Fracking operations require large amounts of water and only around 40% of the water used is recoverable at the surface.
There are currently no fracking operations in Scotland though there are plans to excavate Coal Bed Methane from coal seams under Letham Moss near Falkirk. Coal Bed Methane extraction does not usually require fracking and the company involved, Dart Energy, have given assurances that they do not intend to frack their wells in this area.
There are however extensive shale reserves throughout the central region of Scotland and licenses for excavation across the central belt will be up for grabs early in the new year. The abundance of natural water (and the complete absence of drought) make the area an attractive prospect for gas exploration.
Fears have been raised, however, over the possibility of seismic activity in an area which is home to a large scale oil and gas refinery. Objections have also been lodged by Network Rail to Dart Energy’s proposals for Letham Moss citing the risk of explosions caused by uncontrolled emissions of flammable gas.
Environmental campaigners have questioned the need for unconventional gas extraction in a country which is already self-sufficient in energy and has 25% of the potential renewable power in Europe.
You can see the questions which Friends of the Earth have asked the Government to respond to here