We've answered a few questions about fracking and it's impacts below.
What is shale gas?
Shale gas is a form of ‘unconventional gas’ which is trapped inside shale rock formations deep underground. It is chemically effectively the same as natural gas, being mainly methane. It’s harder to extract than conventional natural gas and up until now it hasn’t made financial sense to do so.
What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting fracturing fluid at high pressure down a borehole to create fractures in rock formations, which enable shale gas to be extracted. Advances in drilling techniques mean that several boreholes can be drilled from one ‘well pad’ and then extend horizontally in different directions to access as much of the shale rock as possible.
What does this mean for the UK?
Estimates vary dramatically about how much economically recoverable shale gas exists in the UK. The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change has issued drilling licenses across a wide area which could also be used for the extraction of unconventional oil and gas. Exploratory drilling has already taken place in Lancashire and Sussex, giving rise to considerable controversy and local opposition. In some areas, notably Scotland, the main source of unconventional gas is likely to be coal-bed methane and local opposition to this is also strong.
What impact does fracking have on climate change?
It compromises our commitments to climate action - it is likely that pursuing a shale gas industry in the UK and elsewhere will result in burning more gas than is compatible with avoiding catastrophic climate change. If shale gas is burnt in the UK, it will be much more difficult for us to meet the targets in our Climate Act.
Shale gas is not necessarily a lower-carbon alternative to other fossil fuels -advocates say we should exploit shale gas because it has lower carbon emissions than other fossil fuels. However, this doesn’t take into account the risk of methane escaping during exploration and production.
Renewable alternatives may be ignored in favour of shale gas - shale gas is being supported in the UK at the same time as a large new generation of gas-fired power stations. The UK could be locked into a fossil-fuel based power system for decades to come instead of transitioning to a low-carbon energy system.
What impact does fracking have on the natural environment?
Significant uncertainties remain over the potential ecological impacts of shale gas extraction in the UK but the cumulative impact of the industry could be extremely significant. Concerns include water pollution from hazardous substances in the fracking fluid, water stress from intensive use of water, habitat fragmentation and loss and air pollution.
Will fracking lower fuel bills?
Despite often repeated claims that fracking will reduce UK fuel bills (including from David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne), experts remain highly sceptical. Analysis suggests that with or without shale gas, the price of gas is in the UK and the EU is unlikely to go down.
Will fracking help create jobs?
Current estimates of job creation by the fracking industry vary widely and lack verification. Numbers can be over-stated and most employment is in the initial drilling stage. Any potential jobs benefits should also be weighed against possible costs to the local economy, including agriculture, tourism and house prices.