The Edit

Fracking: the facts and controversy

Fracking is a word that has gained a lot of awareness. It’s mostly known for political and environmental reasons but to many its exact meaning and why it’s so controversial is generally unknown.

What is fracking?

Fracking is short for Hydraulic Fracturing, a process designed to recover gas molecules and oil from shale rock. This type of rock, which is a fine grained, sedimentary rock, has formed cracks deep down in the Earth’s surface. Within these cracks (which are up to 1 mm wide) are gas molecules that are trapped inside. Drilling companies have set up the technique of ‘fracking’ as the answer to withdrawing these gases. The procedure involves drilling deep into the Earth’s surface to reach the cracks. The shaft is then pumped at high pressure with water formed of sand-like particles and chemicals. This water fills the cracks and releases the gas molecules which then flow up the shaft to the top of the well. These gases are a vital source to the production of oil – which forms a multi-billion dollar energy industry.

Why is fracking so bad when the manufacturing of oil is crucial?

Well, extensive use of it has huge implications that have sparked several environmental concerns. The obvious issue being the drilling. Accessing the cracks deep down in the Earth’s surface requires a high powered drill that can greatly disrupt the Earth’s surface. The speed and force of this drill is so intense that the process can cause small scale earthquakes.  The method of pumping water at high pressure also risks the release of the chemicals within it into the rock, which could lead to groundwater contamination in local areas. By corrupting the groundwater, extreme medical conditions could arise in communities using this water such as sensory, neurological and respiratory problems.

Fracking also releases toxins into the air. The main gas that is mined is methane and it is said to be leaking hugely in the drilling process. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is a huge concern for the rise in global warming – another large scale environmental concern for the planet. There are also the implications once a drilling site has been successfully mined of its gas deposits. The toxic materials used in the fracking process are reinjected into the shaft wells and then capped off. During this process, the toxic fluid (which is non bio-degradable) being stored in the shafts can continue to cause earthquakes. This is due to the toxic materials lubricating the planet’s natural geological fault lines. It is these that also create pathways for the fluid to contaminate our drinking water.

Delve a little further into the process of fracking and other debates on the future of the world’s environmental state have also come to life. Moving away from the dangers and health implications of fracking, another issue that has been highlighted is the level of focus energy companies have on finding alternative sources. Is fracking perhaps the more convenient answer to power our planet? Is the amount of money and labour spent on the project deterring attention and resources within governments to find renewable energy? How much money is invested in fracking and how long will it continue? There are lots of questions that need to be answered. Fracking after all, doesn’t happen over a small surface area in unpopulated areas. The procedure could happen anywhere and requires a large scale of land and on average, 40,000 gallons of chemicals to carry out just one mining process.

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Can life on Earth continue with such a reliance on fossil fuel?

There are many that would point blank say no. Reflecting on today’s day and age, why can’t we find a new energy solution? We are in such an advanced, high-tech generation that the thought of finding a new source seems simple. On the flipside, in our current energy state where we can only rely on oil, fracking allows this to continue by sourcing gases in hard to reach areas. Shale gas is also predicted to reduce the cost of fuel, although this is something that has in the past been denied. Some may also argue that the economy relies heavily on the production of oil which could be greatly affected if we were to shift from this energy source.

With the continued support from anti-fracking campaigners, including our very own Chairman, Joseph Corré, it might be that one day this is a project that will be eradicated. “Fracking is not always going to happen in desolate areas of the UK,” says Joe. “It does not work small scale to become a viable business. It will very soon come to your community and put the area you call home in a dangerous state. To me, it is a monster on our doorstep and the sooner we kill it the better.”

What will be the next step in the journey to solving the global energy crisis? And will it be a safe, dependable source? Only time will tell.

Catch up with us next week as Joseph Corré tells us his view on fracking.


Govinder Rayt

Govinder Rayt

Writer and expert