Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale rock to extract natural gas reserves

** This article is regulary revised - 10/3/14

The UK has potentially large reserves of natural gas contained in the shale deposits that underlie our landscape. Those who favour its extraction argue that this gas can increase our energy security, help protect us from energy shortages and boost the economy. Those who oppose it argue that this expansion of the use of fossil fuels ignores our real need to develop sustainable energy sources and that (particularly) the extraction process of multi well-head, slick water fracking has potential to cause significant envrionmental damage including:

  • depletion and contamination of groundwater, and possibly even drinking water, with natural gas and other chemicals;
  • emissions of volatile components such as CO2, methane and benzines and other known carcinogens, into the atmosphere;
  • earthquakes induced by slip on nearby faults;
  • increase in heavy freight movement of hazardous waste and gas servicing multiple well pads, required by the fracking process.
Like it or loathe it, there is currently high interest in the potential impact of shale gas extraction and fracking in East Sussex, and the rest of the UK. Transition Mayfield has put together this collection of information and references to help raise awareness and inform people of the main issues.

In December 2013 the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) issued their report "Strategic Environmental Assessment for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing".

This map, taken from the report, shows areas currently licensed for extraction of gas (pale yellow) and the areas under consideration for future licenses (blue).

A short video that explains what fracking is and describes reasons for the current debate. The video is made by Kurzgesagt, a German information design company that seeks to explain a range of scientific issues.

A more lengthy but expert lecture by Dr Anthony Ingraffea on the new technology of multi-well head slick water fracking.

Community Evidence to the Lords Select Committee on the Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil

The Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association prepared a submission to the Lords Select Committee on 21 January 2014. It makes thought-provoking reading. It is not just an explanation of why shale gas exploitation would be a disaster for Mayfield, as it has been for Balcombe, but of the problems it will bring the whole country - and all from practical experience.

Public consultation

As part of the strategic environmental assessment process, the government has started an Open consultation environmental report for further onshore oil and gas licensing. The consultation period is from 17 December 2013 to 28 March 2014.

UK licensing and regulation

Exploration and extraction of shale gas is subject to both national and EU licensing and regulation.

Permission to carry out hydraulic fracturing is granted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
In December 2013 the DECC published their regulatory roadmap "Onshore oil and gas eploration in the UK: regulation and best practice" which describes the role of government and other public bodies, the planning, engagement and environmental processes that take will take place prior to consent to drill. 
The roadmap states that "Applications will only be granted if the Environment Agency is confident that there is no unacceptable impact to the environment and, in particular, to principal aquifers that provide potable water supply. Operators are required to dislose the content of the hydraulic fracturing fluids."
The Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) is a new Government office whose stated aims are to promote the safe, responsible, and environmentally sound recovery of the UK’s unconventional reserves of gas and oil.
The Environment Agency is the environmental regulator for shale gas operations in England and Wales. The EA's regulations cover:
  • protecting water resources, including groundwater (aquifers) as well as assessing and approving the use of chemicals which form part of the hydraulic fracturing fluid
  • appropriate treatment and disposal of mining waste produced during the borehole drilling and hydraulic fracturing process
  • suitable treatment and management of any naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM).
 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) monitors shale gas operations according to regulations that concern the health and safety management of the site and the well integrity.

 Internal House of Commons Library briefing paper on Shale gas and fracking (last updated 22.01.2014).
Very detailed, covers all the public stages of government involvement - at present highly supportive - and the process so far. References many other specific reports including a passing reference to the Tyndall report (see below)
 South East Water answers the questions
  • If hydraulic fracturing takes place in South East Water’s area how will you supply enough water?
  • Will fracking affect water quality?
  • Do you plan for fracking in your 25-year plans or drought plans?
  • Can you refuse to supply water to companies carrying out fracking?
Shale gas and hudraulic fracturing (fracking) FAQs. January 2014
Answers to your questions about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and the situation in East Sussex.

EU regulation

In addition to national regulation, the UK is also subject to the EU's Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The EIA Directive (already 25 years old) is currently being reviewed by the Commission and on 9 October 2013 the European Parliament voted for an amendment that would add hydraulic fracturing extraction to the list of activities that are subject to a compulsory EIA. The amendment still has to be passed by the member states.
Environmental assessment is a procedure that ensures that the environmental implications of decisions are taken into account before the decisions are made. The Directive ensures that plans, programmes and projects likely to have significant effects on the environment are made subject to an environmental assessment, prior to their approval or authorisation. Consultation with the public is a key feature of environmental assessment procedures.

Many environmental organisations have expressed concern about the impact of widespread shale gas extraction.

NGOs and other organisations

The Big Debate: Is there a 'Transition position' on fracking?
Rob Hopkins (founder of the Transition Movement) leads a debate that considers the many issues and nuances of issues surrounding whether or not fracking plays a legitimate part in our transition to a post-oil economy. 
 Fracking and shale gas - no answer to climate change
The WWF says "We believe the whole idea of large-scale shale gas extraction is completely incompatible with the urgent issue of tackling climate change."
 Shale gas: energy solution or fracking hell?
The UK has abundant resources of renewable energy, from wind, wave, tidal, solar and geothermal power. Friends of the Earth believes that the Government must focus on developing these resources, alongside a major energy-efficiency programme to cut energy waste. As well as cutting emissions this will also create new green businesses and jobs. A second ‘dash for gas’, supported by
the promise of supposedly clean and safe shale gas, would seriously affect the chances of the UK meeting its climate change targets, and could cause other local environmental problems.
 Policy Summary, August 2013: Shale gas in the UK
The RSPB does not support shale gas extraction in the UK because:
  • The regulatory framework for the industry does not provide sufficient protection for the natural environment.
  • Government has not put forward a convincing case that demonstrates that shale gas extraction will not undermine the UK’s ability to meet its legally binding climate change targets or its broader commitment to keeping global climate change to within ‘safe limits’
Our view on fracking
We have a presumption against fracking on our land because natural gas is a fossil gas and if it were proposed today on our land, we would say no.
We have set ourselves targets for both energy use reduction and renewable energy generation.
 'Fracking in Fermanagh: What Could it Mean?' Northern Ireland currently has a moratorium on fracking- this documentary film was made recently by young people in Fermanagh in response to the prospect of fracking in their county. It's a wide-ranging, thoughtful and entertaining reflection of a community response.
 Shale gas - NFU policy position
The potential impacts from unconventional gas exploitation upon local agricultural production and the agricultural industry more widely is still uncertain. At present, the NFU remains concerned that DECC has not identified the need for monitoring of the impact on agriculture, and that the long-term responsibilities (for compensation, restoration and aftercare of sites) may be reassigned, possibly defaulting to the landowner.
 Fracking: what's the evidence?
Greenpeace have produced a ' fracking evidence report'. It is written as a 'live' document, so it has the benefit of regular updating as new evidence becomes available. It is very thorough, with a comprehensive subject summary making it easy to go straight to areas of special interest. All the references in it are hyperlinked so you can easily follow them through too
Fracking – is there a good side to it?
In a rush to develop, attention will turn away from any long term sustainability and focus entirely on the apparent benefits of cheap energy.
 Angling Trust’s Position on Hydraulic Fracturing in England & Wales
The Angling Trust is concerned that if exploratory drilling and further commercial exploitation goes ahead then there are a number of issues that have to be addressed first 

Anti-fracking campaign groups

Frack Off is a grassroots direct action campaign aimed at stopping the extraction of unconventional resources in the UK, specifically concentrating on unconventional gas extraction.
Frack Free Sussex is a group of local people who will not stand for this irresponsible, ecocidal, potentially irreversible pollution of our fields, our air, or our water. Aquifer depletion and increased heavy tanker traffic are among many many concerns.
Wealden Against Fracking is a Facebook page for those who are concerned about the impact that Fracking would have to the Wealden area.
 Wrongmove If you want to know which areas of the country are at risk of shale exploration look here. By registering online you can join the many thousands of homeowners who have already made it clear that they do not want drilling.
 Technical briefing on a UK shale gas industry
The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition does not support shale gas extraction in the UK because the Government has failed to demonstrate convincingly that it will
not compromise the UK’s legally binding climate change targets.
Put the brakes on fracking
An online petition.
 Fracking - the battle of Balcombe and beyond
'Sussex Life' article( Sept 2013) discusses the local aspects of fracking in Sussex as well as the wider implications 

Scientific papers on the environmental impact of fracking

Shale Gas: An updated assessment of Environmental and Climate Change Impacts: Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, (University of Manchester)
Very thorough and readable and highly respected scientific report on the impacts, local and global. Includes some serious warnings.

D. Healy, 2012. "Hydraulic Fracturing or "Fracking": A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental impacts". University of Aberdeen.
A small scale study that, although commisioned by the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland, gives an excellent description of the fracking process, the main environmental impacts, the regulatory approaches taken in different countries and gives recommendations for best practice.

Theodoric Meyer and ProPublica, 2013. High Levels of Arsenic Found in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites. Scientific American
Scientific American is one of America’s most respected science journals. They have conducted a comprehensive study of water contamination caused by fracking.

Kovats et al, 2014 The health implications of fracking, The Lancet
What is known about the health eff ects of gas extraction by induced hydraulic fracturing of gas-bearing rock— ie, fracking? A workshop held on Nov 15, 2013, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and attended by scientists, public health professionals, and
decision makers addressed this question.

Alternatives - towards a sustainable energy future

Community Energy
A guide aimed at local groups who are interested in setting up a community energy project (updated 27 Jan 2014)
 Rural Community Energy Fund
The Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community.
 Green Deal
The Green Deal is a scheme that can help you make energy-saving improvements to your home or business, for example:
  • insulation - eg solid wall, cavity wall or loft insulation
  • heating
  • draught-proofing
  • double glazing
  • renewable energy generation - eg solar panels or heat pumps
 Clean energy
Renewable options overview, in particular offshore wind energy, with a dramatic and inspiring little video to click