This week Prime Minister Cameron called on Britain to get behind fracking of shale gas.. But what is it, and why should you support it?
First some Facts: Fracking is the injection of fluids into deep underground gas-filled shale formations at very high pressures to create man-made cracks, or fractures (hence the name), that allow natural gas to be collected and brought to the surface. The technology, along with horizontal drilling techniques, has already opened a 100 year supply of natural gas from formations that stretch across the continental U.S. The drilling provides a domestic source of a significantly cleaner form of fossil fuel — as well as new jobs and revenues to states. It has been projected to raise natural gas domestic production by at least 20 percent over the next five years and help reduce imports by more than half within 10 years.
Without the development of new domestic gas resources, Britain’s import costs for natural gas could rise from £5.2 billion pounds today to more than £15 billion by 2015 as North Sea supplies dwindle and Norway struggles to fill the gap, a report this year found. Britain was a net exporter of gas until 2004, but a steady decline in output over the past few years has made it more reliant on imports, which have come mostly from Norway and, increasingly, Qatar.
There are 1,3000 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying under Britain at the moment. Even if a mere one tenth of that figure were extracted, it would provide us a 51 year supply of energy.
Boost local economy
In June the United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group launched a “Shale Community Engagement Charter”. This promised local communities £100,000 per shale site where fracking takes place during exploratory drilling, and then a 1pc share of the revenues if the drilling succeeds and the company begins producing gas or oil.
The deal may be worth between £5-10 million for each community over 25 years, with the bulk coming early on when production is highest. The total benefits could be worth more than £1.1 billion across the UK over that period. The initial £100,000 will go to “very local” communities. The share of the revenues will be split, with approximately two-thirds going to the local communities, through a fund administered by local people.
To understand the economic impact of fracking, we only need to look at what its done for the Bakken area of North Dakota. The rural state now has the lowest unemployment rate of any state in the US, its economy is booming, and the state budget has a surplus. As a consequence, North Dakota now spends increasing amounts on schools and social services.
While controversy over hydraulic fracturing is new, the practice itself is not. Since 1947, hydraulic fracturing has been used to extract more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion feet of natural gas from deep underground shale formations.
According to Daniel Simmons, Director of State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research, the recent combination of fracturing technology with directional drilling—meaning six to eight horizontal wells drilled from only one well pad—can produce the same volume as 16 vertical wells. This has decreased the surface impact of drilling operations while growing our domestic reserves substantially.
In addition, wind and solar power are intermittent and require coal and natural gas backup. Shale gas does not.
And it’s not as if we have to rely on theory (or Americans), for reassurance. Canada has been extracting oil and gas using fracking techniques for the last 35 years. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled there using methods earmarked for Britain. Because fracking enables operators to capture enormous amounts of oil and gas previously inaccessible, more than 90% of the thousands of wells drilled in Canada every year involve fracking. There have been no major geologic or environmental impacts from Canada’s use of the controversial technique.
Besides helping to supply Canada’s energy requirements, fracking has actually driven up the values of land surrounding fracking sites. The CEO of a Canadian energy company told Forbes Magazine of paying a few hundred dollars an acre five years ago for land that now sells for thousands of dollars an acre. Detractors of fracking claim the opposite: that fracking activities drive land values down. That simply is not true.
And finally, the Daily Mail opposes fracking…so it must be good.
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