Joe Storey is an A-Level student who is researching Margaret Thatcher’s influence on the current Conservative party’s economic policies.
Myth 1: Fracking is bad for the environment
For those who call themselves environmentalists, it is unthinkable not to support fracking as a source of cheap and cleaner energy. Shale gas is indeed a fossil fuel, but burns far cleaner than other energy sources. Assuming one is not naive enough to believe that renewables can supply all our energy needs (given that in 2012, renewable electricity resources only accounted for 11 per cent of the electricity generated), environmentalists should firmly support and openly advocate fracking. The most obvious reason why fracking is beneficial for the environment is that it is coal’s arch-nemesis: coal electricity accounted for 47 per cent of the US electricity market in 2008, before falling to 37 per cent in 2008 as America embraced shale. Gas burning also emits 50 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal, indicating the potential environmental benefits of fracking. To put it in to perspective, anthracite coal emits 228.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU of energy, whilst natural gas only produces 117 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Renewables can co-exist with natural gas and can be financed through the revenue generated by fracking. Energy is not zero-sum in terms of investment and capacity, thus natural gas and renewables can complement one another. Revenue from natural gas could be used to invest in renewables (which are currently very expensive), indicating that renewables and fracking can be used as part of an integrated energy policy.
Myth 2: Fracking causes faucets
Perhaps the most poignant video related to fracking is in the movie Gasland, whereby the notorious “flaming faucets” are exposed. Like so many of the claims by the green lobby, it transpired to be false and unrelated to fracking. Since the publication of Gasland, the State of Colorado has made numerous attempts to dispel the myth that the faucets are caused by fracking. As Energy Indepth proves, the issue of methane migration was prevalent prior to the development of gas reserves. They refer to six cases of flaming faucets between 1951 and 1984, all of which occurred before fracking occurred in these areas. These cases demonstrate the issue of methane migration has not been caused, nor exacerbated, by fracking. Flaming faucets is another example of sensationalism by those opposed to this vital energy source used to unfairly vilify and demonise fracking.
Myth 3: Fracking pollutes ground water
In terms of groundwater contamination, also used to denigrate fracking, there is a consensus amongst academics and experts that there is a distinct lack of evidence linking fracking with the contamination of water supplies. A Penn State University study came to the conclusion that “there was no evidence of influences from hydraulic fracturing at least on the (233) wells that we looked”, a view echoed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): “In the studies surveyed, no incidents are reported which conclusively demonstrate contamination of shallow water zones with fracture fluids.”
Myth 4: Fracking monopolises water supplies
One falsehood perpetually disseminated by the green lobby is based on the notion that fracking leads to excessive water use and droughts. Whilst fracking is associated with the consumption of up to seven million gallons of water per well, it is simply untrue to claim it leads to droughts. The volume of water used to ‘frack’ all 2916 wells in Pennsylvania is the equivalent to the amount used for drinking water in a city of 300,000. Moreover, fracking and natural gas accounts for water consumption of 1.9 million gallons a day (mgd) in the state, whereas livestock is associated with 62 mgd and mining with 96 mgd. For a broader statistic on fracking water consumption, the total sum of water used by all shale wells in the US in 2011 accounts for 0.3 per cent of total US freshwater consumption. In fact, US golf courses consume more water than the extraction of shale gas does. I can imagine a typical anti-fracking response: the seven million gallons used per well is seven million gallons too much. However, when compared with other energy sources, shale consumes significantly less water. A 2010 paper by Harvard’s Belfer Center concluded: “the water consumption for the production of shale gas appears to be lower (0.6 to 1.8 gal/MMBtu) than that for other fossil fuels (one to 8 gal/MMBtu for coal mining and washing, and one to 62 gal/MMBtu for U.S. onshore oil production).”
Myth 5: Fracking causes major earthquakes
Earthquakes and tremors are often cited as grave repercussions which arise from fracking. Richard Davies, Director of the Durham University’s Energy Institute concluded “The size and number of felt earthquakes caused by fracking is low compared to other manmade triggers such as mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage.” Further research by the University stated the tremors caused by fracking were “less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor”. Durham University’s research was not the only to come to this conclusion: a study published in Marine and Petroleum Geology found only that a mere three earthquakes that could be felt by humans were caused by fracking out of the hundreds of thousands of wells that have been ‘fracked’ since 1929, whilst also concluding fracking quakes had “about the same as the impact caused by dropping a bottle of milk”.
The vast majority of fracking quakes are referred to as a “micro-earthquake” which are “not felt, or felt rarely felt by sensitive people”. Several million of these micro-earthquakes occur every year, with the predominance not being reported, nor felt by humans. Moreover, other man-made activities such as mining of filling reservoirs is associated with quakes of up to five on the Richter scale, nearly double the scale of those commonly associated with fracking.
The vast majority of concerns associated with fracking are either false or can be addressed by competent regulation. Fracking also has environmental benefits too: it can lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of global warming. It is imperative the pro-fracking lobby addresses concerns and highlight the undeniable benefits of fracking, namely the eradication of fuel poverty, energy security and generous incentives for local communities.