What’s all this fracking then?

There is quite a furore going on at the moment regarding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking in the United Kingdom. The arguments on both sides are becoming more vehement and at the moment, the government is backing this method of extracting gas and oil. Both sides claim that their point of view is correct and whilst there is no doubt that fracking could cause pollution, on the other side of the coin the natural gas that is extracted will help our energy security for the future. There is no doubt that we require high levels of energy to run our homes and businesses so ways of fuelling this energy requirement has to be found. We do have oil and gas reserves that we are already making use of but this is not enough for our current requirements and we have to import both oil and gas to make up this shortfall and this is a costly enterprise. The technology is available to extract natural gas by fracking and there is a very large amount of gas locked in the underground rock. So, if you are wondering what fracking is, here is an explanation:

Drilling companies suggest trillions of cubic feet of shale gas may be recoverable from underneath parts of northern England, through a process known as "fracking".

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. But how does it work and why is it controversial?

What is fracking?

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.

fracking graphic

Why is it called fracking?

It is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing and refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high pressure mixture. Experts also refer to a "frac job" and a "frac unit".

Why is it controversial?

The extensive use of fracking in the US, where it has revolutionised the energy industry, has prompted environmental concerns.

The first is that fracking uses huge amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost. The second is the worry that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. The industry suggests pollution incidents are the results of bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique.

There are also worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors. Two small earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude hit the Blackpool area in 2011 following fracking.  Click here to continue


Further information

Shale gas, the basics

Shale gas and fracking - parlimentary brief