About Fracking

What is fracking?

Shale Gas ExtractionFracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is the process of injecting liquid at high
pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

The purpose of fracking is to release gas trapped in impermeable layers of shale rock at great depth. The picture on the left shows you this process in greatly simplified form: a lot of water is mixed with sand and chemicals and then injected vertically and horizontally, at high pressure, in order to crack the shale and so allow gas and/or oil to escape.

It is not likely to offer a long-term solution for our energy needs. Estimated yields in the UK are 150 billion cubic metres. Conventional gas fields decline relatively slowly; shale gas declines very rapidly because the pressure under the earth closes up the fissures make by fracking.

Why is fracking a harmful technology?

During the fracking process carbon, toxic chemicals and possibly even radioactive material are likely to escape during and/or after drilling activities. Harmful emissions threaten our air, our groundwater, our wildlife, our children, ourselves.

The chemical mix in the fracking fluid is required for ease of drilling and to dissolve or crack the shale. It can contains many chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic and associated with cancer of the cervix, the breast, the endocrine system or the uterus.

The large quantities of water used in the process has to be brought on site – thousands of gallons per frack, usually in tankers. In the South East, where we are prone to droughts and water is scarce, who will have the privilege of water during a drought, big business or residents?

After injection, the fracking fluid will pick up additional chemicals from the bedrock as it travels back to the surface. Millions of gallons of contaminated water will therefore have to be disposed of but will be initially reused for drilling and then stored in silos or in open slurry ‘lagoons’.

Types and amounts of chemicals used will vary in accordance with the geological structure of the site. The fact that geologists can only speculate about folds, fissures or faults at or near the drilling site gives rise to concern on at least four accounts.
1. Water will end up in unintended places.
2 Heavy metals and contaminants introduced, or liberated, during fracking may take years to migrate to the surface or the wider environment.
3. Geological uncertainties mean that any one drilling area could cause small quakes as happened at the drill-site in Preese Hall, Lancashire.
4. It may take some time to spot the cracks on houses, bridges or roads but by that time it will be too late.

The gas makes its way to the surface via the borehole. Most of it will be captured but enough will escape to generate flaring or contribute to our carbon footprint at a time when the UK has promised to reduce it. The UK has no viable carbon capture systems in place.

Once full fracking operations are under way any one site may have up to 40 wells, all needing huge amounts of water delivered by tankers 24/7. More tankers come to carry away drilling waste or slurry, and some tankers will come to transport the liberated gas to the main grid. Such high levels of vehicular traffic will put enormous pressure on roads and the environment.

Fully operational sites will also need to feed the extracted gas into the main grid. Most sites will construct pipelines. This will involve considerable amounts of earthworks further disrupting life for people and wildlife in rural and/or urban environments. People’s concern that swathes of countryside will become industrialised are very real.

The Government and shale gas industry denies that the technology is unsafe and blames pollution ‘incidents’ as examples of bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique. Remembering the EXXON VALDEZ or DEEPWATER HORIZON disasters, who could now believe that the flow of fluids can be controlled once injected into the ground? Who will pay for damaged roads?

Operators sub-contract all aspects of operations. Operators are often shell companies which can easily be closed down creating difficulties when suing them for negligence (or worse).

How does the UK fracking industry work?

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) is responsible for issuing licences to companies allowing them to explore for oil and gas. This is done in Rounds.

On August 18th 2015, the OGA released details of new onshore oil and gas licences issued under the 14th Round. You can see a list of the new licences on this page: http://drillordrop.com/could-your-area-be-fracked-under-the-new-oil-and-gas-licences/

The licences give the companies the right to explore for oil and gas in the licensed areas, but before they can do that they need planning permission too. The local planning authorities (in our case Surrey County Council) have to decide whether to allow the physical works (the access roads, fencing and buildings), while the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive have to judge whether the proposed activities are safe for the environment and the workers.

Small companies often gain exploration rights and then raise the money from private backers to undertake exploration works. If they strike a significant resource they usually get bought out by the major global players in the minerals industry and make a lot of money (or get tax concessions to cover losses).

In the UK, there are a number of small players, Cuadrilla Resources for example. They have licences to exploit shale gas in Lancashire and Surrey. Initially, Cuadrilla raised capital to undertake exploratory drilling works. When they “discovered” shale gas in Lancashire they announced this with a great fanfare to the world. That was not for the benefit of the public – it was to attract further investment from private energy investment companies around the globe. That new investment will allow them to undertake the next phase of works to develop the gas production infrastructure (wells, pipes, slurry lagoon, sandpits, chemical silos, etc.) necessary to supply gas to the national grid. Once they have a working gas production system and contracts to supply gas to the grid, they will sell it to one of the large industry players who specialise in gas production.

4 Responses

  1. Gillian Hannah-Rogers says:

    Thank you for that. Very informative.

    • Maurice Eaton says:

      I think you need to get your facts right before you publish such disinformation. I have never heard of gas being transferred to the grid by tanker! Absolute Rubbish. Water is scarce in the south east, how much water do you think a Frac requires, do you seriously think that this will have any effect on domestic supplies? You complain about Cuardilla providing gas to the national grid as if this is a bad thing, would you prefer coal or nuclear. Renewable sources of energy are a great idea but what are you going to do on a cloudy and windless day? As long as we need energy, we need to produce gas or would you like to import it from the continent and just shift the problem to another country. Please read about gas production and hydraulic fracturing from more independent sources and then form your own opinion instead of accepting such a biased view as shown on this site.

      • admin says:

        Hello Maurice

        Thanks for your comment. I agree that the page above needs a bit of an update, but much of the information is still valid.

        Interesting you should ask how much water a frack (or a Frac, to use the oil industry preferred term that you have gone with) uses. According to one of our local water company managers, one fracking site uses the same amount of water in a day as the whole of Gatwick Airport, and Water UK certainly have concerns about potential conflict between residential and industrial usage (http://www.water.org.uk/news-water-uk/latest-news/protecting-our-water-risks-fracking). So it seems reasonable to highlight it as a possible issue on this page.

        And “Renewable sources of energy are a great idea but what are you going to do on a cloudy and windless day?” Well, I expect we will use the energy we stored when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing. Energy storage prices are plummeting – Deutsche Bank expect the cost of lithium-ion batteries to fall by 20 to 30 percent a year – and there are a number of major storage projects getting set to launch in the UK this year (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/04/from-liquid-air-to-supercapacitators-energy-storage-is-finally-poised-for-a-breakthrough).

        By the way, are you the Maurice Eaton that used to be Director of Group Operations at Northern Petroleum Plc, now with ExploreOil working on projects in Turkey, Iraq and West Africa? (Just to check the independence of your views.)

        Best wishes
        Bryn

        • Maurice Eaton says:

          Yes I am but that is why I suggested people should look at independent sources. I would like more renewable sources to be used but as you pointed out, energy storage is required. Large scale use of Lithium batteries are not only envirnomentally questionable but not really practical for the amount of storage required. The main problem is Peak Use” of electricity which needs either gas power stations or nuclear energy in order to handle the sudden demands. However concerning the issue of fracking, I do think that there is a lot of incorrect or misleading information that is used to support the anti-fracking crusade and I just wish that a more balanced view could be put forward. The British Government ( in marked contrast to the USA) quite rightly monitors the way in which such activities are undertaken and the engineers and geologists are just as concerned about the environment as the members of your site.

          Thank you for your reply and I appreciate the fact that you are willing to listen to a contrary view!

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