Energy at what price?


Fracking – The popular solution, but what is it?”

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as Fracking is a process that involves extracting fossil fuels, Oil and particularly Gas from shale deposits from within the earth’s strata. It is a relatively cheap option compared to conventional extraction methods and the Gas produced when used to produce energy releases less greenhouse gases than coal or oil. It requires bore holes to be made into the underlying rock and then forcing high pressure water into strata (Shale) in order to force Gas to the surface.

What this actually means is that we humans will realistically just put on hold the holistic ozone depletion by what? a matter of days, weeks or at best a couple of years when looked at as a global solution to energy production.

Lets us look at some Global Energy statistics to get a realistic or clearer picture. The Colorado River Commission of Nevada (CRCN) USA produced in 2002 the World Fossil Fuel Reserves and Projected Depletion. This document identifies rates of power production in 1999, it does not however specifically identify the proportions of coal, gas and oil that make up the thermal power.

However the document goes on to illustrate that of the 65% of thermal power tabled below, that the number of years of resource consumption remaining (at present rates) gives Coal as having 230 years of resources left,  Natural Gas of 166 years of resources left and Petrol 98 years of Global resources left. However if present rates of consumption continue, what damage would be done to the ozone layer in 50 years (let alone 230 years of burning coal,166 years of consumption of Natural Gas or 98 years of continued use of petrol)?

Allocation of the worlds Electric Generating Capacity:

Nuclear Power12%
Hydro Power22%
Renewable (energy sources)1%

Of the renewable energy sources the following list shows how the above 1% of total global renewable energy provision is made up.

Solar Power3%
Wave Power0%
Biomass Power44%

So what can we say about those statistics – even if we accept the assumptions in the document? The first and most important, is that it does not mention the Kyoto Protocol and projected climate change due to greenhouse emissions.

One great problem with the picture of global power production, is that of developing countries and their future need of power which is touched upon in the CRCN report. The debate is similar to the one regarding Freon™
which is a family of products developed by the DuPont company in 1928. Throughout the 1980s, Freon™ was used in a wide variety of applications, until growing evidence suggested that it was contributing to damage in the ozone layer which protects the Earth. Many third world countries accused the western world of being hypocrites by banning Freon having used it themselves for many years.

The difference here is that in the energy debate raised here, the western world has used naturally occurring fossil fuel deposits to fire the energy production for many years and now we are at a point in time where we all know that the use of fossil fuels is detrimental to the future of the ozone layer.

The main points of my document are to:

  • Bring the subject of Energy at what Price? into public debate.
  • Defend the need for the UK to become truly renewable in term of energy production and not to divert public attention to a quick fix that is ill conceived and potentially environmentally damaging.
  • Highlight the dangers of short sighted quick fixes to the problems that may have many hiddendangers.

Some of the problems with the Fracking process?

What I cannot believe is that the bulk of humanity will sit around whilst a few capitalists or so called entrepreneurs have identified a relatively cheap, quick fix solution (in their greedy eyes) to the global demand for cheaper energy and a fast buck without understanding or caring about the full implications of what they are about to do (that seems to ring a bell! – forgive them father for they know not what they do! Who said that?). Some of  my main concerns are as follows:

A waste and potential contamination of water.

Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling boreholes deep down into the soil strata into shale deposits (see Illustration 1 below) and pumping large quantities of water into the boreholes thus forcing natural gas and oil to the surface which is a misuse of water, already a scarce resource in the UK.  Residents of the UK are well aware of the concerns with water shortage and in fact a report from May 2012 by BBC Radio 4 illustrated the concerns over shortages of water in ancient deep level water reserves. So why would we want to pump water into shale and release impurities into the soil strata that then will permeate into the already depleted natural water courses which will then need to be purified or treated in order to drink?

Seismic Activity: Fracking caused Blackpool earthquakes

Diagram 1 (below) illustrates the possibility that the Fracking process will induce seismic activity into pre-existing fault lines and create earth tremors. This was proven to be the case with recent tremors in Blackpool in a review by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The following excerpt is a summary of an article taken from the Daily Telegraph and identifies some of the concerns:

Britain has sizeable resources of shale gas underneath the Pennines, some of the home counties and parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, meaning it could be a cheaper alternative to importing fossil fuels. An official report blames tremors near Blackpool on the practice of shale gas fracking. There is a link that Fracking has been identified as a potential to a variety of environmental concerns including the contamination of groundwater, air pollution & seismic activity however there are several counter arguments to refute the claims.

One report earlier in 2012 stated that the risk of ancient water sources being contaminated as a result of fracking was no higher than with other drilling processes?
One other study recently claimed that some of the released emissions into the atmosphere during the process may cause headaches and respiratory problems to people living up to half a mile away.
The Blackpool earthquake was the first evidence of fracking attributable to seismic activity, however authors of the report have argued that there is only a minimal risk of seismic activity large enough to damage any buildings or people.

I don’t know how it can be argued that the risks of contamination are no higher than other processes when we do not already pump water into the ground to force out mineral deposits?

Pollution to underground watercourses

Cities, towns and farm run-off aren’t the only sources of groundwater pollution. Here is just one substantial threat to clean groundwater supplies:

Natural gas drilling: A process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is often used to drill for natural gas. A blend of chemicals is mixed with water and blasted deep into cracks in the ground, opening them up to make the gas more accessible. EPA scientists are currently conducting an investigation into whether natural gas drilling is contaminating groundwater sources in some Western states — many houses  have been abandoned aftermethane seeped into the water, and at least one house exploded in 2003, killing three people inside. (Source)

Is the process right for the UK?

The USA have been utilising the fracking process for decades, however the UK is at a relatively early stage of exploration.
A recent project in Lancashire was suspended as a result of the Blackpool earthquake, but it looks probable that it will be given the go ahead to resume if it complies with new safety control measures. The extent of the controls necessary to recommence the process in Blackpool have been published and some of the detail taken from the Manufacturer detailed below,

The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientific advisor, David MacKay, said: “If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental
impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts.”

“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK.”

The invitation for comment runs for six weeks from today with all responses set to be considered and taken into account before any decision is taken on further fracking for shale gas.

The report recommends the following measures to mitigate the risk of any damaging seismic activity from future shale gas operations in the Bowland Basin.

  1. That the hydraulic fracturing procedure should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage.
  2. That an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events should be part of any future hydraulic fracturing operations.
  3. That future fracking operations for shale gas should be subject to a “traffic light” control regime, similar to that recommended by Cuadrilla’s consultants. A red light at activity levels of 0.5 in magnitude has been lowered from Caudrilla’s proposed stop point of 1.7.

The review recommends that suitable actions to assess the seismic risk be put in place before any future operations take place elsewhere in the UK.

My perception of the ‘model’ of Fracking taken from the USA is one of overall scale. We all know that the USA is a vast continent with a relatively sparse population, geophysical activities in remote areas of the states would virtually go unnoticed and there would be relatively little opposition to the proposed site (Remember what brought Erin Brockovich to world acclaim).

he point here is that in the UK we have very few remote sparsely populated areas without geological fault lines that are suitable for fracking. Indeed we in the UK have very few areas that over ecological time had no seismic activity at all. Forgetting earthquakes (Peldon in Essex) and volcanoes, as we knowEdinburgh Castle is build on an extinct volcano. Would the US congress allow a Fracking developer drilling rights on the outskirts of San Francisco or on the San Andreas Fault? – Of course not.

I believe that we should NOT divert from renewable sources of energy by taking the fracking pathway. But lets us concentrate our efforts and put ALL of our UK ingenuity, inventive and development skills into developing truly renewable energy sources rather compounding the problems for our children to solve.


Kyoto Protocol – sets out the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change