Shale gas extraction could be coming to Scotland. The highly controversial process, known as fracking, being pushed as ‘green’ by the fossil fuel industry, could soon begin in the country if a company is given permission to begin exploratory drilling at Aith near Falkirk. This is despite the fact that the process has already been banned in France and drilling has been suspended in England.
Exploratory drilling has been carried out at site near Blackpool over a period of months but has ceased following increased seismic activity in the area. On the 27th of May Lancashire felt the rumbling of an earthquake which measured a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale. This is the second earthquake in the area since April and many experts have suggested a link with the drilling and the process of fracking – in which water and rock-dissolving chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressure to break apart shale rock and release gas. Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources (the company carrying out the drilling) commented: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts”
“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”
The British Geological Survery, who are carrying out the investigation released this statement on their website: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.
“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”
Whilst an increase in seismic activity seems to be one of the downsides of shale gas extraction there are other apparent dangers inherent in the process of fracking. Fracking releases methane (more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. A study published in the Climate Change letters journal extimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production escapes in to the atmosphere via leaks and venting over the lifetime of a well. It went on to conclude that shale gas had the same or even a slightly higher carbon footprint than coal which has long been considered the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel. Despite this there are many powerful lobbying groups pushing shale gas as the ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels.
Craig Bennett, policy and campiagns director at Friends of the Earth stated: “Instead of seeing shale gas as a miracle fix, the government should focus on developing the clean, safe energy alternatives at our fingertips like solar power and wind.
“Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change. Chasing after risky and hard-to-get fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands or drilling for oil in the Arctic may seriously undermine the move towards renewables as the only effective and sustainable solution to our energy challenges.”
Perhaps the most damaging environmental impact of shale gas extraction is the risk it poses to the water supply. Methane from shale gas can leak into and contaminate groundwater. In some extreme cases even rendering water flammable. Methane levels in water supplies close to shale gas extraction sites in Pennsylvania and upstate New York have been found to be up to 17 times higher than normal. 85% of drinking water wells within 1km of such sites was found to be contaminated and in some cases homeowners have been issued with gas detectors to lower the risk of explosion . One company in Pennsylvania has been banned from drilling for a year because a faulty well led to water pollution. Recent American research has found over 1000 cases of water contamination as a result of shale gas extraction.
Despite all of this a recent Commons report ruled that “There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.” Emphasis on should.
The European Climate Foundation has warned that: “Heavy dependency on gas…is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security or climate resilience…
“It will make Europe dependent on one potentially cost-volatile solution, and the successful commercialization of carbon capture and storage at an unrealistically large scale. It also reduces Europe’s energy security [Europe has far fewer shale gas reserves than the US or Asia].”
Shale gas is seemingly a high risk venture. Earthquakes, exploding water, exploding prices, and a serious risk to Scotland’s fledgling green energy sector. The Director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon commented that: “Whether the shale gas drilling and the earthquake were linked certainly needs investigated. However, we already know enough about the environmental problems associated with fracking to know that it should be banned in Scotland.
“Shale gas would be a disaster for the climate and its production could contaminate groundwater. Scotland should follow France’s example and ban it before it even gets going. Scotland should become the home of clean energy not another dirty fossil-fuel. Shale gas projects in Scotland would quickly tarnish our global claim to green credentials.”
What do you think? Should Scotland ban fracking and shale gas extraction?