Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at intense pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside. Fracking uses large amounts of water - many hundreds of thousand gallons per well - mixed with sand and chemicals. The 'returned waters', coming back up the well after fracking, may contain noxious substances such as heavy metals, hydrogen sulphide gas, arsenic and naturally radioactive materials such as radon gas besides also containing liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. The large volumes, and possible contamination, of the returned waters make disposal difficult. This process is highly risky and may over time lead to the contamination of aquifers, underground sources of drinking water and groundwater. With present technology there is no such thing as completely safe, 100% contamination-free fracking.
The fracking industry's own statistics on the leaking oil and gas wells show that 5% fail immediately, 60% will fail and leak over a 30 year time span, and approximately 35% of all oil and gas wells are leaking right now. So it’s more a case of not “if” they leak but when. The industry recognises that however carefully the well casing is constructed, it may be damaged by natural or induced seismic disturbance - as happened with 'Cuadrilla's Preese Hall 1' well - increasing the risk of a leaking well. Once the water contamination has taken place there is little or nothing that can ever be done to rectify the situation. Fracking has the potential to impose large and unwelcome additional demands on our supplies of fresh water and on facilities for processing industrial waste water. Higher water bills may well be a consequence of this.
In the USA there are many hundreds of documented cases where contamination has been caused directly or indrectly by shale gas fracking activities. There are also large numbers of people who claim health problems that have been caused or exacerbated as a result of nearby shale fracking activity. There are many difficulties in proving cause and effect, as until recently there has been inadequate regulation and almost no scientific monitoring. The UK fracking company Cuadrilla (currently attempting to drill in Balcombe) has itself admitted fracking with have a ‘basically insignificant’ impact on consumer gas prices and the quantities are insufficient to make a difference to the amount of gas and oil imported. There would be considerable light and noise pollution and many hundreds of additional heavy vehicle movements (many carrying noxious waste) passing through the village over a sustained period. Although the risk of major earthquakes is probably very low, there is a significant risk of minor earth tremors which may quite easily be sufficient to damage well casings nearby – thus posing a risk to the integrity of any wells affected and thus creating a possible source of danger and/or pollution. Celtique Energie, the company planning to drill the exploration borehole, well site compound and access road in order to ‘frack’ are backed by aggressive US venture capitalists, but have very limited financial resources to compensate should a disaster occur.
Fracking has been banned in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria and several states in the USA due to environmental concerns.
The Big Picture
There are significant amounts of shale rock in the UK; a major band is in the north Peak District, with deeper deposits to the west through Lancashire, and east into Yorkshire (including the Dales National Park) and Lincolnshire. There is a further significant area running from north of London into parts of Hampshire, West and East Sussex, and Kent. No one knows (without exploratory drilling) whether these deposits contain commercial quantities of extractable shale gas. The problem with extraction methods (aside from the numerous environmental and other concerns) is that each well can only extract gas within a 2-3 mile radius of the drilling site, meaning that if the UK goes ahead with developing this industry, expect to see thousands upon thousands of drilling rigs across some of the most beautiful parts of the country. We need to stop this - not just for the sake of Fernhurst, but to prevent the whole countryside being devastated.