The possibility of the extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing of rock (commonly known as ‘fracking’) was the focus of discussion in Adderbury on 7 November by Members of North Oxfordshire Villages Branch. Tony Wragg, who is a Fellow of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, set out the apparent opportunities and dangers of this method of producing energy.
Fracking and Global Warming
The search for gas by fracking relates directly to global warming. To avoid catastrophic damage to our planet we have an urgent need to greatly reduce emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere by finding alternatives to traditional fuels, coal, oil and gas.
He said that the UK’s dependence on imported gas will grow even worse unless we develop alternative sources of clean energy. Shale gas could reduce dependence on imports and help transition out of coal. However, it doesn’t move us far towards the 80% reduction in CO2 we committed ourselves to, in the interests of global justice, in our groundbreaking 2008 Climate Act.
Why in Our Back Yard?
The geology suggests that the layer of porous rock 2 -3 km below the Cherwell River valley may hold enough shale gas to be worth commercial extraction. Commercial interests mean it is difficult to get information about exploratory drilling and the extent of any likely development.
What are the Dangers?
The greater global risk is that a significant (and poorly researched) proportion of the methane available in shale gas leaks into the atmosphere. This can take place through natural fissures and those generated by the fracking and, critically, through poor management of the well casing. Since methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, the net effect of using fracked gas could be worse than use of coal.
Local risks centre on the quantity of water used in the fracking process and that chemicals, the composition of which the extraction industry claim as trade secrets and remains very poorly regulated, could leak out into aquifers. There may be minor earth movement, but this is unlikely to be worse than conventional coal mining.
Members were horrified to learn that because the economic life of a fracked well is only months to years thousands of wells are required nationally to maintain a regular supply of gas, and a huge storage capacity will be needed.
The Urgent Need for Regulation.
Britain does not at present have specific regulations to control this emerging extraction industry. Experience from the USA shows that the best controls and safety measures include making the producer liable to pay compensation and repair any damage caused by the leakage of gas or chemicals.
We Must Change.
The development of nuclear and wind power meets with huge local resistance and fracking is likely to produce the same negative reaction. However, NIMBY attitudes will not remove the dangers to the future of our planet- to avoid calamity from rising temperatures we must change our lifestyles, reduce demand and use new clean energy sources.
To learn more, listen to Paul Mobbs at the next Ideas for A Change meeting: 7.30pm Wednesday 13th November 2013 , Friends Meeting House, Horsefair, Banbury
“Going to Extremes: The project to develop unconventional gas extraction in Britain”
Read “Snake Oil – How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future”, by Richard Heinberg – details at www.resilience.org