Fracking is set to take place at Preston New Road after initial rejection of the site by Lancashire council was overturned by the government, in favour of shale company Cuadrilla. The decision, condemned by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, marks a major increase in the scale of UK fracking, with four wells approved this year in North Yorkshire alone.
Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a method used to extract natural gas and oil from shale rock underground. This involves the process of drilling deep into the Earth, with a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals directed at rock formations to release the gas inside. The site in Lancashire will be the first to involve horizontal drilling since fracking was suspended in 2011 due to earthquakes in Blackpool, and will in theory release a greater volume of gas.
According to communities secretary Sajid Javid, “shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source”. This is in hopes to make the UK less reliant on imports in terms of energy resources, marking a more self-sufficient source of fossil fuels. The economics of this emphasis on shale gas in the UK is uncertain, and true significance will not be known until a larger amount of exploratory drilling has taken place.
Large-scale fracking in the US has prompted environmental concerns, such as the potential for carcinogenic chemicals to contaminate groundwater around the site, though the industry states that such incidents are the result of malpractice rather than the technique used. Despite the approved safety of the process, Lancashire locals are still to be affected by the decision in a number of ways, with residents set for a long and potentially noisy few years before the drilling starts.
While fracking is controversial it does possess some benefits, such as the opportunity to generate electricity at a low level of carbon dioxide emissions compared to coal, presenting a potentially more efficient use of fossil fuels. Despite this, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth states that this is not a solution to the energy crises faced by the 21st century, stating that we require an ‘energy revolution’, placing emphasis on renewable sources as a long-term alternative to fossil fuels.