Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has caused much controversy in the last few years. The government wants to push ahead with the exploration and extraction of natural shale gas, while environmentalists oppose the procedure as it threatens our ecosystems, water supply, and the natural beauty of our countryside.
What is fracking?
First of all a piece of land will be prospected to assess the likelihood of shale gas being present. If the land is deemed to contain sufficient supplies of natural gas, the next step is to extract it via hydraulic fracturing.
This involves drilling a borehole into the ground at a carefully selected site; water is then pumped into sections of the borehole at a pressure which is high enough to fracture the surrounding rock, thus releasing the shale gas.
Sand in the water helps to prop open the fractures and creates a permeable passage through which the shale gas can flow into the borehole and be recovered, ready for processing. For more information on fracking take a look at our two part blog on shale exploration: part one, part two.
The latest news
Today (August 19th) it was reported that the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) are to issue 27 blocks of land in various locations around the UK (excluding Scotland) and that the government will be issuing shale exploration licenses along with these blocks of land.
Twelve companies, including Cuadrilla, Ineos, and Cirque Energy, have been given the exclusive rights to explore these blocks of land for oil and shale gas, which includes the use of fracking.
However, each block of land is subject to planning consent from the relevant local authorities, so it still remains to be seen whether fracking will actually be allowed to take place in each area.
The blocks of land are typically 100sq/km and include areas near to Lincoln, Nottingham, Preston, and Sheffield, as well as the Midlands and the North East. A second group of 132 blocks of land could also be granted in the near future following a consultation.
The UK’s Energy Minister, Lord Bourne, said “Keeping the lights on and powering the economy is not negotiable, and these industries will play a key part in providing secure and reliable energy to UK homes and businesses for decades to come.”
However, Greenpeace campaigner, Daisy Sands, said that the award of the shale exploration licenses was “the starting gun to the fight for the future of our countryside”.
Fast-track to fracking
This latest news comes just a few days after it was announced that the government plans to fast-track fracking applications. If local councils take longer than the current 16 week statutory timeframe to make a decision on fracking, then the government could step in and fast-track the application.
Lancashire County Council recently rejected an application from Cuadrilla on the grounds of the noise involved, and the visual impact on the local environment if they were to go ahead with fracking in the area.
The government is keen to press ahead with fracking plans in order to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported energy. Using the US as an example, the government points out how abundant shale gas in the States has seen a dramatic fall in energy prices; it is hoped that this will be the same case for the UK if shale exploration all goes to plan.
Environmentalists have argued that the decision to fast-track fracking undermines the government’s pledge to give local people the power to decide on whether or not fracking takes place in their area. Another aspect of the environmental argument is that shale gas is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide and therefore contributes to global warming.
It is argued that investment should instead be made into renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – what do you think? Let us know in the comments or tweet us.