To frack, or not to frack. That is the question for Hampshire!
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which uses high pressure water and chemicals blasted underground to fracture shale rock and release gas. The process is hugely controversial and environmentalists fear it can cause earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage. As a result of environmental concerns, fracking has been banned in many European countries including France, Germany and Austria and several states in America.
Advocates say it is a safe solution to our energy problems but environmentalists think it is a disaster waiting to happen. Government and industry argue that fracking, will bring jobs, energy security and cheaper bills. The activists say the “dash for gas” is reckless and locking Britain into fossil fuels outweighs the chance of jobs.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change has issued drilling licences for possible fracking underneath an area close to the River Test, Stockbridge and many historic villages, including Monxton, Abbotts Ann and Amport. Based on information available from DECC, the existing licences are located at the following locations:
- North of Winchester, from Kings Worthy stretching west almost to Stockbridge;
- Further north, reaching from Chilbolton west to Amport;
- East of Winchester, underneath Hampage Wood.
The Environment Agency’s role as environmental regulator for unconventional gas operations in England, should help ensure that any unconventional gas operations are conducted in a way that protects people and the environment.
Their environmental permitting regulations cover:
- protecting water resources, including groundwater (aquifers) as well as assessing and approving the use of chemicals which form part of the hydraulic fracturing fluid
- appropriate treatment and disposal of mining waste produced during the borehole drilling and hydraulic fracturing process
- suitable treatment and management of any naturally occurring radioactive materials
The Environment Agency state that here are environmental risks associated with exploring and extracting unconventional gas (fracking), which may include: “gas or dissolved minerals moving through other rocks into aquifers, leaks from production wells into neighbouring rock formations and aquifers, leaks of gas to the atmosphere and spills of fluids that come to the surface from storage tanks or lagoons.” They also state that these risks can be controlled through proper design and management of the drilling and extraction site. Shale gas exploration (fracking) will require environmental permits issued under the Environmental Permitting Regulations as well as other permissions from the EA.
Sobering Facts (source: Greenpeace):
- Fracking in the USA has led to hundreds of cases of water contamination – and the same could happen here.
- To match only half the UK’s gas demand, we’d need 10-20,000 wells scattered across the countryside
- Fracking under national parks and nature reserves (and anywhere else) could threaten wildlife and its natural habitat.
Reasons fracking should be banned:
- It will industrialise our countryside, our local towns and villages. A large-scale commercial fracking operation would require intrusive development across the UK. Thousands of trucks would be travelling constantly to and from fracking wells, bringing with them more noise and air pollution. At intensive drilling times, some sites could see around 250 truck journeys a day, trucks laden with fracking fluid and waste water. The large volume of traffic would put extra pressure on country roads and disrupt the peace and tranquillity of our rural villages.
- It could put our water supplies at risk. In the US, where fracking has been widespread for over a decade, there have been numerous instances of water contamination – 243 cases over six years in the state of Pennsylvania alone! Recent studies from the US have proved flammable methane can leak from faulty wells into drinking water reserves, contaminating the supply.
- It will pollute the air we breathe. Fracking releases greenhouse gases due to flaring and methane leakage. Academics have shown how fracking operations can pollute the air with toxic chemicals and so could pose risks to our health.
- There are shortfalls in regulating the industry. Loopholes in government regulation mean that our National Parks – and area like Morecambe Bay and the Ribble Valley that are full of rare wildlife – are not fully protected. Fracking firms can still drill under them. So it is entirely possible that areas like these could one day be surrounded by drilling rigs.
- It won’t wean us off fossil fuels. Scientists have warned that we have already found a lot more fossil fuels that we can safely burn if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Squeezing more gas out of the ground, instead of investing in better home insulation, smarter technology and cleaner, safer energy sources doesn’t make sense when it will only worsen climate change.