To Frack or not to Frack?

Nuclear energy was today temporarily displaced as chief ‘thorn in the side’ of renewable energy as 27,500m3 of US-produced shale gas arrived in the UK.

Shale gas production from fracking,

Shale gas is broadly unpopular in the UK as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process by which it is extracted from the ground, known as fracking.  This process is fairly established in the mining industry and is believed to be damaging to the environment, causing groundwater pollution, although most existing scientific studies have been funded by interested parties and their findings are therefore controversial.

Even though the Petroleum Act of 1998 clearly stipulates that mineral oil and natural gas reserves belong to HM the Queen, some private landowners are keen to sink a vertical well on their land, partly on the basis that the Government has promised that landowners will receive some revenue from a Shale Wealth Fund. [1]

The sector does have its business supporters, including Ineos, the chemicals company that is behind the shipment arriving today.

The discovery and exploitation of the Marcellus Formation in Pennsylvania and surrounding states has enabled the US to become more self-sufficient in terms of fuel consumption, and has contributed to the drop in oil and gas prices worldwide.[2]  These low prices, combined with dwindling North Sea reserves have discouraged operators off the Scottish shores from investing in new infrastructure or exploration. [3]

Indeed, gas supplies from the North Sea have been so hard to obtain of late that Ineos considered closing its historic Grangemouth facility three years ago.  Paraffin was first developed at Grangemouth in 1850 and a string of companies including BP have had important petroleum-related activities there ever since.  Rather than close such an historic site, Ineos opted for importing shale gas from the USA.

Whether supplied from the North Sea or the Marcellus Formation, the gas delivered to Ineos ends up on our desks, in our homes and in our cars.  Ethane is extracted to produce plastic pellets that have a wide range of applications from packaging to automotive components and a significant presence in construction.

The Grangemouth site now contributes 4% of Scottish GDP [4] and Ineos Founder and Chairman, Jim Ratcliffe, assured reporters today that shale gas had helped to secure the facility’s 1,300 jobs.[5]

Nonetheless, one thing is importing the product of someone else’s fracking and another is engaging in the activity in our own back yard.  In addition to concerns regarding groundwater contamination, there are fears that the process might cause small earth tremors.  It is also worth noting that Marcellus Formation covers an area significantly larger than the UK which is already fully occupied being a densely populated country full of historic sites.

Shale gas is not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges.  We need a 21st century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.[6]

Tony Bosworth’s – Friends of the Earth.

[1] TheTelegraph.  Scotland’s North Sea oil revenues plunge 96pc in a year.  24 August 2016.

[2] Marcellus Drilling News.  Shale economics 101: an interview with O&G giant Rusty Braziel.  30 June 2016.

[3]  HM Treasury.  Shale Wealth Fund.  August 2016.

[4] Ineos.  Facts and Figures.

[5] BBC.  First US shale gas arrives at Ineos plant in Scotland.  27 September 2016.

[6] Friends of the Earth.  Why gas stinks: and why the EU must prioritise energy and renewables.  17 November 2015.