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Are you fracking kidding me?

Written by Science

Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ has been causing a stir in the news in recent years and it’s making its next appearance. Fracking is used to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Unlike other rocks which are permeable and allow free movement of gas and oil shale rock has to be cracked to release its stores. This means large numbers of wells need to be drilled regularly to extract the fuels.

Last month a committee of eighteen MPs narrowly voted to pass a motion which would give fracking companies greater freedom with where they can  carry out  hydraulic fracturing. This reduction in protection would allow fracking to take place in special and sensitive areas in England including National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The vote must pass a larger group of MPs before these reduced regulations can be enforced, but it has caused  great concern for our countryside and groundwater reserves.

This followed 52 MPs voting for a moratorium, a temporary ban, on fracking in January this year when 308 voted against the ban. The debate on this went on for so long, the MP’s were not able to vote on changes to the trespass laws, meaning that fracking companies can drill under the majority of buildings and homes with no permission from the owners. This, rightly, caused great controversy.

There is a large case against fracking. The extraction of shale gas is difficult and has been proved to leak large amounts of methane at various points in the process. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas and is known to undergo free radical substitution in the atmosphere, which ultimately leads to the breakdown of the ozone layer, hence increasing the amount of UV radiation that penetrates Earth.

“Fracking companies can drill under the majority of buildings and homes with no permission from the owners”

Other problems with fracking include the environmental impact to surrounding areas, with natural habitats and water supplies potentially being infiltrated by gas, which was showcased by a viral video of a man in America setting his tap water on fire. Fracking could have medical impacts on areas affected due to the ingestion of said water, and the fires that are likely to occur as a result, which can’t be put out with water, because, of course –  it’s flammable.

These problems with fracking, termed ‘huge uncertainties’ have been outlined by the Environmental Audit Committee and are still ignored by MP’s.

So why are so many MP’s for fracking? In the January vote one of the conditions of being allowed to frack was that there would be an outright ban in ‘national parks, sites of special interest and areas of national beauty’. This condition was scrapped in July, and has been brought back again. So it seems the view on fracking in parliament is ever changing.

The Energy secretary suggests that shale gas will help the UK have it’s own ‘home grown energy supplies’ leading to a reliable energy future.

Yet even if this is a decent basis for allowing fracking, we have to ask ourselves if this is true. Why would the current government be cutting tax reliefs for community energy schemes to invest in renewable energies such as solar and wind, which would have minimal impact in comparison to fracking and could provide theoretically continuous energy?

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Last modified: 16th November 2015

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