As the UK gears up for a general election in December, and hustings begin, key energy topics become political tools and whipping points to win peoples favour and votes. The highly controversial topic of fracking is the latest issue to attract debate across parties in the lead up to December 12th.
Fracking and the General Election
In August of this year an earthquake registering 2.9 on the Richter scale occurred at the Cuadrilla Resources site in Lancashire. Accordingly, the government called an indefinite halt to fracking at the site after it emerged that it would be impossible to predict the size and occurrence of future tremors.
In the run up to the election, the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and Labour Party have all promised to abandon fracking altogether if elected. The Conservatives, on the other hand, whilst temporarily calling a halt to fracking, have publicly recognised the vast economic opportunities that fracking could deliver to UK plc.
Continued fracking has the potential to produce enough gas capacity to supply the North of England for up to 50 years and existing fracking licences, as well as many further potential sites in the region, makes the subject of particular interest to politicians chasing seats in the region.
Existing and potential UK fracking sites
So, what is fracking?
Fracking is the process of drilling through the earth and forcing high-pressure water mixed with chemicals through the sediment to release gas or oil that is trapped inside rocks. Fracking is the term used for when the rock splits apart by the high-pressured mix.
The Positives of fracking:
- Fracking allows us to access previously untapped quantities of oil and gas, lessening our reliance on countries outside of the UK for these resources.
- The extra oil and gas produced from fracking would greatly boost the UK’s ability to meet future energy requirements.
- Many technical, operational and mechanical UK jobs are created in order to run and manage the fracking sites.
The Negatives of fracking:
- Fracking causes varying intensities of earthquakes to occur. One of the largest recorded as a result of fracking was in the United States, with a 5.7 magnitude quake in Prague, Oklahoma; causing substantial damage to homes and structures in the local area.
- Environmental concerns focus around the chemicals being used and released through the process of fracking, which could contaminate the ground water.
- Fracking isn’t a renewable source of energy and as a fossil fuel, would eventually run out. Protesters say that fracking diverts the government’s focus away from their research and investment in renewable sources of energy.
Fracking all over the world
Fracking is widely practiced in the US, Canada, China and Argentina, with the US leading the way in the marketing of shale gas and oil. According to CBS, the US is expected to become a net energy exporter (exporting more energy than it imports) for the first time in 2020, as a result of substantial fracking activity.
Argentina has over 150 shale wells in production as the South American country widely embraces fracking as the largest consumer of natural gas on the continent. Putting environmental effects to one side, fracking has boosted a previously flat economy and led the country out of a state of inflation and economic strain.
South Africa has increased its interest in exploring fracking locations in hopes of providing more jobs for a country plagued with high unemployment levels. The difficulties here will include challenges relating to the building and maintenance of the infrastructure needed to frack.
European countries such as France and Bulgaria have banned fracking, whilst Germany is approaching the topic with caution.
Clearly there are economic, socio-political and environmental consequences to fracking. The key question in the UK is that whilst the economic and employment benefits to fracking are clearly evident, could the investment be better put to use exploring and developing more renewable sources of energy?
We’re sure the debate will surface in the upcoming election campaigns across all parties.
What do you think? We’d welcome your views.