What is fracking?
There are numerous descriptions available on the net which you should familiarise yourself with. My story will be brief and point out the problems along the way.
Shale rock is a tight mud rock with small bubbles of gas trapped in it. The gas goes not migrate up the pipes and offer itself up for use, by simply sinking a traditional well into the shale. The rock must be dissolved or shattered at depth to fragment the mud rock and allow the gas out. To extend the range of drilling, the industry has developed a horizantal drilling technique. They drill down to the shale layer (or play) then drill sideways for up to hundreds of metres. They fracture the rocks with water under extreme pressure – around 8 – 14,000 psi. (My car tyres are at 33psi) To keep the rock crack open they use a prop, usually sand. To improve flow, stop bugs growing and encourage maximum gas return a huge range (750 to choose from) of chemicals might be employed. The gas from each frack is fairly small volume so several wells are drilled from one frack pad – the thing you see in the field. Once a well has been fracked the gas return reduces and it has to be fracked again, up to 6 or 8 times.
When the water sand and chemical have been fired down the well some 30-40% is returned to the surface for disposal or re-use.
Eventually when all the rock has been shattered, no further gas returns. Then the well is abandoned – or decommissioned. It is plugged with cement in an attempt you stop further gas releases.
In the following articles you will find scientific evidence of problems with this system. Our local fracking firm Third Energy has suggested ‘we will hardly know he is here’. Others have said ‘ the chemicals are only the ones you might find under your sink’ or ‘the chemicals are only the ones women put on their face every day’.
- Investigation – sounds benign. Third denied the intention to frack initially. In time the ‘mission creep’ begins to look like the industry standard. See the photos top and bottom of this page. Each white spot is frack pad the size of around two football pitches.
- Regulations and monitoring. Despite fracking having already happened in UK there is no regulatory framework for modern style fracking onshore.
- The Environment Agency neither has the experience, training or staff to monitor.
- The traffic movement for a single frack pad are highly intrusive. Huge lorries and country lanes do not mix. Repair bills for the council or new roads established. Road traffic accidents have been shown to increase significantly.
- Drilling is a noisy activity and continues for weeks day and night
- Bright lights can be intrusive in the night
- Flaring. If the gas leaks are of high volume it will trigger flaring, noisy, bright and capable of liberating chemicals. A low flow leak will simply leak into the surrounds.
- Methane leaks are highest during drilling.
- Methane leaks may be accompanied by other, more toxic gasses.
- Vast amounts of water are needed to frack and repeat frack. Several swimming pools at a time, whatever that means to the aquifers.
- Each pad may have many wells running off it. Usually around 8 per pad, in USA 19 have been drilled off one pad.
- The industry standard for frack pad spacing is 8 per square mile. To get an idea of what that might mean there is an excellent video with US voiceover. Note we are unlikely to have settlement lakes in the UK. The pattern of frack pads is very similar in Australia Canada and USA. Will it be different in the UK?
- There is government enthusiasm to allow frackers onto public land.
- Massive clearing of the site is required as well as roads, pipelines and processing and cleaning plants are needed.
- The chemicals that are injected include many that are toxic, some cause cancer and others interfere with hormones in humans. Heavy metals are hard to clear from the body or environment while the gasses can cause nerve and brain damage. Hydrogen Fluoride is one of the most dangerous chemicals known.
- All gas wells leak given time, gas has the urge to go up. 6% of wells leak immedietly after drilling, 60% after 15 years.
- Gas and chemicals leak or spill into the environment and pollute waterways.
- Once the underground water is polluted, the authorities or water owners would have to drive water to your farm or house.
- Methane leaks at about 7% of the production rate. Even old wells leak. Methane is considerably more damaging to the ozone layer (high atmosphere) which may cause global warming. About 20 times more powerful than CO2 over 100 years but 105 times over 20 years.
- At low levels methane and other gasses contribute to smog production. Even rural areas can end up with city centre smog levels and the attendant health impacts.
- Given the methane leaks, the overall carbon footprint of fracked gas is worse than a coal power station.
- There is no known way to clean up the water that comes back out of the ground from fracking.
- When we compare with the chemical industry or even coal mining, the big difference is that you can see and measure what is happening at Billingham. You can measure things and take a look down a coal mine. With fracking you have to guess at the details of the rock formations, faulting and communication pathways. You only become aware of a problem when its too late, but then only if you test, test, test. Which they don’t in USA .
At every step on the way there is real or theoretical risk to the environment, wildlife, animals and humans.
Many believe we should study all the data and conduct further scientific research before experimenting in the UK.
The USA, Australia and Canada have all considerable experience and will be aware of the impact of fracking. The above findings come mainly from the USA.
New York State, Germany, Hawaii, New Brunswick, France, Bulgaria, Romania, The Czech Republic and many counties, cantons and cities have bans or a moratorium on fracking.
Do we need to experiment in the UK where the rocks are even more faulted (cracked) than in USA so more likely to connect upwards and sideways?