Energy blog

What is fracking?

Published by Sam Page on 14 December 2012

UK gas production virtually halved between 2000 and 2010, and imports  have risen significantly, so that the UK is now a net importer of gas. More than half of the gas imported comes via a pipeline from Norway, but a growing share – over a third of imports in 2010 – is in the form of LNG imported by tankers, mainly from Qatar.

The use of natural gas is a very significant contributor to UK carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for just over 45% of total emissions in 2010. 

Fracking is a way of extracting gas from shale rock formations, usually located at depths of 1000 – 4000 metres, this gas is know as 'shale gas'.

You can watch the fracking process in this video:

Shale gas is chemically the same as natural gas, being mainly methane. However fracking releases additional emissions that are due to how the gas is extracted. The main sources of additional emissions are how much gas is vented (released to the atmosphere in controlled manner) or flared (burnt off at the site) and how much escapes unintentionally (known as ‘fugitive emissions’). Fracking will, therefore, put the UK's emissions targets at risk, as methane contributes to climate change at a level that is 25 times greater than CO2.

4 million gallons of water is used for each fracking process. This water is is pumped with chemicals into the earth. The resultant fluid is potentially extremely harmful to human health because of the nature of the chemicals used. Exact information on the composition of fracking fluids is hard to obtain but research by Friends of the Earth suggests that:

  • 25% of the chemicals used in fracking could cause cancer
  • 37% could disrupt the endocrine system
  • 40-50% could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular system
  • more than 75% could affect the skin, eyes and respiratory system

The US company, Cuadrilla has just been given planning permission to drill in the Blackpool area and has said it could drill over 800 wells in the UK by 2028.

You can read more in Friends of the Earth's Shale Gas Briefing, here...

Shale gas: an updated assessment of environmental and climate change impacts
A down-loadable report by researchers at the Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester