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Shale We Talk About Fracking?

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In the oil and gas business, there is one subject that remains the most controversial— hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Any thorough internet search on the matter brings back lots of results, from proponents and opponents alike. What is it though, and why is it causing such a rift?

First, let’s cover the basics. Fracking is a process by which water, sand, and a mix of chemicals are injected at high pressure into shale rock, a sedimentary rock comprised of mud and other minerals. The process cracks the layers of shale, and, as a result, causes it to release oil and gas trapped inside. This is done through horizontal drilling that goes deep underground into shale rock formations.

According to a 2013 analysis by the US Energy Information Administration, Russia, the US, and China lead the way when it comes to technically recoverable shale oil resources. China, Argentina, and Algeria are at the forefront when it comes to shale gas. In fact, Argentina and China have been shown to be leaders outside of North America when it comes to shale development in the first half of 2015. The UK has not made the top ten, but it does possess shale deposits that are feasible for fracking.

First used as early as the late 1940’s in the US, fracking has come into the limelight in the mid-2000’s as technological advances have made it even easier to extract gas and oil by this method. The “shale revolution” which took place shortly after created a boom in the US, reducing its reliance on imports as well as reducing the cost of energy. This has led many countries to deliberate this “new” method of extraction, the UK included.

But, of course, some things are not as great as they sound. Environmentalists have raised serious concerns about the effects of fracking on our surroundings. For one, the water that is used in the fracking process is pumped full of chemicals, which are often not disclosed. That water can make its way back into the groundwater, and consequently our drinking water, whether through faults in the storage tanks or improper storage or spillage of waste water. There is also a possibility of air pollution as methane gas can escape into the atmosphere from the wells, it being a strong greenhouse gas. Among this, there are also worries about the technique using large amounts of water and potentially causing earthquakes, the latter of which is being investigated.

In the UK, fracking has been used since the 1970’s, albeit in offshore oil and gas fields in the North Sea. It gained the public’s attention only recently, in 2007, when it was proposed that the UK begins fracking operations onshore. Given that the UK imports a lot of its energy from other countries, fracking could provide at least some energy independence. However, there have been arguments that whatever shale gas and oil we are able to extract will most likely not have the same positive effect as the US.

Earlier this year, the UK government allowed fracking under national parks, which has increased the level of controversy. There are already several drilling sites in Britan, but only one shale gas well has been fracked. Energy firm Cuadrilla owns four sites in the Bowland Basin, and it began drilling Britain’s first exploration well in 2010. An 18-month ban on fracking, put into place after a Cuadrilla project in Blackpool was abandoned after it caused an earth tremor, was lifted in 2012. On Monday 29th June 2015, the Lancashire council rejected Cuadrilla’s application to begin fracking near Little Plumpton on the Fylde. This decision will most likely not deter further attempts as Cuadrilla is considering an appeal.

In a world where climate change issues are heavily discussed, fossil fuels are taking a back seat in favour of renewables. Shale gas and oil fall into the latter category, but their abundance may offset an energy crisis, at least when it comes to cost. Controversy aside, as the world population grows, so will energy demand. Fracking has come at a time when solutions are necessary, and it joins a long list of the same. The hope, of course, is to move to renewable sources as they become more viable and less expensive, but it may be that fracking sticks around for a while yet.

Written By- Irena Huseinovic
Sources – Vox, Wikipedia, BBC, EIA, The Guardian, Reuters


Alfa Energy Group

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