Fracking Opponents – Justified or Misinformed?
David Cameron has recently announced his support of Fracking in the UK, yet there are still many protests taking place at proposed Fracking sites in the UK – the highly publicized protests at Barton Moss being just one example. These protestors have serious concerns about the effects of Fracking on the environment and how it could impact the lives of those living near to the proposed sites. So, what are the specific concerns and are they founded in truth, science, or experience? Here we take a look at some of the worries and how seriously you should be taking them.
Wear from drilling operations
Currently, wear on well casing from the fracking process is a problem that does need solving. Not only does the wear on the casing cause higher costs around the need for replacement or fixing, but it can also be a contributory factor in any water and ground contamination that may occur.
There are suggestions and reports that a new way of managing the casing on the wells could prevent such contamination. The new suggestion is using cement to prevent the risk of contamination. Currently in America, cement is used to fill the gap in freshly drilled gas wells between the earth and the casing which is supposed to fill any cracks which would allow contamination to occur. However, for it to be effective, it must fill the entire space surrounding the well, from top to bottom. It is also important for workers to wait at least 8 hours for the cement to harden.
The issue is that often workers will not wait or will not pump enough cement to coat the well which has been attributed to cost-saving measures. This is possibly due to a lack of experience in the field (which we’ll cover next) and can lead to cracks forming in the cement and therefore contamination.
Lack of experience or expertise
There are other worries that those working, or planning to work on fracking sites in the UK, may not be prepared or experienced enough at the scale that the operation requires. When this lack of experience happens, the consequences can lead to other issues, such as those mentioned above.
This is obviously a problem with an easy answer: training and strict measures on site will ensure that contamination fears are quashed. That said, regulation and legislation remain a large area of concern among those opposing fracking in the UK.
We mentioned this earlier and how it can occur and there are obvious reasons for those living around potential fracking site to be concerned. Many of these concerns can seem justified by the fracking industry in the US where 6% of wells in a Pennsylvania region have sprung and reported some sort of leak.
Leaks are potentially very hazardous as carcinogenic chemicals are used in the extraction process and allowing them into groundwater can affect wildlife and nearby water supplies.
The contamination to the supply can cause long term health problems for those exposed. Surveys on the chemicals used have shown damage to skin, sensory organs and in more extreme cases, effects on the brain and cardiovascular harm.
More work still needs to be done to see the definitive effects of Fracking on human health as well as environmental health, but with increased regulation and training, again this is something which can be addressed.
Environmental costs – large amounts of water use
There’s no denying that the large amount of water used in the fracking process can have a great environmental impact. For each well, millions of gallons of water is used and obviously, transporting such a large amount of water to a site will have a significant environmental impact, especially from emissions, and will also put a large strain on local resources.
The counter argument is that the natural gas that is extracted has a far lower carbon footprint as an energy source than oil or fossil fuels which far outweighs the environmental impact the extraction process may have.
One of the most well documented and publicized worries surrounding fracking is the risk of tremors or earthquakes. Some recent tremors have been attributed to nearby fracking sites, which scientists call ‘induced seismic events’. Although an increase in the amount of Fracking could lead to an increase of tremors, most earthquakes do only measure as small magnitudes on the scale.
There have been previous worries that regulation of the fracking industry in the UK had been outdated and that new legislation was needed to make sure fracking was safe and that appropriate steps were being taken to minimise any issues such as leaks.
With regulations in place to ensure a safer practice this will not be an issue in the future and will in turn lead to less risk of environmental damage. Parliament are looking into new terms for regulation for the onshore oil and gas industry which should help implement best operational practice.