Lucy Pedler | The Green Register
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was developed in the 1940s to recover gas from conventional wells and has more recently ‘revolutionised’ the American energy industry, allowing the USA to become temporarily more energy independent by extracting gas (and oil) from small fractures in the earth’s crust (see the BBC’s short video illustrating the process:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14432401).
Detractors of this process site various dangers:
- huge volumes of water are used to displace the gas (often referred to as shale gas) from below the earth’s surface which has a negative impact on the environment
- potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in the fracking process can escape and contaminate the surrounding groundwater
- the high pressure water can cause earth tremors (see 2011 article from the BBC about tremors in the UK as a result of initial fracking tests: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458)
- recent experience from neighbours adjacent to US fracking sites have complained of various health problems they blame on the process (see:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/17/fracking-increase-health-risks-hormone) such as nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, quite apart from the noise and dust from the operation itself.
Proponents claim that fracking will allow countries like the UK to become more self sufficient in their energy supplies and that fuel prices will plummet as they have done in the USA.
But we are missing the point. It is not a question of whether we continue with fracking but more a question of do we want to remain hooked on the limited resource of fossil fuels to provide our energy resulting in the indisputable negative effects on our climate?
So stepping back just for a moment we might ask ourselves: is this what we really want? Like drug addicts, we are resorting to ever more desperate, illogical, unsustainable, self-destructive and uneconomic measures to get our fossil fuel ‘kick’ as we scour the earth for its last remaining resources.
We will then use them up.
There will then be no more.
And then what?
The best definition of a sustainable practice I have come across is very simple: it is something that we can continue to do forever. We cannot continue to extract fossil fuels forever because they are limited.
So in the future, if we want to continue to have the lifestyle that resembles anything close to that which we are currently enjoying, we have to find a sustainable way of generating energy. Pursuing such a controversial process such as fracking with all its attendant concerns seems such a pointless way ‘forward’. We are looking in the wrong direction (backwards) using outdated (20th century) ideas that are no longer applicable in this crowded 21st century world. Moreover, it looks like fracking is not capturing the public’s imagination.
Politicians take note – fracking may be popular amongst those looking to make a quick buck and bugger the environmental costs but the public are educating themselves about the possible dangers and speaking out. An article in the Guardian on 28th January 2014 (see:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/28/fracking-protest-david-cameron-public-support-poll) states that public opposition is growing. Whereas between June 2012 and July 2013 58% of those asked ‘should shale gas in the UK be allowed?” answered ‘yes’, this figure has dropped to 53% this month.
Apart from the extremely serious effects on climate change and the geopolitical fallout that will inevitably occur, the problem is that the methods of extracting fossil fuels and burning it to produce energy do not in any way reflect the environmental costs. If this were so, buying energy generated from fossil fuels would be the most expensive type of energy available and there is an argument that increasing energy prices will focus people’s minds on minimising energy consumption. Whilst there – of course – needs to be protection against those who would fall into fuel poverty if this were to happen, a combination of significant increases in energy costs, subsidies for energy efficient systems (such as energy saving measures in buildings) and serious – and I mean really serious – amounts of investment in renewable, i.e. sustainable energy generation technologies would allow us to give up on such hopeless, short term, destructive systems such as fracking.
We really are missing the fracking point here. As Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth says: “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.”
The solutions already exist. It is not too challenging to radically improve the energy efficiency of our existing buildings and to build new buildings to beyond current Building Regulations. The products, systems and technical knowledge are all in place; the incentives to do so are recognised in that if we do not act, it will cost more in financial, social and environmental terms; the public interest is increasing year on year. Construction professionals can rise to this challenge without reinventing the wheel but by simply looking at the design of the wheel in a different way.
So let us be sensible about this and chose the long term, sustainable solution that will keep the planet healthy and allow future generations to have a chance of enjoying the lifestyle (at least in the West) we currently have.