For frack’s sake, what the frack is fracking all about? Well, fracking is a shortened version of “hydraulic fracturing”. This painful sounding process describes the injection of sand, water and chemicals into shale rocks. These are sedimentary rocks, which (as I’m sure you’re dying to know) are rocks which are built up from highly compressed
For frack’s sake, what the frack is fracking all about? Well, fracking is a shortened version of “hydraulic fracturing”. This painful sounding process describes the injection of sand, water and chemicals into shale rocks. These are sedimentary rocks, which (as I’m sure you’re dying to know) are rocks which are built up from highly compressed layers of deposited rocks. Without the recent industry advancements in fracking processes, the resources stored within the layers were beyond our reach and were very much inaccessible. What is really going to rock our world about shale is that these resources happen to be rich supplies of petroleum and natural gas. And here the geology lesson gets interesting.
Due to the private sector led drive in fracking, since 2010 USA’s production of natural gas has risen by 25%, even more alarmingly oil production since 2008 has grown by 60%. Fracking has remedied America’s energy worries and has also created many jobs. Considering the lowering costs of uncovering and generating oil/gas from shale, this is only the beginning. For example considering the big picture for the USA, shale could flip their trade balance for oil from -$354 billion in 2011 to an estimated +$5 billion in 2020. As the numbers show – fracking has done the USA good.
Indeed in the US, fracking not only offers the promise of a continued oil supply to continue development but also a supply which gives them economic and political independence, as they do not have to import energy, which disrupts the monopoly built by oligarchs such as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Gazprom. With the USA predicted to soon overtake OPEC nations and Russia in petrochemical feedstocks and diesel, jet fuel retrospectively over the next year fracking truly shifts the energy politics paradigm.
Of course, the possibility of world energy domination comes with downsides – the firing of materials into rock structures runs the risks of polluting underground aquifers and with it precious water supplies, there are claims that it encourages seismic activity, and also the possibility of waste spillage during transportation. In terms of health risks – for those living near fracking sites, with the injection of elements such as arsenic and other carcinogens, there is the increased risk of developing asthma, cancer and other serious health issues. These considerable environmental/health pitfalls give environmentalists sleepless nights (first nuclear, NOW FRACKING) and all over the USA anti-fracking movements are trying to curb this fracking revolution. It should also be noted that parts of USA – California, Colorado, Dallas among others – have actually banned or placed moratoriums on the practice.
Both success and scepticism have spread from the USA all over the globe. There are many countries with fracking potential – China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada and Mexico among others. At the same time, the practice has already been banned by France, Bulgaria, Germany and Scotland. In the UK it is not banned; indeed regulation exists which tries to create safe, environmentally sensitive practices. UK Fracking regulation does state that “[w]hen operations finish, the operator is responsible for safe abandonment of the well and for restoring the well-site to its previous state or a suitable condition for re-use.” At the same time, the Government is attempting to change fracking regulations, by sidestepping the step of public consultations before test drilling sites used, in doing so this means that the Environmental Agency will no longer conduct site visits to create an environmental audit for each specific site at the test drilling stage. The Agency, however, will still conduct a site visit if a company want to proceed to frack the site. This streamlining of the regulatory processes is a strong indication of the pro-fracking stance which the UK government is adopting, perhaps keen to emulate the successes of our good friends across the Atlantic.
Ultimately fracking comes at a sensitive time for environmental politics, as the green arguments stating that other forms of energy are needed to replace finite oil supplies are made redundant with new supplies of oil rising beneath their very feet.
Morse, Edward L. “Welcome to the Revolution.” Foreign Affairs. May/June 2014.