Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as ‘fracking’, is a process used to extract natural gas from hard shale rock. Using a hydraulic drill, tiny explosions are used to shatter the rock and release the tiny bubbles of gas within, whilst a mixture of sand, chemicals and water is then injected into the fissures to allow the gas to escape out of the cavities.
Work was halted at the four sites in Lancashire after the process caused two small earthquakes in the Blackpool area.
Whilst it is hoped that mass extraction of shale gas will send energy prices to a record low, fracking remains controversial in the eyes of many due to the environmental concerns surrounding it. Most of the water used in the extraction of shale gas is collected from the well and processed in the plant, although concerns have been raised that this chemical-filled, potentially carcinogenic water could find its way back into local drinking water sources. Similar concerns have also been raised in the US, however, spokespersons for the fracking industry have defended the process, claiming that any incidents of pollution or related environmental problems are examples of bad practice, rather than an inherent side-effect of the extraction process.
The government has added its voice to the shale gas debate. Chancellor George Osborne heralded a new ‘dash for gas’, putting forward his support for the development of as many as 40 new natural gas-fired power stations over the course of the next decade.
The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, enthused about the potential low-cost energy this gas boom would bring, saying ‘It may be this gas revolution is really quite transformative: it may be there will be quite a lot of gas and the price will not be as high. This might be a revolution we should be involved in and, if we ignored it completely, we could be giving your economy much higher energy policies than are necessary.’
But despite the enthusiasm for a natural gas ‘revolution’, are the government’s dreams of low electricity bills all that sustainable? Not really, say the Committee for Climate Change (CCC), who have examined the potential impact of different energy systems, including renewables, nuclear, and gas-based, on household energy bills. Their findings suggested that too heavy a reliance on non-renewable shale gas for energy supplies would eventually lead to higher bills in the long run, as the international gas market is a volatile one.
The CCC’s report predicted that energy bills for households with gas-based systems could be as much as £600 higher by the end of the decade, whilst households using renewable and nuclear power would see only a £100 increase.
The question of climate change targets has also been raised. An investment in gas power will jeopardise any prospect of meeting government-set climate change targets, unless Carbon Capture and Storage technology can be sufficiently developed to be used in power stations by the end of the decade. A spokesperson for Greenpeace said ‘The chancellor’s gas gamble is risking people’s wallets as well as the planet. Clean energy will not only insulate bill payers from volatile gas prices and ensure the UK meets its climate targets, but it will mean new green jobs and industries.’
Sources include The Guardian, BBC and Lancashire Evening Post
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