What is fracking? And why does it make some people so angry? Many activists say that this way of getting oil is very dangerous for the environment.
First things first. What is fracking?
The word is short for “hydraulic fracturing”. This is a way of getting at the natural gas trapped in shale rocks thousands of metres below the Earth’s surface. This gas is then transported to power plants and burned to produce electricity.
How does it work?
First, an energy company drills around two miles down into the Earth until it hits shale rock. It then curves at a right angle and drills horizontally. Once the hole is ready, the drill is removed and a steel pipe is inserted into it. Small holes are made in the horizontal pipe.
This is when the fracking begins. Around 16 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of liquid — around 10 million gallons — is pumped into the well at extremely high pressures. This cracks open the shale rock and releases the gas which is trapped there.
The liquid is mostly water and sand, plus a few chemicals. Once the water is removed, the sand is left behind. It keeps the cracks in the rock open so that gas can flow up to the well.
Is fracking happening in the UK?
In October 2018, the energy company Cuadrilla won a legal battle in the High Court for permission to begin fracking at a site in Lancashire. This first began in 2011, but stopped after a series of small earthquakes. (A report found that it was “highly probable” these were caused by the drilling.)
Protesters tried to stop it going ahead by chaining themselves to the site — but they were cut away by police.
Why were they protesting?
Some people are worried about the impact that fracking will have on the environment. There is the risk of earthquakes caused by drilling. There are concerns about the large amounts of water used in fracking, and the risk of chemicals contaminating the local groundwater.
What about the climate crisis?
The protesters were worried about that too. Natural gas is a type of fossil fuel, and all fossil fuels release carbon dioxide when they are burned. If we want to stop climate change, we need to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released by humans. Protesters say the Government should be switching to renewable energy, not fracking.
However, gas produces around half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal. People who support fracking point out that it is a cleaner form of energy.
What are the other advantages?
Currently, the UK imports over half of its gas from other countries. However, experts say fracking could produce enough gas for around 25-50 years of energy in the UK. This could create thousands of jobs and allow the country to be more self-reliant.
Renewable energy is not ready to power the UK by itself, so fracking could be a cleaner source of energy than coal in the meantime, some argue.
- Is fracking a good idea?
- The graphic above explains how fracking works. Choose an alternative energy source, and draw your own diagram explaining where it comes from and how it works.
- A kind of rock that is formed from mud. It is rich in natural gas and oil.
- A layer of water that is held underground in soil or rock crevices. It is often used as local drinking water.
- Carbon dioxide
- A type of greenhouse gas that traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This leads to global warming and the climate crisis.
- Not able to run out. For example, solar or wind power.
- Buys in from other countries.