It would seem that fracking (the hydraulic fracture of shale rock to recover shale gas) is to be permitted in the countryside near Blackpool in the northwest of England after all. A review of the fracking operations, which caused two earthquakes in Lancashire of Magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5 has concluded that further earthquakes are quite likely, but that they will be of a magnitude too small to cause damage on the surface and would be very unlikley to produce an earthquake in excess of Magnitude 3. If I were living in that area, I don’t think I’d find that expert assessment particularly reassuring.
Shale gas is found deep in the layers of sedimentary rocks like, generally several kilometres underground. There is an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in the reserve that has been discovered under Lancashire – that’s more gas than is left in our North Sea reserve, so from that point of view, you can see why getting at it is appealing.
But if it’s going to cause earthquakes and possible pollution to groundwater, is it really such a good idea? I can certainly sympathise with the local people who are against it. There is to be a safety limit imposed on the frackers, so that if they cause an earthquake in excess of Magnitude 0.5, they have to cease fracking and take remedial action before restarting operations. This is a much tougher limit than exists in other countries – Switzerland for instance has a limit of Magnitude 2.3 before operations have to stop. But it doesn’t mean that earthquakes in excess of Magnitude 0.5, or even 2.3 will not happen.
There are frightening videos from the US showing what can happen when fracking goes wrong and the effects it can have on people living too close to the fracking sites. In fact, on YouTube you can find numerous examples of householders showing how they can set light to their tap water! Pollution of groundwater is another problem linked to fracking, as a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the wells to cause the rocks to crack and free the gas.
Then of course there’s the fact that burning a load more gas is not going to help the UK to reach our targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Surely further investment in green, renewable energy would be a better move?
Tara, age 12, one of the winners of ‘Have Your Say on Sustainability’, the competition that we ran with Eurostar produced her own video on fracking. She was able to present her concerns last month to a group of MEPs in Brussels as part of her prize. She has really thought about this issue and it’s one that really concerns her and indeed could possibly affect her in the future. You can watch her video here. Give it a watch and see what you think. Is fracking such a good idea?