Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), a multi-disciplinary watchdog organisation, have released their report on fracking and shale gas extraction in the UK. The document, compiled by scientists, engineers, architects and technologists, provides the most up-to-date analysis of the possible impacts of shale gas fracking in the UK.
In addition to concerns about unstable geology, water and air pollution the report also criticises the assertions of industry and government that fracking will increase jobs, decrease energy bills, and provide a ‘low carbon’ transition fuel.
The full report can be found as a free download here. It provides a very broad analysis encompassing environmental pollution, socio-economic arguments. I fully recommend reading the entire thing (it’s really very concise), though the following observations particularly stood out.
– Prof. Mike Stephenson, British Geological Survey
“Really very, very important… that when you decide that you want to hydraulically fracture… to make sure there are no faults in the area”
Potential fracking sites occur all over the UK, though here in Wales, the principle areas that are being targeted include the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Wrexham. In Lancashire there have already been two magnitude 2.4 earthquakes directly linked to fracking in April and June 2011. After which Caudrilla failed to report the resultant damage to it’s own well. The report in fact highlights the risk of seismic events occurring in Britain; “while fracking-induced seismic events are relatively rare in the US, Britain tends to have more complex and fractured geology, and the seismic risk is therefore potentially greater”.
A recent study in Pennsylvannia examing gas concentrations close to shale gas wells found methane in 82% if drinking water samples
Caudrilla have also repeatedly claimed that there is no evidence of hydraulic fracturing having caused contamination. They then were reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority for saying so. They needn’t have bothered though. If the academic papers weren’t enough proof, this woman can light her tap water on fire.
‘Well integrity failure’ is a documented contaminant pathway for pollution to escape into the environment at large. With Caudrilla already demonstrating its the inability/unwillingness to report earthquake damage to the relevant authorities at their currently active site in Lancashire, this may be a problem sooner rather than later.
Fossil Fuel Reliance
Unchecked development of natural gas-fired generation, which the development of shale gas may facilitate, might be incompatible with meeting the UK’s climate change obligations
– The Impact of Shale gas on Energy Markets, House of Commons Committee on Climate Change
Despite even the scientific-political community issuing criticism of fracking, the government proper are determined to push ahead. Even ignoring the environmental aspects of the problem, the new SGR report asserts that the socio-economic benefits themselves are either over-stated or poorly founded. Arguments against the repeated claim that ‘fracking will bring down energy prices’ in the UK, as it may have in the US, have beeen refuted by Bloomberg, Lord Stern and the DECC.
Beyond the risk from water contamination, fracking uses an insane amount of water just running normally. SGR assert that the UK’s only fracked shale gas well is reported to have used 8.4 million litres of water. That’s the equivalent of the daily use of 560,000 UK citizens. That’s the same population as Cornwall. Of course this can enter back into the water cycle and go around again right?
No. The 15-80% of the water that does return to the top of the well is actually classed as radioactive waste. Not only does this take the water out of circulation, but also adds to the carbon emissions due to transporting the water and treating it. If that weren’t bad enough, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management highlights in their analysis that “Climate change scenarios predict less water availability in the future”. Of course this is in addition to the water that may well get contaminated accidentally.
While coal use has indeed fallen in the USA due to adoption of shale-gas, it’s not just sitting idle in the ground. What use would that be? The coal it did use has been exported internationally, including to the UK. Of course that lowers their carbon emissions, but the coal is just being burned elsewhere and even worse being shipped there to do it, simply adding to the net carbon emisssion per tonne.
Back at home, the UK obviously isn’t a coal exporting power any more, though it is still intrinsically tied into the European energy market. In our international market, gas is sold to the highest bidder regardless of it’s origin. SGR therefore argue that any increase in gas we produce will have little impact on the domestic market. We’ll still have the same mix of fuels as we did to begin with, with the same carbon footprint. A nice stable transition into exactly the same position as before.
Caudrilla predicted that UK shale gas could generate 74,000 jobs, including direct and indirect employment, as well as the knock on effect of the resultant expenditure of the staff. They’ve been wrong since the start of the article though, so lets get a second figure.
The government did their own calculation (again including the indirect, direct and ‘induced’ jobs), and cut it in half even in their most generous estimates. They pointed out at the same time that the ‘job leakage’ is significant. Only 17% of the jobs went to locals, and the jobs were typically only between 4-9 years anway. Dey certainly terk our hypothetical jerbs.
Yes, I’m fracking serious.
The UK government still seem happy to follow through on fracking, despite the well founded criticisim. The full report goes into much more detail, and is a great starting point to get up to speed with the most current research. There are also a number of petitions to sign to make your views known to the people who can make big decisions, and Friends of the Earth, Campaign against Climate Change and Frack Off are all running extensive campaigns on the issue.
Though there has definitely been far too much progress down this road, it definitely isn’t too late to take part and make your opinion felt. After all, what else is the internet for?