Tomorrow’s issue of The Guardian is carrying an article revealing that the UK Government is to license widespread ‘fracking’ (hydrofracturing) for shale gas.
All the media are bleating about is the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the deep earth (3 miles down) detonations that fracture the shale. These have indeed – in America and in the UK, with Cuadrilla’s experimental drilling in the Bowland Shale in Lancashire near Blackpool, caused earth tremors.
The risk of earthquakes is, by a substantial degree, the most minor of the hazards of the fracking process.
Fracking takes around 3,ooo,ooo gallons of water a shot – that’s three million gallons, in case anyone thinks we’ve been over generous with the zeros.
Would anyone care to explain where this volume of water is to come from in the drought conditions the UK is already experiencing so early in the year - the worst in living memory and likely to remain a permanent feature of life in global warming?
At the moment 17 English counties are officially drought zones, there are hose pipe bans in force and the government is asking people to ‘use water wisely’.
Moreover the underlying water table is at an unprecedentedly low level.
Hose pipe bans seem risible in the light of a readiness to license fracking with its massive use of water to extend and hold open the fractures caused by the deep detonations.
It is not as if this is water that can safely be returned to water courses after use.
The water used in the fracking process is part of what is called ‘fracking mud’ or ‘drilling mud’. The water has sand, chemicals and sometimes diesel added to it to form this mud. After the detonations have fractured the shale, the drilling mud is forced into them at very high pressure. This extends the fractures and fills them with a substance that prevents them closing – allowing the release of the gas held in the shales.
The fracking mud largely returns to the surface during the process, presenting the major problem of storage and disposal.
This is not water nor is it ‘mud’ in the normal sense. The chemicals added to it are often toxic – specifically carcinogenic. (We have published on this matter in detail previously). A single fracking shot uses 3 million gallons of water, most of which returns to the surface and cannot be allowed to leach into the water table or directly into water courses.
How, precisely, do the fracking companies to be licensed propose to recover this toxic fluid waste and transfer it to which form of storage without leaks?
What do they then propose to do with the stored material – growing at around three million gallons a pop with each fracking shot?
As we say – and never truer – there is no such thing as a free lunch.
This is not, by the way, an issue which only affects someone else’s back yard. The Scottish Government has consented to fracking at Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway.