Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock.
It is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.
The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.
Why is it called fracking?
It is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing and refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high pressure mixture.
Why is it controversial?
The extensive use of fracking in the US, where it has revolutionised the energy industry, has prompted environmental concerns.
The first is that fracking uses huge amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost. The second is the worry that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. The industry suggests pollution incidents are the results of bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique.
There are also worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors. Two small earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude hit the Blackpool area in 2011 following fracking.
“It’s always recognised as a potential hazard of the technique”, says Professor Ernie Rutter from the University of Manchester, “But they’re unlikely to be felt by many people and very unlikely to cause any damage.”
Finally, environmental campaigners say that fracking is simply distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.
“Shale gas is not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges,” said Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth. “We need a 21st century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.”
What are the advantages of fracking?
Fracking allows drilling firms to access difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. In the US it has significantly boosted domestic oil production and driven down gas prices. It is estimated to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.
The industry suggests fracking of shale gas could contribute significantly to the UK’s future energy needs. A report by the Energy and Climate Change Committee said shale gas in the UK may help to secure energy supplies, but may not bring down gas prices.
Where is fracking taking place?
Reserves of shale gas have been identified across swathes of the UK, particularly in the north of England. However no fracking is currently taking place, but drilling firms are applying for a fracking licence, and some licences have already been granted.
As the map below shows most of the Central Belt of Scotland has been identified as ‘under consideration for licensing’, including Edinburgh, although no licences have yet been granted for any area of Edinburgh.
Does any of this affect the Colonies?
Since no licences have yet been granted in Edinburg, there are no plans known for any drilling. However, as the map above shows, Edinburgh, including the Stockbridge Colonies, does fall within the area which has been identified by the Government as one where shale gas might be found. Moreover, the nature of fracking is such that the drilling site can be up to 2 miles from the site of the shale gas.
Following a public consultation, despite the fact that more than 90% of the responses were against the proposals, the Government has decided to go ahead with proposals to pass legislation to remove the need for oil and gas companies to seek the permission of a landowner before drilling underneath their property. The proposal will allow automatic access for gas and oil development below 300m and, although it is envisaged that there will be a notification and compensation scheme, it is proposed that this will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.
Can we do anything?
A number of groups across Edinburgh are beginning to explore the possibilities of legal action to try to stop fracking developments under residential areas. A group in Portobello has proposed the following action:
‘Can everyone who lives in the proposed fracking area please check your title deed and if you own the land (or Solum) your house is built on, the date of the deed and if there are any exclusions (i.e. are the mineral rights reserved to someone else). I’m hoping that if enough of us own the ground under our properties to the centre of the earth, we can band together and find some lawyers willing to take a case to High Court. Mine is 1922, shared ownership of the Solum and doesn’t reserve the mineral rights to anyone else.’
If you are interested in exploring this option and collaborating with other Edinburgh groups, you can get more information from Colonies resident, Abigail Burnyeat, who can be contacted at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 0783 357 8224.
This article has been mainly based on information about fracking taken from a BBC website:
Information from a group supporting fracking can be found at:
Information from groups opposed to fracking can be found at:
There are also articles on various newspaper websites: