Small communities feel threatened as UK Government gives shale gas companies tax break
There have been anti-fracking protests this week from people in the West Sussex village of Balcombe, which highlighted the unease that people living near the drilling sites have about this controversial process for extracting trapped gas from underground shale rock.
Essentially fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing – a method of drilling deep into the ground, to extract natural gas by breaking up or “fracturing” the rocks it is in by pumping down water and chemicals. This undoubtedly uses lots of water and is implicated in pollution of water sources, release of dangerous toxins and even earth tremors. However there is a strong lobby pushing for the UK to do more fracking as it seems like the USA has accessed large amounts of natural gas through the fracking process. Recently the UK government gave a 30% tax break to fracking companies to encourage the production of this resource. The Department for Energy and Climate Change has issued 176 licences to explore for both conventional and unconventional oil and gas on land in the UK.
The problem is that there is insufficient evidence to be clear whether fracking is actually economically viable. Whatever happens, it damages the environment as it releases greenhouse gases (GHGs) Although natural gas is less damaging in this respect than coal, it will still add to the atmospheric temperature rise. However a scientific paper in the USA found that the EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested – or how much net energy you get from a fuel after you have taken away the energy used to produce it – a vital concept: something with little or no net energy is useless, e.g an EROEI of 1.5 to 1 for example, like some biofuels) was between 64:1 and 112:1 in other words very strongly positive and valuable in energy terms, while other more sceptical studies have noted how many drilling rigs have to be used and how the gas extracted often falls off by 80% within a year – meaning that it is not economically viable at all and some shale gas companies are probably making money by inflating the vaue of their shares on news of “vast” finds of most likely unextractable gas so early investors can sell them to more improvident buyers before the price falls.
It appears that many people near drilling sites in the UK are unhappy about fracking in their neighbourhood, despite the Government promising to ensure some of the profits go back into the local area, and fear that the pollution, disruption and GHGs emitted will make their communities a worse place to live in future if this process is allowed to continue.
The only stable, and long term way to ensure that the climate does not go crispy is to invest for the future into generation of energy using clean, safe renewables, rather than chase ever more polluting and difficult to extract fossil fuels.
Visit GreenJobs for the latest Environmental Jobs.