What is fracking?
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which then allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer.
Is there any fracking in the UK?
The shale industry in the UK is still at an early stage and production has not yet started. The Government supports the development of domestic energy sources so long as it is conducted in a safe and sustainable manner. Fracking has been taking place in the USA since 1949 and there are now around 1 million wells supplying 43% of the oil production and 67% of the natural gas production in the United States.
Why is there a need for it?
Over 85% of British people use gas for heating and cooking and this will continue for many years to come. Britain needs significant oil and gas supplies over the next few decades. Shale gas will provide a bridge whilst the UK develops renewable energy sources, improves energy efficiency and builds new nuclear plants.
What plans are there for fracking in Thirsk and Malton?
A planning application to hydraulically fracture the well named as KM8 at their current site at Kirby Misperton has been approved. Assuming this initial site is successful and shale gas exploration proves worthwhile in Ryedale, Third Energy have publicly stated that they expect to hydraulically fracture at their existing nine sites and at an additional ten across the district.
Is it safe?
The Government has been clear that our energy supply must be safe, low cost and low carbon. Reviews of the existing evidence and UK regulatory system, such as reports by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering and Public Health England, have concluded that shale gas can be developed whilst protecting the environment provided that operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.
Who will be responsible for ensuring that it is safe and properly monitored?
A company wishing to develop shale needs to obtain necessary permissions. This incudes a Petroleum Exploration Development Licence (PEDL), planning permission from the relevant planning authority and environmental permits from the relevant environmental regulator. Proposals are scrutinized through the planning system, which will address impacts such as traffic movements and noise. They will also be monitored by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. The sites are inspected by the HSE and EA at exploration stage. In addition consent is required from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) before drilling or production activities can begin. The authorities also set out new requirements from operators which means they have to assess the proximity of relevant faults before fracturing, monitor seismic activity before, during and after operations and halt them if seismic activity exceeds a predefined level.
What are the pros and cons of fracking?
- It allows us to access natural gas. As the world’s supplies of these resources dwindle we need to find new methods to obtain additional oil and gas. Until we find another replacement fuel fracking is an ideal stop gap
- It is a much cleaner fuel than others, for example coal, and as a result there is less pollution and the air is cleaner.
- Fracking in the UK will decrease our dependency on foreign gas and oil, particularly at a time where tensions are high in the Middle East and Russia.
- Economic benefits from knowing that there is a reliable domestic oil supply are considerable. Currently, we have not got enough supplies to cover our needs in the years ahead.
- People living in areas where fracking may take place are worried that their lives will be disrupted by the noise and traffic.
- There are concerns that the beautiful countryside will be spoilt by fracking activity, even though the Government has said there will be no surface drilling in protected areas.
- Fracking will use a lot of water and chemicals and some people are concerned that this could cause pollution and be potentially hazardous to residents.
- Unless properly monitored and regulated it is possible that fracking could pollute aquifers (water supplies underground).
Are there any restrictions on fracking?
Yes, many. There can be no hydraulic fracturing above 1000 metres below the surface. Fracking and associated drilling is also banned at the surface of all protected areas. These include National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural beauty (AOB’s), Sites of Special Scientific Interest, World Heritage Sites, Source Protection Zones and the Broads (confirmed on 6th November 2015). This applies to all existing and future applications.
Are there any other restrictions?
An application for fracking would have to include measures taking into account the environmental impact of a development, groundwater monitoring, community benefits and the exclusion of associated hydraulic fraction in protected groundwater source areas.
What is Kevin Hollinrake’s view of fracking?
Kevin Hollinrake believes that fracking could provide national solutions to national needs and that it will provide a much needed source of energy. However Kevin is clear that it should only happen if it is safe and has no significant impact on the countryside.
So, what is he going to do to ensure that this is the case?
He will meet regularly with the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and other agencies to ensure that public health is not put at risk. He will endeavour to make sure that the taxpayer or landowner does not have to meet the longer term cost of shale gas exploration, for site restoration and aftercare, even if the operator goes out of business. BEIS is already consulting with the industry about this.
In short, he wants to ensure that there is:
- Independent supervision of regulations
- A lead agency to ensure clear lines of accountability
- A ’local plan’ for fracking covering a five year roll out and detailed solutions for key concerns
- Real time, publicly available environmental monitoring
- Community financial benefits to go to communities most affected
- Long term, secure investment in subsidies to nature renewable energy and Carbon Capture and Storage
- Establishment of an industry fund for remediation, site restoration and aftercare.