To frack, apparently

As Rockfire observed on 27 September, the debate around shale gas and its extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been growing heated over the past fortnight.

Yesterday, Communities’ Secretary Sajid Javid approved the first horizontal fracking project in Britain, to the dismay of local residents.[1]

The site, in Lancashire, is not far from Blackpool where the British Geological Survey concedes that fracking caused earth tremors in 2011.[2], resulting in a ban on all fracking that lasted into 2012.  Permits have been issued since but all for vertical drilling.  Horizontal drilling is popular with exploration and production companies since it yields more gas but there is evidence to support claims of contaminated groundwater and surface water in Pennsylvania where the method has been used extensively to extract shale gas from the Marcellus Formation. [3]

Just three days ago, on 3 October, Sajid Javid was speaking at this government’s first Conservative Party Conference.  Only minutes before, Greg Clark, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, had stated that his department would be promoting a clean energy policy during its term in office.   Though some balk at describing nuclear power as ‘clean’, it is certainly true that it is ‘low carbon’ and produces no harmful gas emissions so his comments remained within the bounds of credibility despite his government’s endorsement of the Hinkley Point C project.  However, it would be stretching the definition of ‘clean’ to breaking point to include oil and gas exploration.  Not even Cuadrilla, the Lancashire-based exploration company that has won today’s approval on appeal, would describe itself in those terms.  On its website, it acknowledges that:

“it is acutely aware of the responsibilities [unconventional exploration] brings, particularly with regard to safety, environmental protection and working with local communities.”

Instead, the company claims that it is providing a solution to the forthcoming energy shortage of which traditional and alternative suppliers are all too aware.  Following last week’s delivery of Marcellus shale gas to Ineos in Scotland, Cuadrilla’s CEO, Francis Egan said:

“The country needs gas. The country is running out of gas, and without some form of energy development, we’re going to end up importing all of our fuel from overseas, and we’ve seen that just last week with the ridiculous situation where Scotland is importing shale gas from America, which frankly is crazy.”

The key words are ‘some form of energy development’.  Most people would agree with that.  But why so much enthusiasm for nuclear plants and shale gas when renewable energies enjoy more popular support and appear to offer more economic viability?  Another report published just this week by the US Department of Energy [4] found that costs for wind, residential solar, utility-scale solar, batteries, and LED bulbs had fallen by  41% and 94% from 2008 to 2015.  Further reductions are forecast, of 35% by 2050 for wind, and of up to 33% by 2020 in the case of solar PV.

Little wonder that the residents of Lancashire and Westminster-watchers alike are bemused.


[1]  Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking.

[2] British Geological Survey.  Shale Gas. Are there any risks associated with fracking?

[3] Live Science.  Facts about fracking.  23 January 2015.

[4] US Department of Energy.  Revolution..Now 2016 update.  September 2016.