Fracking – Fact and Fiction —   Roger Vernon — 25th March 2019

Energy con­sump­tion is ever increas­ing to keep up with the demands of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. Many believe the increased demand could be met by the extrac­tion of shale gas through the pro­cess of frack­ing which is a tech­nique to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Drilling com­pan­ies have estim­ated that tril­lions of cubic feet of shale gas lay beneath us await­ing extrac­tion.  However, there is a great deal of public hos­til­ity towards the pro­cess of frack­ing and protests have delayed pro­gress on many drilling sights. Clearly we need more gas to meet our grow­ing require­ments and cur­rently we must import sup­plies from USA , Norway, Middle East and others.

Shale is a simple clay based rock con­tain­ing molecules of gas and oil. A short video clip was played illus­trat­ing how easily a piece of shale rock could be set on fire to show its burn­ing qual­it­ies. To release the gas and oil molecules , the pro­cess of frack­ing is used which involves drilling ver­tic­ally into the earth to the strata of shale rock and then gradu­ally chan­ging the dir­ec­tion of the drill to bore hori­zont­ally.  A mix­ture of water, sand and chem­ic­als is dir­ec­ted under high pres­sure into the rock . The pres­sure opens up fis­sures in the rock which are held open by the sand.  The pro­cess is reversed and water now dirty flows to the sur­face fol­lowed by oil and gas which are sep­ar­ated and trans­por­ted away. The recov­ery of the gas takes place over a lengthy period.

Reserves of shale gas have been iden­ti­fied in large swathes of the UK par­tic­u­larly in north­ern England. More than 100 licences have been awar­ded by the gov­ern­ment allow­ing firms to explore for gas and oil.  Planning per­mis­sion must be received from the rel­ev­ant local coun­cil before pro­duc­tion can pro­ceed.. Here is where the dis­putes arise with organ­ised protest. The com­pany Cuadrilla was gran­ted a licence to drill and extract gas and oil near Blackpool but were forced to sus­pend pro­duc­tion after earth­quakes of 1.5 and 2.2 mag­nitude  on the Richter scale hit the area. It was deemed “ highly prob­able “ that the tremors were caused by the frack­ing.  Using the government’s “ traffic light system “ for frack­ing , pump­ing has to pro­ceed at a reduced rate after tremors are exper­i­enced below 0.5 and stop for 18 hours after a tremor of 0.5 or over.

The risks of earth­quakes , noise and water pol­lu­tion are major con­cerns to the public and this fear has escal­ated into mass protest, ham­per­ing and stop­ping the pro­gress of  drilling and extrac­tion of shale gas.. However, the prob­lem remains — as the pop­u­la­tion increases the demand for gas grows. Over 80% of the UK has access to gas and over 45% of elec­tri­city is gen­er­ated by using gas.. The irony is that the very people who are protest­ing are most likely users of gas.  However, the threat to the envir­on­ment is real and cannot be under estim­ated , par­tic­u­larly when using a pro­cess and tech­no­logy which are largely new and untried in this coun­try. The shale gas industry may be strug­gling in the UK but in the USA it is boom­ing and a net exporter.  There the pro­cess is long estab­lished ori­gin­at­ing in Oklahoma in 1949 and a fur­ther major advant­age is that the drilling and pro­duc­tion occurs in vast open spaces away from the popu­lace. A luxury we do not have.

These are inter­est­ing times.   The pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing – we need more energy.  Roger gave us a most inter­est­ing talk giving us the facts and con­front­ing the myths which sur­round frack­ing.