What is fracking?

Fracking is a way of extracting gas or oil which is trapped inside rocks and won’t flow freely on its own.

To get the gas or oil out, the rock has to be fractured – this is known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or fracking for short. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped down the well at very high pressure. This fractures the rock and, when the pressure is released, the gas or oil flows back up the well.

Why fight fracking?

There are many risks surrounding fracking, so let’s take them one at a time…

Fracking risks contaminating our water supply

According to the British Geological Survey, “Groundwater may be potentially contaminated by extraction of shale gas both from the constituents of shale gas itself, from the formulation and deep injection of water containing a cocktail of additives used for hydraulic fracturing and from flowback water which may have a high content of saline formation water.”[1]

In England, groundwater is used to supply a third of our drinking water

In December last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified cases of impacts of drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.  The EPA’s final report on Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Drinking Water says that fracking activities “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.” Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.

Fracking brings health risks

There has been a growing body of evidence showing correlations between high volumes of fracking and problems such as premature birth[2], high-risk pregnancy, asthma attacks and migraines.

In the UK, 20 leading medical experts (including a former Government Deputy Chief Medical Officer and a former Chair of the Royal College of GPs) have written to the British Medical Journal that “the arguments against fracking on public health grounds are overwhelming”.

Find our more from the Medact report on fracking and health.

Fracking risks big impacts on the local environment

A draft Government report states that “Shale gas development may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialization”.

Fracking won’t lead to a jobs boom

Claims that fracking will bring us a 'jobs boom' are based on optimistic assumptions about how much gas will be produced. In the US, the industry has over-claimed how many jobs it will create . In one major shale gas area, there were seven times fewer jobs created than promised by an industry-funded study.

Also, jobs figures cited often only look at the short term. Fracking company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production in Lancashire would create 1700 jobs, but this is only for one year and falls to under 200 within three years. Their proposed exploration at the Roseacre and Preston New Road site in Lancashire would only create 11 net jobs each. Yet local communities will face risks to their health and the local environment for many years.

Fracking could harm other areas of existing employment like agriculture and tourism while renewable energy and energy efficiency would create over six times as many jobs as gas.

Fracking doesn’t help tackle climate change

Fracking is not a ‘bridge’ to low carbon technology – in fact it just increases our reliance on dirty fossil fuels, particularly if the government builds more gas-fired power stations as it has said it plans to. Nor do we need shale gas to move away from coal – we know that the real solutions are energy saving and renewables, and we need to move to those as fast as possible .

The Paris climate change agreement makes it even more important that we leave fossil fuels in the ground. The Government's own independent experts warn that fracking could stop the UK meeting its climate targets. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change then, according to Energy Minister Nick Hurd MP,  globally we can only burn 25-30% of known fossil fuel reserves.

Find out more from Friends of the Earth’s briefing on fracking and climate change.

Clean energy has more potential to improve energy security than fracking

Reducing gas demand through energy efficiency, and using renewable energy instead could reduce the UK’s dependence on foreign gas by up to 30% by 2030, even as North Sea gas production declines.

On the other hand, even if shale gas exploitation was relatively successful, it would only make up for the decline in North Sea gas by 2030. That means that pursuing a strategy of renewable energy and energy efficiency would make Britain’s energy supply more secure.

Find out more from Friends of the Earth’s report on fracking and energy security.

Fracking is unlikely to reduce energy bills

The Prime Minister’s claims that fracking would cut energy bills were dismissed as “baseless economics” by world-renowned economist Lord Stern. And even the former chairman of leading fracking firm Cuadrilla, Lord Browne, said that UK shale gas would not have a material impact on gas prices

The politics of fracking in the UK

The UK Government has been trying to push fracking on England since the former Chancellor, George Osborne announced that he wanted a “dash for gas” and for Britain to be at the centre of a European shale gas industry in 2012. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May is set to continue with increasingly desperate plans to push ahead with fracking. One of her government’s first steps was to announce a fracking bribe in an attempt to win communities over to this ever more unpopular industry.

But so far the Government and the industry have been stopped it their tracks. US-style fracking has still only happened once in the UK – near Blackpool, back in 2011 and polling shows that two thirds of local people will not be persuaded by a fracking bribe.

One thing that’s been absolutely central to stopping fracking so far in the UK is people everywhere rising up, joining and creating anti-fracking groups and campaigning locally to stop it. Wherever fracking has been proposed, local people have opposed it and councils have largely followed suit.

However – not content with listening to the wishes of local people, leaked letters have revealed that the Government will stop at nothing when it comes to their fixation on fracking.

The situation across the UK is very different. Northern Ireland now has a planning presumption against fracking. Meanwhile, the Welsh and Scottish Governments have halted all plans for fracking, while the risks are assessed. The Scottish government has recently launched a public consultation on whether fracking should be banned.

As the Westminster Government tries to bulldoze fracking through the planning system, this isn’t the approach taken everywhere. As the risks of fracking become more well-known, countries and states are putting in place bans and moratoriums (suspensions):

Until recently, most of Westminster still supported fracking in the UK. But since discovering widespread opposition from people across the country and in response to mounting evidence about the risks, hundreds of MPs now support a moratorium, including Labour, the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, and the Liberal Democrat parties – and also a number of Conservatives.

The Conservative Government’s push for fracking has gone hand in hand with their attacks on renewable energy. Despite the fact that scientists tell us that 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are going to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, the UK Government passed a law making it a duty “to maximise the economic exploitation."

The good news is that people power is winning. It has been shown time and time again that local opposition can stop fracking, with successful local campaigns keeping it at bay from Balcombe to Lancashire and Fermanagh.

[1] Stuart et al, 2012, Potential groundwater impact from exploitation of shale gas in the UK, page 19

[2] Casey, J. A., Savitz, D. A., Rasmussen, S. G., Ogburn, E. L., Pollak, J., Mercer, D. G., & Schwartz, B. S. (2016). Unconventional natural gas development and birth outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.)27(2), 163.