Hydraulic fracturing, or just “fracking”, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock.
It is a process of drilling down into the earth before directing a high-pressure water, sand and chemicals mixture at the rock to create fractures and fissures that release the gas inside which flows to the well head.
The process can be carried out vertically or, as is the common approach, horizontally by drilling to the rock layer to create new pathways to release the fossil fuel. Thus old resource sites, once thought to be exhausted can be used to extend existing channels and extend a facility’s economic life.
The first reason to object is that the process is still sating the thirst for fossil fuels as against putting resources behind the drive to become more reliant on renewables. So there is no progress in reducing mankind’s carbon footprint.
Then there is the process itself as environmentalists claim potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape. These could contaminate groundwater around the fracking site, placing the health of the surrounding ecosystem at risk.
I care about the environment, however, I am an economist and strategist and take the view that our modern society is so fuel hungry that we cannot simply overnight make a switch from fossil fuels to green and clean renewables. That is a process that takes a great deal of time. One could argue that the UK, and perhaps other nations as well have been too slow in starting the change...but we must deal with the world as it is...not as we wish it to be.
Labour says No!
It is ironic that on the day before the first US shale gas arrives at Ineos plant in Scotland, the Labour Party pronounced at its annual conference that it would ban fracking in the UK.
On Monday, Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Energy and Trade Secretary said:
“...Today I am announcing that the next Labour government will ban fracking in the UK, ... Fracking locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to renewables. The next Labour government will back the clean technologies of the future. ...”
It is all very admirable, but as I explained earlier in the week
the Labour Party has a deeply flawed economic plan. The nation needs fuel to go about its business and generate wealth. Only from the taxation collected at a fair rate from generated wealth can capital be set aside to pursue the dream of a green and clean energy supply. In short...the UK has to get grubby before it can become green.
It is not often that I agree with the trade union movements, but on this matter I do. Labour’s third biggest union donor, GMB, attacked the decision to pledge a ban on fracking in the UK as both “nonsense” and “madness”.
The GMB, which is often seen as being on the right wing of the Labour movement, i.e. a section one can do business with, criticised the move, saying it would force the UK to rely on foreign sources of energy.
Stuart Fegan, the GMB’s national officer, added:
“...It is a nonsense that any political party serious on forming a government after the next planned general election in 2020 could promote a ban on shale gas extraction outright. With our national dependency on gas consumption set to increase in the immediate future, ruling out the possible use of a natural fuel that exists beneath our feet in parts of the UK is ridiculous. ...”
Caroline Flint, the former shadow energy secretary, also criticised the proposed ban without there being a policy to replace it. Speaking at a fringe event she said:
“...We can’t just be against things. Nobody is going to vote for a policy if they think that [energy] security is going to be at risk. ...”
Conservatives are considering it
This year will see no shale gas wells will be drilled in Britain this year. However, in the next fortnight, the government will decide whether to accept shale company Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire County Council who decided to turn down its application for two fracking sites in 2015.
There will of course be time lags and if Sajid Javid, the communities secretary does approve the deal Cuadrilla has said construction at the two sites on the Fylde would not begin until Q2 2016 at the earliest.
Shale gas arrives
Chemicals giant Ineos, which has talked of a “shale gas revolution” in the UK has not submitted a single shale planning application. It has said it will be moving quickly from now on by submitting five proposals before the year’s end.
The UK can feed its own energy, but in the short term, imports will be required. In this mind a tanker carrying 27,500 cubic metres of ethane from US shale fields reached Grangemouth this week.
This is the site of the petrochemicals plant owned by Ineos who said the gas would secure the future of the plant's workforce. It said shale gas activity would transform and revitalise the economics of Grangemouth as it believes that the creation of a chemical and manufacturing hub around the plant could pass a competitive advantage on to other organisations along the supply chain.
www.bgs.ac.uk , www.2b1stconsulting.com
The maps above show the distribution of the main resource areas across the UK. It would be foolish to block such a venture as the UK along with other parts of North West Europe, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway, could if their respective parliaments approve the process enjoy an excellent slice of competitive advantage. Some have banned the practices, others approved it. The rest are waiting for more research.
• France ~ Banned
Germany ~ Banned
• Denmark ~ First licenses awarded
• Netherlands ~ Over 200 wells have so far been hydraulically fractured
Of course, objections seem to be running across the UK as Third Energy recently had its proposal fracking operations in North Yorkshire blocked due to a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and a local anti-fracking group. One wonders just what their near-term solution to the UK growing energy needs are, given they mostly also object to nuclear power.
The current government of Theresa May has to show if it is as keen as that of her predecessor. David Cameron said about 30 months ago that the UK was going “...all out for shale...”, and ministers one year ago promised they would “...fast track...” bids.
So, Mrs May, enjoy the party conference next week but then get cracking with the fracking!
– Edited by Clare MacCarthy
Stephen Pope is managing partner at Spotlight Ideas