Everything you need to know about fracking

Every effort to get fracking off the ground in the UK has been fought by passionate protesters. But why is this way of extracting gas and oil so controversial?

Here’s what we know about the process.

What is fracking?

‘Fracking’ is short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ — it’s a process by which water, sand, and chemicals are injected underground at very high pressures to crack open rock layers and release the oil or gas trapped inside. The term ‘fracking’ refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure mixture.

Protests on Preston New Road intensify as Cuadrilla begins fracking at the siteProtests on Preston New Road intensify as Cuadrilla begins fracking at the site
Protests on Preston New Road intensify as Cuadrilla begins fracking at the site

What are the benefits of fracking?

The British Geological Survey suggests there are an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources in the Bowland Shale across northern England. This would equate to more than 51 years of gas supply for the UK.

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Ministers hope that introducing fracking sites could boost tax revenues, create jobs, reduce reliance on energy imports and bring down household fuel bills, although experts have questioned whether it would really have any impact on energy prices.

So what’s the problem?

The rapid development of unconventional sources of oil and natural gas using hydraulic fracturing has generated a great deal of controversy.

Fracking was first commercially introduced in the oil and gas industry in 1949, and application of the technique grew rapidly in the oil and gas fields of America. So if fracking has been around for more than 60 years, why has it only recently become controversial?

The process has been mired in controversy in the UK since it hit the headlines in 2011 for causing two minor earthquakes in Lancashire, prompting a temporary ban on fracking in the country.

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Although the ban has now been lifted, with controls put in place to prevent tremors, there are still many who fear it can also cause water contamination, noise and traffic pollution.

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Its effects on the environment and public health are still largely unknown.

Campaigners against the technique say it has a negative impact on the environment because of the chemicals and pressures used. Some environmentalists are opposed to fracking because of associated carbon emissions.

Where are they planning to start fracking near you?

Ineos is embroiled in a legal fight with the National Trust over access to its land at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, for surveying, as the company attempts to push ahead with oil and gas exploration in the county.

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It is also pursuing fracking at sites in Derbyshire and Yorkshire despite local authority opposition. Ineos is pursing sites at Marsh Lane, near Eckington, Derbyshire, whilst IGas is working on a site at Misson in Nottinghamshire.

Have your say...

The government is currently seeking views on the principle of allowing exploratory drilling under permitted development.

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The purpose of this latest consultation is to seek views on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development should be granted planning permission through a permitted development right, and in particular the circumstances in which it would be appropriate.