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Fracking: Environmental Enemy Or Efficient Energy Extraction?

A look into the controversial process

By: Sasha Sutton  |@SashaEricaS
 on 23rd July 2014 @ 2.18pm
fracking  also known as hydraulic fracturing  extracts shale gas from deep underground © Creative Commons
fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, extracts shale gas from deep underground.

The controversial drilling process of fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, has caused outrage with environmentalists worldwide. The process, used to extract energy from shale rocks by injecting high-pressurised liquid into the ground to release gas and oil, has received international condemnation from eco-warriors concerned by its environmental impact.

Anti-fracking campaigns have sprung up around the world as experts warn of the potential peril that the extraction technique could present on an ecological scale.

In the UK, many campaigns have been initiated by groups such as Greenpeace after the British Prime Minister David Cameron announced at a Nuclear Security Summit at the Hague that he believed fracking is ‘good’ for the UK. His notions fuelled a rally, started up by Greenpeace, outside of the Prime Minister’s home last month.

The activists turned the PMs Oxfordshire property into a ‘fracking site’, after it was announced that new laws had been legislated allowing fracking firms to drill under people’s home without requesting permission. A fence was erected in front of Cameron’s front door with a sign saying, “We apologise for any inconvenience caused while we frack under your home”.

Greenpeace UK campaign rep Simon Clydedale said in The Independent, “David Cameron wants to rob people of their right to stop fracking firms drilling under their home – surely he won’t mind if we kick off the under-house fracking revolution below his own garden”.

In the U.S., the state of New York's highest court ruled that the public have the right to say no to fracking in their town. A 5-2 vote decided that Dryden and Middlefield, two small towns in New York state, are allowed to ban the drilling process within municipal borders. Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Summer said of the victory: "The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York's highest court. And today we won".

However being outspoken against fracking may not work out well for everyone. In North Carolina, new legislation was put in place in June to prevent disclosure of fracking risks. The bill, to gas emergency services from revealing 'trade secrets' regarding fracking fluid and other dangers, could lead to fines or even jail time. Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, Communications Director of North Carolina's branch of the Sierra Club environmental organisation, said of the law: "I think the bill was railroaded through both chambers of the legislature".

"There was very little time for public input, public comment, or public notice even". But why is the public so outraged by the gas and oil mining method?

Many are concerned by the potentially toxic fluid that is injected into the ground, which commonly contains a mixture of water, sand and chemicals; that environmentalists believe could contaminate groundwater. Greenpeace states that “The fracking process involves potentially toxic chemicals at almost every stage”.

The fluid can also contain hydrochloric acid and low levels of radioactive substances, which occur naturally in the rocks.

According to a report from the UK Environment Agency samples of waste fluid from fracking, also known as ‘flow-back, contained high counts of chloride, sodium and bromide. The salts contain elements known for their corrosive nature and can cause damage to organs, thyroid glands and the nervous system.

 paul mccartney teamed up with yoko ono  to write an open letter to the british government in an appeal against about new fracking laws © Creative Commons
Paul McCartney teamed up with Yoko Ono, to write an open letter to the British government in an appeal against about new fracking laws.

Last month, Paul McCartney teamed up with widow of the late Beatles member John Lennon, Yoko Ono, to write an open letter to the British government in an appeal against about new fracking laws.

The document, published in The Times, outlined the dangers of the process and urged leaders to allow an “independent, balanced and thorough public debate” to take place in order to assess the risks and gain unanimous stance on the matter. The anti-fracking petition has also been signed by other big names such as Jude Law, Russell Brand and Helena Bonham-Carter.

“There is substantial evidence showing that fracking causes water stress and risks water contamination and soil contamination, earth tremors…”

“The government’s plans to introduce fracking will change the UK forever… This technology will not bring down fuel bills and it will not provide a jobs boom, but it has the potential to leave a damaging environmental legacy for future generations”.

“The government says that fracking is safe even though it is banned in several European countries and US states".

Many nations have stopped using the process as it has also been linked to earthquakes. In 2011, tremors measured at a magnitude of 1.5 and 2.3 on the Richter Scale were recorded where fracking operations had been taken place on a farm near Blackpool. The seismic shakes, which would not have been felt, were investigated and the fracking firm pulled out of the area. Stronger earthquakes have been recorded in the U.S., measuring at 4 or 5 on the Richter. Last month, the process was suspected to be the cause of a 4-mile mudslide in Colorado, after earthquakes and tremors were believed to be brought on by deep drilling in the area. 

Yet despite these risks, the UK is sticking to shale extraction, and predicts that the fracking technique could supply one third of UK gas by 2035. The process will allow nations to rely on their own resources, as it has unlocked huge supplies of natural gas and oil from the dense shale deposits.

Even with green alternatives such as using renewable energy solar or kinetic, fracking still remains a key part of the gas and oil industry. In May this year, Idaho inventor Scott Brushaw pushed the idea of 'Solar Roadways' as a potential salvation for the world's energy industries. The invention, which aims to replace asphalt roads with high-tech hexagonal 'intelligence solar panels', could pave the way to more eco-friendly energy consumption. Brusaw's wife Julie helped coin the concept after watching Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'.

Yet, British PM David Cameron still favours fracking and believes those against it simply misunderstand the process. Lack of investment in the gas extraction could mean the UK would have to rely on other European nations, such as Russia, to provide our supply.

“Some countries are almost 100 per cent reliant on Russian gas so I think it is something of a wake-up call”, Cameron said, according to The Guardian.

“There’s a lack of understanding about the nature of what actually happens and how much it has in common with the ways that we extract gas in the world today”.

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