What is fracking?

Fracking is the process of blasting water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals deep underground in order to get out the gas or oil,

1. It could frack the climate

The world already has far more gas and oil than we can burn if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global climate change. Finding more will only make it worse.

In fact, analysts like the International Energy Agency warn that most of the gas we’ve already found should stay in the ground. The last thing we need is new discoveries of expensive, hard to extract gas.

Fracking fans say gas is better than coal but it turns out simply replacing coal with shale gas may do little good over the next few decades – especially if the gas leaks out, sending super-warming methane into the atmosphere.

Frankly we’re well past the point of swapping between dirty fuels. Not only should we stop using coal – right now – we should be cutting down on our gas habit too.

The government’s climate advisors say emissions need to fall by more than 80% in just a few decades, that means cutting down on the gas yet Cuadrilla’s own analysis suggests they won’t even be producing much gas until the 2030s.

And that’s if we’re talking gas. A lot of the fracking could actually be for oil, especially in the South.

Fracking for oil is even worse for the climate than normal oil production (according to this report for the Norwegian government) and, as the IEA research shows, we already have far too many people pumping dirty oil into the world.

2. It could frack the countryside, too

Smashing rocks to get at the gas on an industrial scale isn’t easy.

An analysis by Bloomberg suggests that to match what we get from the North Sea with fracking (about half our demand) would need 10-20,000 wells scattered across the countryside in clumps of 6-10 on so-called ‘drilling pads’.

Each well would spread like an octopus underground potentially running for miles deep under land and homes. Cuadrilla, the company currently drilling in Sussex, say they would need fewer wells on site – but only because they would run even more wells underground.

New roads would be built for the thousands of polluting diesel trucks laden with chemicals, fracking fluid and waste fluids travelling to and from the drilling site. A report for Cuadrilla suggests that in drilling areas 6-17 trucks a day could be needed – over five years.

On site a drilling rig would move from well to well, pumping water underground and collecting the gas or oil in a 24-7 operation. During the exploratory phase flaring may take place burning off any gas the company finds.


3. And it could frack our water

Fracking uses so much water that the water industry has warned it could make our shortages even worse.

But there is also another risk to our water. If things go wrong on the drilling site (or in transit) then contaminated water from fracking could spread into the environment, polluting ecosystems.

The fracking process involves potentially toxic chemicals at almost every stage.

Injected fluid contains chemicals including hydrochloric acid, the drilling process often involves muds containing chloride and the waste fluid – which comes back up – contains potentially toxic minerals as well as low levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials (or Norm) from the rocks.

As the UK’s Environment Agency found, flow-back fluid from the Lancashire shale contained “notably high levels of sodium, chloride, bromide and iron, as well as higher values of lead“.

The shale is fracked deep under ground but if something goes wrong with the well, gas and fluids can leak into the ground or water supply higher up.

Studies in the US have indicated this may be happening in areas with lots of drilling in Pennsylvania and Texas where contaminants including were found at higher concentrations in water wells closer to fracking sites.  The studies can’t show conclusively what caused the contamination – but the US Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a long-running investigation into shale gas and water.

And then there is the risk of a leak from fluids held at the surface.

According to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “spills or leaks can … occur during the transport, mixing and storage of the water and flowback”.

It’s happened more than once. In fact  there are claims of spills, accidents or fines for firms engaged in drilling activities hereherehereherehere and here.

The Government insists its tougher regulations will mean none of that happens in the UK. Fracking firms have to get lots of permits and won’t be allowed near sensitive water tables – but most of the monitoring will ultimately be down to firms like Cuadrilla, and when has that ever gone wrong before?

4. It won’t bring down bills

George Osborne and David Cameron want you to think fracking will send your energy bill crashing. We’re not saying they’re lying, it’s just there aren’t any facts on their side.

In fact, the guy Cuadrilla hired to do their spin put it most simply when he was talking to us at a public meeting. He said they’d done some research and the impact on bills would be pretty limited, “basically insignificant” was how he put it.

Why? Well firstly because nobody actually believes they are going to succeed in plastering the country with the thousands of wells it would need to produce very much gas. A government report thinks UK shale will make up about 5% of what we use.

But what if they do? Well it will still make no difference (except to the countryside).

Firstly every single expert we’ve found (apart from George) thinks UK shale is going to be quite expensive compared to the US, quite possibly no cheaper than gas already is, in fact. All that water, all those trucks, wells far deeper than in the US and those pesky rules about not damaging the environment.

But maybe George knows something we don’t, maybe they can frack on the cheap. We don’t think that sounds like a good idea, but even if they did it, here’s the thing. We already produce lots of gas in the North Sea yet our bills aren’t low. That’s because we’re connected to a European gas market. We’ve got pipes all over the channel and the North Sea.

Cuadrilla will sell their gas to the highest bidder. We already export gas at the same time as we import gas for more money. That’s just how the market works. We’d have thought George would know a thing or two about that really.

Oh, we almost forgot, the exploration in the South East – that’s not for gas, its for oil, shale oil. Shale is not going to reduce anyone’s gas bill and, thanks to the market, it’s not going to reduce anyone’s petrol bill either.

Some like to argue that maybe fracking here won’t actually lower bills, but if we frack all around the world it will do. Well, it’s possible but fracking isn’t just running into trouble in the UK.

In France the practice is banned. In Poland most of the firms exploring for gas have pulled out arguing reserves were not economic to extract and in China where shale gas extraction is threatened by water shortages fracking has barely begun and the country has already missed early targets. Experts at Chatham House have argued geological, economic and political barriers mean repeating US style shale gas extraction elsewhere may not be possible.

items 1 to 4 above are extracts from the Greenpeace UK website



What does this mean for North Yorkshire?

Noise and pollution

Fracking involves the use of industrial pumps at each site, which are extremely noisy. Each operating site works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under bright lights at night, causing extreme noise, light and air pollution.

The threat to our water supply

Each fracking site creates millions of gallons of contaminated water, which is almost impossible to dispose of safely. It is either collected in giant  ‘swimming pools’, allowing toxic chemicals to evaporate into our atmosphere , or pumped back down the well. Our drinking water would become contaminated if one of the wells leaks, as they are likely to do over time. It is estimated that one in four wells will leak within five years, and 50% of all wells will leak within 15 years.

There is also the issue of where the vast quantities of water required is taken from, and the knock-on effect of water scarcity for agriculture, livestock, rivers and wildlife – as well as people’s homes, of course.


A traffic nightmare

The drill sites need to be serviced by road, and each well requires up to 4,000 HGV journeys to bring in water and chemicals to supply the pumps at each drill site. This will cause major traffic problems across North Yorkshire, particularly on single-track roads, in villages and near schools. Local residents could see over 50 noisy trucks pass by their homes every single day. Including Sundays. For years on end.

The threat to our health

There are also serious concerns about our health. A recent official report from the USA on the fracking industry has identified at least 59 chemicals in the air or the waste water that are dangerous to human health or the environment, including arsenic, benzene, lead and radioactive materials. Many of these are known carcinogens. The report concludes:

All together, the findings from the scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations indicate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, and long-term economic vitality. Concerned both by the rapidly expanding evidence of harm and by the fundamental data gaps still remaining, Concerned Health Professionals considers a moratorium on unconventional oil and natural gas extraction (fracking) the only appropriate and ethical course of action while scientific and medical knowledge on the impacts of fracking continues to emerge.

Breast Cancer UK  has also called for a moratorium on fracking and has expressed strong concerns about the potentially adverse health effects of increased exposure to harmful chemicals as a result of fracking.


The threat to our property

And then there’s the effect this could have on our homes. Fracking has been known to cause earthquakes in some areas – you may have heard about an earthquake near Blackpool caused by the fracking company Cuadrilla three years ago – and insurance companies have already revealed that damage to property as a result of fracking subsidence would not be compensated.

It is also likely that property would lose value, as has been the case elsewhere in the UK. In fact, the government are so worried about this that they censored an internal DEFRA report about the impact of fracking 69 times. Even the name of the author was censored!

The threat to our livelihood

The effect of fracking on the tourist industry could be devastating, resulting in business closures and heavy job losses. Who will want to visit North Yorkshire when it is covered in drill sites and gas pipelines,  and the roads are clogged up with hundreds of HGVs?

Farmers should also be concerned, as the issues of pollution, noise and water scarcity pose a grave threat to agriculture and livestock in North Yorkshire. In the USA, animals and crops are dying as a result of exposure to chemicals from drilling operations.

HP1The threat to our environment

It is unsurprising that fracking will pose a huge threat to our landscape, as you have seen from the photos of fracking in other parts of the world on this page. If fracking takes hold in the north of England, we will see literally thousands of wells stretching across our countryside. The effect this would have on our wildlife will be disastrous, not only because of the damage to the environment but also the potentially disastrous effect it would have on rivers and streams in the area


Where do they want to Frack?

Everywhere, including right across North Yorkshire

This licensing map of the UK shows which areas have been allocated a Petroleum & Exploration Development Licence (PEDL). The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is divided into a network of blocks. Initial block licenses last for six years – enough time, according to DECC, for the developer to get planning permissions, work out the viability of the area. Further information on the companies involved is available here.

and in Particular Ryedale!