Soaring costs of gas, oil and electricity have given renewed impetus to ensuring we have adequate and affordable energy in the future. Fracking has hardly been mentioned in the news for several years but is again cropping up in political discussion.
Fracking was one of the biggest issues we faced between 2016 and 2019 and communities across the UK said no to fracking. Scotland, Ireland and Wales all opposed fracking and the UK Government eventually declared a moratorium on fracking in England in 2019. Why?
Fracking started in the US in 1949 and by 2013, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), at least two million oil and gas wells in the US had been hydraulically fractured. In Australia, fracking was prolific in the Cooper Basin since the late 1960s, with over 700 wells. On the UK mainland, fracking started to make the news in 2007 when it was suggested to reach natural gas trapped in shale formations.
However, over the years, the many negative issues caused by fracking came to light and communities in the US and Australia now fight against this industry. The UK Government issued exploratory licenses to companies such as INEOS in South Yorkshire, Cuadrilla in Lancashire, Egdon in Lincolnshire, UKOG and Angus Energy in Surrey and Sussex, Rathlin in East Yorkshire, and IGas in Nottinghamshire but many communities in licensed areas formed anti-fracking groups to oppose the industry starting up because of the myriad problems linked to the process. A moratorium announced in 2019 prevented any further activity and most of the industry (except for Cuadrilla in Lancashire) appears to have closed operations.
The problems fracking brings are numerous: excessive water use and water pollution; methane migration into aquifers; fugitive emissions and air pollution from leaking wells, pipelines, compressor stations, flaring, all increasing greenhouse gases; increasing our reliance on fossil fuels at a time of global climate emergency; proven health problems for those living nearby; industrialised countryside; use of sand and toxic chemicals; heavy vehicle traffic, road damage, subsidence; plus detracting from renewable energy investment. Many of the chosen sites were unsuitable locations, impacting nature reserves and villages, like Sherwood Forest and Hartshill.
The geology of the UK, riddled with fault lines and mine workings, means a heightened risk of reactivated seismic activity during the hydraulic fracturing operations needed to extract shale gas from the rocks. The inability to frack without creating earthquakes led to the moratorium.
Recent research also suggests that the British Geological Survey’s estimates of volume of reserves were overly optimistic, plus the financial case for fracking was proven not to be viable.
Fracking creates many problems but it was never really clear what fracking was supposed to solve. Supply issues? UK is gradually reducing its gas demand. Pricing problems? Unless energy market regulations change, fracked gas will not be any cheaper and home-produced renewables are far cheaper than gas. Jobs and economic development? Fracking requires experts, who move from well to well, with little real benefit for local communities, but many down sides!
Worryingly, the planning system is still weighted in favour of fracking, making it difficult for communities to have a proper say.
If we have learnt anything from just the last two years of extreme weather, it is that we need to immediately stop all new fossil fuel projects. Energy security for the UK should come from more locally produced renewable energy, and more energy-efficient buildings reducing demand. Fracking is the past – green, clean energy is the future. We need to strengthen our community voice.
For more information about Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth, visit Sherwood Forest FoE on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pauline Meechan, Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth