7 things you need to know about Fracking

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Fracking has featured in many headlines in the last year, but what exactly is this process, and why does it attract so much controversy? Here are 7 facts about the heavily debated process.

1. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, aims to release oil or natural gas from shale formations by a process of high-pressure fluid injection. A well is drilled down into the earth before a pressurised water mixture, which can include sand and chemicals, is blasted into the rock to create cracks, allowing the resources to leak out.

2. Shale gas is a natural gas, mostly composed of methane, trapped in shale formations – fine-grained sedimentary rocks which have been formed by years of compaction of silt and clay particles. Shale gas comes from rock that has been buried at great depth, and can be used for energy including electricity and heating.

3. UK shale gas is concentrated in certain areas of the country, for example the Bowland Basin, which spreads across the East Midlands,Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire. Accurate estimates have been hard to come by, but IGas’ studies suggested that there could be 102 trillion cubic feet of gas in shales in North West England.

4. While the current government believes shale gas has great potential for energy security, growth and jobs, fracking in this country was stopped after tremors in North West England were caused by drilling from Cuadrilla. However, the Conservatives this year granted energy companies new licenses to explore for gas and oil, mainly in central and northern England. The move could see land under National Parks being drilled.

5. Fracking for oil in the US has caused a dramatic shift in the global oil production landscape; America now sits above Saudi Arabia and Russia as the top global producer. Shale drilling accounts for an estimated 30 per cent of US gas production, and it could make up half by 2030. An estimated 2.5 million wells have been fracked worldwide t6o d a t e .

6. Controversy and protest surround fracking since there is potential for ground and surface water contamination from the chemicals used, which are potentially carcinogenic. There are also big concerns over the amount of water needed for the fracking process, which can be as much as five million gallons per well.

7. Protesters say air and noise pollution will ruin communities where it takes place, while fracking taking place along dormant or undiscovered faults can cause earthquakes. A rapid increase in earthquakes in the US coincides with the rise of fracking in the country, while two small quakes took place near Blackpool in 2011 following fracking.

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Photo Credit: Simon Fraser University – University Communications on Flickr.

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