Joe Storey is an A-Level student who is researching Margaret Thatcher’s influence on the current Conservative party’s economic policies.
The UK faces an impending energy crisis. Its energy supply is heavily reliant on coal (In 2009, Britain received 42 per cent of its electricity from power plants fuelled by coal, which is a rapidly declining resource.) At the turn of the millennium, North Sea Oil satisfied Britain’s increasing energy demands sufficiently, but its supply had peaked in 1999. It is expected to be at two-thirds of this zenith by 2015. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that renewable energy will provide a dependent energy supply; it only accounted for 9 per cent of it in 2011.
Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydro-fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, has been hailed as Britain’s saviour after its worldwide success, particularly over the pond. As of 2010, it was estimated that 60 per cent of new oil supplies were being hydraulically fractured[i], or ‘fracked’. Its impact in the US has been huge: fracking is associated with the creation of up to a million jobs. According to the Energy Information Administration, shale gas will account for nearly half of the natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035.
A similar effect in the UK could help to reduce stubbornly high youth and long-term unemployment figures. Furthermore, an increase in supply will provide relief for hard-working families who have been crippled by soaring energy costs as commodities became in short-supply. The benefits would not solely be felt by bill payers or the unemployed, either. Communities as a whole could feel the benefits; energy firms have pledged to donate £100,000 to “every community situated near an exploratory well”, as well as a further one per cent of revenue extracted from the wells. Moreover, an increase in domestic oil supplies will alleviate Britain’s dependence on resources in unstable areas such as the middle east and Russia. Turmoil in Egypt also threatens to limit access to the Suez Canal and Sumed pipeline, both pivotal pieces of infrastructure in the transportation of oil.
George Osborne is to be commended for announcing generous tax breaks for fracking in his last budget. The Chancellor acknowledges the need to secure fracking investment for the benefit of Britain. Despite no shale gas being produced in the UK as of yet, the British Geological Survey recently suggested shale gas resources could supply the UK for a quarter of a century. Similar predictions were made about Estonia a century ago. Since then, the Estonian industry has mined a billion tonnes of shale, and become energy self-sufficient in the process. I urge protestors, many of whom aren’t even from areas which will be affected by fracking, to stop hindering the progress of fracking with environmental worries and scepticism about regulation and allow Britain to enjoy the benefits.
The notion that fracking is dangerous is simply unfounded. Fracking is often vilified with a perilous reputation which is unfairly espoused by its opponents. Contamination of drinking water is often cited as a grave repercussion of fracking; however, a recent report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology proves this claim to be untrue. The report concludes that a mere handful of the 20,000 wells fracked in the US had resulted in local water contamination. The green lobby refer to the minor tremors in the north-west of England, reportedly caused by fracking, to justify their vehement opposition to fracking. However, all evidence refutes fracking as being the cause.
However, research by the University of Durham found the tremors caused by fracking to be “less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor”, or “about the same as the impact caused by dropping a bottle of milk” as a study published in Marine and Petroleum Geology stated. The largest earthquake caused by fracking reached a mere 3.7 on the Richter Scale, and even a fracking earthquake at that level was an anomaly. The handful of earthquakes that have reportedly occurred due to fracking on average reach around 2 on the Richter scale, which is referred to as a “micro-earthquake” which is “not felt, or felt rarely felt by sensitive people”. Several million of these micro-earthquakes occur every year, with the vast majority unreported and rarely felt by the population. Conversely, man-made actions such as filling reservoirs and mining can reach up to 5 on the Richter Scale.
Critics also cite the colossal amount of water that fracking uses in order to to denigrate/vilify the method. The Green Party of Pennsylvania claims “hydraulic fracturing squanders our precious water resources “.There is no disputing that fracking can drain water supplies: the fracking of a single well can take up to 7 million gallons, and up to 30 per cent of this is unrecoverable. However, fracking far from monopolises water supplies. The amount of water required to frack all 2916 licensed wells in Pennsylvania is equal to the amount of a drinking water used by a city with a population of around 300,000 in a year, such as Pittsburgh or Plymouth. Of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas development consumes 1.9 million gallons a day (mgd); livestock use 62 mgd; mining, 96 mgd; and industry, 770 mgd.(Figures from by popularmechanics.com) Furthermore, the author of that evidence also stated waterless fracking is a “viable technology for sure”. One damning fact that should put people’s minds at rest is that golf courses use more water than the extraction of shale gases does in the US.
It is imperative that Britain nurture the shale industry. This industry could eradicate fuel poverty, reduce stubborn unemployment and reduce bills for hardworking families. Bizarrely, some protestors have the audacity to claim they represent the majority of Britons. The majority of Britons are in fact working to pay for the increasing cost of living whilst these protestors stifle the progress of an energy supply which could benefit the masses. The sweet irony of fracking opponents citing environmental reasons is that through obstructing a natural gas supply, the UK remains dependent on fossil fuels which cause far more environmental damage.
[i] ‘Hydraulic Fracturing: History of an enduring technology’ Carl T Montgomery and Michael B Smith