Is Shale Gas Safe?

Posted on November 2, 2011

Shale Gas, Blackpool

Shale Gas, Blackpool

Near Blackpool on the Fylde coast in the UK, Cuadrilla Resources Limited are testing for natural gas using a process called hydraulic fracturing – fracking for short. The first rig is at Preese Hall Farm, near Weeton and the second a little to the north at Singleton.

To the west, you will see Blackpool and the Irish Sea coastline. A major holiday resort coastal town north of the Ribble estuary and the important sand dunes at Formby, this is an area of economic importance as well as an environmentally sensitive area. We have a duty and responsibility to be sure the process is safe and secure now and in the future.

What Could Be Wrong?

The first thing to ask is if anything could be wrong with a small project like this. Let’s start with a quick look at what fracking involves.

Simply, all fracking does is drill a hole in the ground. There may be a need to run the drill sideways once it has gone down far enough, but essentially it is just a hole. Into it, the company pumps water – plus a chemical cocktail – so the deep ground rocks crack and shatter. This is the “fracturing”.

Once the deep rocks are broken, natural gas seeps into the cracks and, so the theory goes, back up the borehole, forcing out the water and coming out of the rig.

The Worries

This is where problems might turn up. Only about a third of the water put in comes out and is so polluted it has to be specially disposed of – but in the UK will be put into landfill. Some of the two-thirds left underground comes out mixed with the gas meaning it has to be expensively and dirtily processed to clean it up. Generating, of course, yet more polluted water for landfill.

The Ribble Estuary, the largest SSSI in Mersey...

Ribble Estuary

Even that may not be all. There are concerns the air nearby can become heavily polluted, although that may be simply poor environmental controls. Worse is the possibility that the underground water table may become seriously polluted – and even impregnated with dissolved gas under pressure so that tap water might actually burst into flames!

At this point we did want to include a copy of the documentary film, GASLAND from WorldReport on Vimeo (nominated for an Oscar despite attempts by oil and gas interests to have it banned from the awards) which looked into these issues in America. You could then take a look at it yourself and see what you think – is there a reason to worry or not?

Unfortunately, for reasons that seem a little obscure, the video is no longer available online at all… unless you can find it somewhere. Whether or not this disappearance is due to the same sort of pressure the fuel companies clearly did exert on the awards committees is far from clear, but we can all make our own assumptions.

It Can’t Happen Here

We can assure ourselves it will be different in the UK, of course. After all, it is being done by a British company under British rules, isn’t it? Well, perhaps – but perhaps it is worth looking a more closely at Cuadrilla to check just who they are.

One thing we do know though is that Cuadrilla itself now admits that it is probably responsible for recent earth tremors in the area. Rather strangely, they seem to think that the excuse they came across unexpected geology will let them off the hook – but one is forced to wonder how a company got permission for the test rigs, for the drilling process and for their whole operation on the basis of their own claims to have checked the geology of the area and found it perfectly safe can then get away with saying they didn’t spot these problems.

There are, of course, many other links out there on the web discussing the fracking process and before we allow this to simply go on without checks and balances would be extraordinarily lax. Particularly if you live in this area, you deserve it to yourself to check up on the process and reach your own conclusions.