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Questionable claims around fracking

By Battenbrook (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons By Battenbrook [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Author Tony Whitbread

Chief Executive

Sussex is in the front-line in the exploitation of unconventional gas supplies, such as 'fracking'. We have therefore had to think carefully about what this could mean to Sussex wildlife.

Arguments in favour of fracking include the economic benefits that a new energy source might bring against the claimed relatively low environmental impact of gas extraction. It is also stated that fracking provides a good bridging fuel between fossil fuels and low carbon energy. Energy production from coal is a major producer of greenhouse gases whilst, in comparison with coal, energy from gas emits about half the amount of carbon dioxide for the same amount of energy. Converting from coal to gas, it is said, is therefore a good step towards reducing greenhouse gases.

All of these claims, however, are questionable.

On-site issues are a major worry to us. The process uses large amounts of water, in a county that is often water-stressed. So, the effect on rivers, underground aquifers and so wetland habitats are concerning. Waste water from fracking also needs to be treated in order to prevent ecological damage from pollution. The flaring of waste gas could also impact on wildlife, from airborne pollution, light pollution and local disturbance effects. One site in Sussex for example is placed directly on a major flight line for one of the rarest bat species in Europe threatening to disrupt the population of a European protected species. All of this, if possible at all, will require very strong regulation. There is no evidence that government will increase the capacity of regulators like the Environment Agency to oversee this industry, indeed the opposite seems to be the case.

If there is a significant gas resource here then there could be multiple well-heads every few kilometres across Sussex. Water demand, pollution risk, local disturbance and a large increase in the demand for transport infrastructure to get materials to and from well-heads could therefore become very significant.

Claims that fracking could reduce greenhouse gas emissions are also dubious. Fracking gas is methane, and methane is 70 times stronger as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A small amount of methane leakage would make energy from fracking worse than coal in terms of its effects on the climate.

Sussex is still a rural county, with a diverse landscape and a rich wildlife. Fracking could result in the industrialisation of Sussex. Perhaps a more significant threat, however, is that we are all being diverted. At a time when we should be talking about more modern alternative energy sources renewables we are instead wasting time discussing a carbon-based fuel which, if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, should remain in the ground.

Comments

  • Louise:

    27 Mar 2014 12:13:35

    Tony, I am seriously concerned about Fracking not only on the points that you have highlighted but no-one knows what effect it will have on our drinking water. Everyone seems to be keeping very quiet about the wells in the USA that have been contaminated due to fracking and people now have to buy in bottled water. I agree why are they not working on the alternatives? Forget fracking!!!!

  • Steve Huckle:

    27 Mar 2014 12:40:58

    Yesterday, David Cameron pronounced that we must frack in order to remove UK dependency on Russian Gas. But when I checked DECC’s own figures, we get less than 1% of our gas from Russia! Lies, lies, and yet more lies. There are massive financial benefits from shale for those very close to the present UK Government, so make no mistake, there’s a huge fight on our hands if this filthy process is to be stopped…

  • 27 Mar 2014 12:42:23

    Can you make it easier to share your posts on Facebook? The links don’t seem to work to create own’s own re-posting of this

  • Glynis:

    27 Mar 2014 12:46:18

    Tony, like Louise, I also agree. We are being rail-roaded into Fracking and legislation is being brought in to make objecting more difficult/impossible. In some areas in the USA, where Fracking has taken place, the environment has been destroyed and communities are undergoing drought conditions. As West Sussex has long been subjected to hosepipe bans, when we’ve had anything near a dry summer, it makes no sense that this area should be the one chosen to try it out. We also have one of the most populated areas in the UK and the combination of unsuitable conditions and the potential for a major contamination disaster would seem highly possible. I suspect that one of the first guarantees Cuadrilla et Al will insist on is protection from anyone being able to bring a prosecution/claim against them.

    It is ironic that, living in the National Park, one has to get planning permission to replace a garden shed, in case it detracts from the visual amenity of the NP, but the SDNP Authority can’t wait to issue licenses and get their hands on the money!

  • John Bartlett:

    27 Mar 2014 13:09:25

    It’s typical; the energy producers in this country have no real interest in renewable energy- they are only after the quick profit they can get from fossil fuels. And a Conservative government is only too happy to roll over and let them have their way. As well as the extra CO2 spewn out, if they are sincere in claiming this is the only way forward they have no interest in leaving sources for our children and grandchildren to use. They want it all, they want all the money and their greed will not let anyone get in their way.

  • Don:

    27 Mar 2014 13:19:14

    Methane leakage is only relevant if our standards are worse than the nations we currently import from or if overall consumption goes up. Coal and nuke plants are closing no matter where it comes from we will use more gas. Your article neglected to mention that methane has a much shorter effective lifetime in the atmosphere than CO2.

    Water contamination has not been kept quiet at all. Studies in the US have shown this contamination is due mainly to the quality of vertical drill (so not really anything to do with fracking itself). Something we in the UK need to pay close attention to.

    I’d prefer genuinely clean alternatives but they don’t exist at the moment. Loss of reliable electricity supply is a greater and more immediate threat than global warming and well regulated fracking provides a solution to that threat. Russia’s possible antics will have an effect on us regardless of how much we physically purchase from them.

    Water use is the biggest issue. Campaigners can be easily dismissed if they don’t have their facts right and this issue then won’t be resolved.

  • Peter Watson:

    27 Mar 2014 14:02:08

    I think it’s a pity the article wasn’t called Questionable Claims Around Renewables because it is becoming increasingly clear that compared with the monstrous Wind Factories (the only thing they ‘farm’ is subsidies)and vast Solar fields the impact of fracking although undesirable is limited and containable. Wind turbines on the other hand have already destroyed large areas of remote landscape, the real fight is when the rampant Wind industry sets it’s sights on the South Downs as it surely will unless organisations like the Trust are vigilant.

  • Camille:

    27 Mar 2014 14:15:48

    What can we do about this threat? What can we do to stop the fracking?

  • 27 Mar 2014 14:36:38

    Hi Gerry, sorry you have had a problem sharing this post. I have updated the blog’s sharing widget so it should be working now.

  • Dean Morrison:

    27 Mar 2014 14:40:09

    Experience from America shows that despite the upsurge in fracking there is absolutely no evidence that it displaces coal and the pollution it causes. Coal mining continues at the same rate unabated, all that has changed is that more of it is exported as it’s easier to transport.

    http://www.eia.gov/coal/

    The net effect is that more fossil carbon is extracted from the ground at an increasing rate – when what we really need to do is to leave it there.

  • Don:

    27 Mar 2014 15:14:50

    The reason it will displace coal in the UK is because our coal plants must close due to EU regulations. Hence my point that we will be converting to gas whether we ship it from Qatar or use our own.

    You can’t look at fracking in isolation and say is it good or bad, you have to compare it with available alternatives.

  • Robin Pepper:

    27 Mar 2014 15:40:18

    The biggest issue is water availability in Sussex. All waters in East Sussex are classified by the EA as ‘no water available for further extraction’. Can they be asked where it will come from to cover the demands of fracking. The global warming issue is irrelevant. The carbon footprint of this country looks good on paper but we have achieved it largely by importing manufactured goods from countries (China, India) that are still building coal fired power stations.
    Robin

  • John H:

    27 Mar 2014 15:40:43

    Sorry folks – I’m all in favour of fracking and I don’t care how many bigwigs line their pockets as long as we and our economy get some benefit.

  • Sandra Ward:

    27 Mar 2014 15:56:28

    We have been fracking in this country for years and no serious catastrophes have happened. I feel there is a great deal of scaremongering with nothing definate to back this up. All the cases in America claiming to have caused severe problems were unproved. This could not happen if there was a genuine issue with fracking. On the other hand, wind farms kill millions of birds each year and yet no one appears bothered by this.

  • maddy:

    27 Mar 2014 16:50:19

    You need to raise the profile of the anti-fracking campaign and stand together with anti-fracking protests and Greenpeace and the Green party.

  • Rosemary Marshall:

    27 Mar 2014 17:35:14

    The likely explosion of fracking is due to myopic successive governments not investing enough (no return foreseen) in alternatives. We are surrounded by the SEA!! Enough power in that to provide for our needs (or should I say ‘wants’,) and enough brains in this country to harness it. Such a pity that we further spoil our beautiful land.

  • Sue Farquharson:

    27 Mar 2014 17:36:26

    I suspect sinkholes will be another by-product of this dangerous practice. I agree with the comment that all the pressure groups should get together to fight against it.

  • Keith Davison:

    27 Mar 2014 17:47:34

    As Sandra has said we have been fracking for years in the UK and there are lots of oil wells already pumping in Sussex which have not caused problems.
    Too many scare stories with little fact, the anti group will grizzle when the lights go out.
    Green energy is nowhere near a reality at the moment, wind farms are so inefficient, solar only works when the sun shines
    Fracking will help bridge the energy gap until we can develop a truly green source of energy

  • alex:

    27 Mar 2014 17:59:58

    I don’t believe magazines such as National geographic would be publishing untrue reports on Fracking. They listed problems from water pollution to methane gas release in the areas around the sites and linked water sources and these should not be ignored under any circumstances, regardless of how much money may be made or saved and how many jobs may or may not be involved.
    Unless the Government puts in place stringent rules and watchdogs with very sharp teeth, which they will use rather than could use, fracking shouldn’t even be on the table.
    There is no leeway here for getting it wrong. There are too many mistakes happening because we listen to reports and experts paid for by the companies [or even Governments]. It doesn’t matter which side you are on. It has to be independently assessed, fully investigated and fully controlled before we even think of boring the first hole.
    Above all we must never think it can never happen here, because the world is a whole lot smaller than it used to be and our backyards a whole lot closer.

  • jennifer M:

    27 Mar 2014 19:15:12

    GAS from fracking may prolong the use of carbon fuels whilst we should be looking for greener energy sources maybe even tidal power which should be more reliable than wind energy. Also Minor earthquakes from fracking could set off mudslides as in U,S, A at present

  • Tim B:

    28 Mar 2014 18:28:31

    I’m sorry but unfounded reactionary comments about wind turbines killing millions of birds and that there are no viable renewable alternatives are complete nonsense. More cats in this country kill birds than wind turbines. Plus there are many viable alternative renewables, such as concentrated solar, air and ground-source heat pumps, tidal, wave, hydro and yes, wind too; you can get a very balanced and comprehensive overview from a scientist that knows (unlike Tory politicians!) here: http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html This country invests a fraction of R&D in renewables compared to subsidising short-term, polluting follies like unconventional shale gas exploration (which has never been done in this country, onshore, in this way before).

    Also many communities are creating, or have created, community-owned renewable energy projects, such as in Barcombe, Balcombe, Brighton and Lewes, notable Brighton Energy Co-op who were exceeding energy production expectations during cloudy weather. Decentralised, independent energy production is the future and accelerating man-made climate change is not!

  • Andy Cox:

    29 Mar 2014 23:46:34

    Kieth & Sandra hi,

    Common mistake, do not confuse the relatively new process of Ultra High Presure (UHP) fracking with the low pressure fracking that we have been doing with mainly water and sand for the last 60 years. UHP Fracking which is what is being proposed uses approx 100,000 gallons of water/chemical mix pumped underground at 36,000 PSI (1000 x the pressure in your car tyre). Although only 5% of the mix is chemicals, the chemicals are the most toxic known to man. only 60% (max) of the chemical water mix is ever retrieved from the ground. Which means 40% remains. Please open your eyes and have a look at what has happened in Pennsylvanian in the US. Google list of the harmed. Please do your own research. Once the country side and water tables are contaminated there is no going back you can’t get the chemical’s out the ground. To be honest if you think fracking is safe you are either ignorant of the facts, or are aware of the facts but chose to ignore them because making money from this process is your goal. If you have children and love them, care about their future then you need to be very concerned about fracking and it’s irreversible impact to the environment of this country.

  • williamson:

    31 Mar 2014 19:03:32

    My landowning neighbour Richard Ridley has just got himself elected to Heathfield and Waldron parish Council without declaring his pro fracking ticket. He is a wealthy financial adviser with contact in the city and is determined to bring fracking to our fragile ghyll woodland and acid grassland and hay meadows in the Rother Valley in East Sussex and has signed a survey form stating so.
    Is it true that an environmental impact assessment will not even be necessary for smaller fracking sites?
    I urge everyone in Heathfield to wake up and take notice and stand up to the greed of those who have nothing to lose and fat fracking shares portfolios.

  • williamson:

    31 Mar 2014 19:08:37

    Slick water hydraulic fracking is a totally different process. There is an excellent lecture by Dr. Tony Ingraffea of Cornell University detailing the specific differences and why it is not a viable option economically.

  • Alan Kenworthy:

    01 Apr 2014 08:58:48

    I too am against fracking, both for its known and its unknown consequences. More extraction and consumption of finite resources is madness. I agree that the claims of the fracking lobby are questionable, but what of your claim that methane is 70 times worse than CO2? Methane is CH4. In terms of molecular absorption of infra-red radiation, that makes it only twice as bad. Where did the other 35 times come from? Do you have a source for that information?

  • Barbara Shaw:

    01 Apr 2014 12:25:18

    Heavy rain, flooding and ground saturation have caused many ‘geological’ movements this winter – including major land slips and the appearance of sink holes – some relating to past mining or other ‘excavation’ activities. Subsidence from coal mining in the north country has made some agricultural land unworkable and created undesirable wetland conditions for grazing animals that favour liver fluke. With respect to fracking should we tinker with geological layers near to porous rocks or aquifers, or to geological layers that might move due to water saturation &/or thermal expansion – extreme flood, drought cycles? Earth tremors (& earth quakes)for example are more common in hot weather. What do geologists have to say?

  • Oliver:

    05 Apr 2014 08:55:15

    I’m a countryman, I love woodlands, love the countryside, but I also know about hydrocarbons and particularly drilling and fraccing, and I’m afraid most of you have not really done your homework. I even heard a so called ‘expert’ on the tv talking about fraccing being explosive charges in the well and ‘new techniques’. Its complete rubbish.

    Fraccing has been around since at least 1949. Fraccing is different to ‘perforating’ and perforating is used on ANY well that has a casing, and that has been done for over 100 years. it includes perforating for some water wells.

    The difference on these shales, is they are so tight geologically but they are very deep and nowhere near the water course which is often thousands of feet above, and idea of such fraccing contaminating water courses is unrealistic.

    Fraccing is necessary because tight geological formations that are beneath the ground do not act like conventional reservoirs as the hydrocarbon whether gas or oil is contained within the tight formation so either hydraulic fraccing or in some cases natural fissures in the rock allow the hydrocarbons to be used.

    Drilling starts off as a vertical with laterals being drilled via horizontal drilling techniques.

    Now many may have seen the emotive pictures of water taps being turned on and methane flamed through the taps….THIS WAS NOT FROM FRACCING.

    This occurred also in the UK years ago, and its as a result of natural methane build up then being pumped through consumers taps, and some while ago a pumping station blew up as a result of such a methane build up, but it had NOTHING TO DO WITH FRACCING.

    Methane does pose a risk to the environment, but that’s a reason for it to be burned rather than seep into the atmosphere because it is lighter than air, so whether its drilled or not it has the propensity to seep upwards and capturing natural gas and using it as a fuel reduces damage rather than creates more by allowing it to seep into the atmosphere.

    In fact one of your posters mentions the geological movement this winter, which is absolutely correct, and in that, no doubt much methane was released into the environment.

    Now if its a question of finite resources, then what the hell do you think is used in solar panels…..its all finite resources…Gallium arsenide and silver.

    What do you think is used in wind turbines….yes, finite resources of copper, silver, let alone the vast amounts of plastics…..all made from oil.

    The problem is that hydrocarbons are so efficient, and gram for gram have more energy than TNT.

    http://geophysics.nmsu.edu/chapter01.html

    So do we go to nuclear, the so called ‘clean energy’ repackaged yet again as being ‘state of the art’ just as it was described in the UK before any accidents, or Chernobyl.

    There conveniently its called safe because no one counts either the cost of storage, and where there is NO safe storage mechanism with the propensity of the fuel to contaminate land for half life of thousands of years.

    Now take a look at the shoes you wear, the white goods you possess, the car you drive or even the cycle….a lot of it is via hydrocarbons.

    No doubt many here will think its a conspiracy and I’m paid to post, but no I am a countryside lover, and walk Toddington woods many times, but I pride myself on finding out facts rather than listent to fiction.

  • David Stone:

    05 Apr 2014 14:17:09

    It seems to me that the endless arguments over the causes of global warming are largely short-term political knockabout and academic in the long term. The only important cause is consumption by our human population. If it is to grow as predicted over the next few decades what we do now is ineffectual if we keep to globalisation and capitalism. There will be no room for wildlife .How we stop our population growth, or indeed cull ourselves, is the real question. In the short-term we should be throwing money at research into carbon capture for coal burning, as it is the cheapest form of energy round the world. Europe cannot afford the highest unit energy costs in the world and ope to remain competitive.
    I hope the UK regulators of fracking will ensure that the pollutor pays, and not leave it to the local council to pick up the tab.

  • Dirk Campbell:

    16 Jul 2014 15:26:02

    Oliver you are right about some things and wrong about others. Specifically: A) fracking technology that is proposed for the UK was developed recently by Haliburton in the USA and has only been used for the last ten years. Explosive charges are used in the lateral extensions of fracking wells in order to fracture the shale rock and allow gas to be released into the pipe. Toxic chemicals are added to the produced water to facilitate flow and reduce oxidisation inside the bore. B) The whole of UK geology is characterised by vertical geological faults which would allow frack toxins to migrate into ground water – a very serious problem which is not covered by Government regulation. See Professor David Smythe’s work on this subject at http://www.davidsmythe.org/fracking/fracking.htm

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