Fracking FAQs

We've put together a selection of the most common fracking questions and answers to help you get up-to-speed more quickly.

 

Groundwater Pollution

Fracking uses chemicals in the water which 'fractures' the rock, releasing the shale gas. This fracking fluid is at high risk of entering underground water (which we drink) and contaminating it, is this true?

A:

No. Only substances that are non-hazardous to groundwater may be used under EU and UK law, so even if there were a leak, it wouldn't pose a problem. The fracturing fluid proposed by Cuadrilla, for instance, is comprised of 99.95% water and sand, with just 0.05% chemicals, the greater majority of which is polyacrylamide, a non-hazardous polymer used as a friction reducer in this application but also used in drinking water treatment to remove suspended solids (read more about fracking chemicals here). It is very unlikely there will ever be a leak because of the way the wells are build and operated, with multiple barriers between the well and the environment. There is a low to negligible risk to groundwater. 

Fracking Earthquakes

Fracturing the rock causes seismic activity which can be felt on the surface and can even damage properties, is this true?

A:

Not entirely. Fracking "can" cause seismic activity but only very rarely. You'll hear them referred to as earthquakes but they are really just earth tremors. There is no evidence that the magnitude 1.1 and 2.3  tremors in 2011 were felt by anyone at the surface, just anecdotal references. There is a low to negligible chance of surface damage ever occurring according to experts - you can read more about fracking and earthquakes here.

Fracking and Rural Roads

Rural sites are not designed to carry site plant and can cause damage to local byways, costing the council a great deal in infrastructure maintenance, is this something local communities should be worried about?

A:

No. They may be minor, but even these rural roads carry plenty of similar traffic already, including heavy agricultural plant and machinery, trucks delivering bagged fertiliser and taking away farm produce, trucks moving cattle and sheep around, and milk tankers. Traffic movements are considered in the planning applications and associated Traffic Management Plans.

Flowback Wastewater

Once the water is used as fracking fluid, it comes back and is then contaminated, highly toxic and can cause pollution when brought back to the surface. There's no way to treat and dispose of it safely, is this true?

A:

No. For a start, it's not toxic - it has been classified as non-hazardous in accordance with EU and UK law and that has been reviewed and agreed by the Environment Agency. It "can" cause pollution, but so can farm slurry which is moved around our countryside in tankers - but nobody is calling for a farming ban. And it can be treated - there are a number of existing industrial waste facilities that offer a proven method of treating this waste and removing contaminants so it can be safely put back into the water cycle. If you're interested, there's more on fracking wastewater here

Water and Wildlife

Non-human beings such as plants and livestock, also use water in the ground and contaminated water will pollute them too, if they cannot access clean water when growing, isn't that true?

A:

No. See Groundwater Pollution - remember that only chemicals that are assessed as non-hazardous to groundwater may be used, and that because there's a very low likelihood of escape, there's a very low risk of this ever being a problem.

Fracking and Farming

This will cause local crops to be contaminated and cost the farming industry a great deal won't it?

A:

No, there's no evidence to support such a claim. The rampant scaremongering from fracking opponents will do more harm to farming by deterring the public from buying perfectly safe produce from farms near shale gas sites.

Fracking Jobs

Jobs will be created but only a few will be for the medium to long term. Fracking is of course only temporary as gas only lasts a few years until it is gone, isn't that right?

A:

There will be a steady supply of jobs for at least 20 years, then more as all the depleted well sites are decommissioned and restored back to their original condition. And gas only lasts a few years until it's gone? We've been extracting gas from the North Sea since the 1970s and whilst it's now in permanent decline, we still have more to go at. 

Forcing Fracking On Communities

Lancashire County Council already voted against Cuadrilla's site and it has been forced upon them by the government. The council and the people of Lancashire said no, didn't they?

A:

No, Lancashire County Council has never taken a vote on fracking. A small number of councillors on the planning committee went against the advice of the council's expert planning people and legal officer and refused permission on dubious grounds for purely political reasons, knowing full well that their decision would be overturned on appeal - which it was. It hasn't been forced on anyone. Planning law has been followed, as evidenced by the fact that the High Court has rejected two Judicial Review challenges. Lancashire is home to 1.4 million residents, they have never been asked for their opinion on fracking and it's hugely unlikely that they'd all say no if they were asked. Meanwhile, in North Yorkshire, the county council awarded planning permission to Third Energy, and an attempt to overturn the decision by Judicial Review was again quashed.

Astroturfing

It's been said that Backing Fracking is just an industry front or 'astroturf' group (a fake grassroots movement) set up by PR company, is that true?

A:

No, not even remotely! This accusation surfaces from time-to-time among fracking opponents and is nothing more than an attempt at discrediting us so we can't gain new supporters and to try and get the media to ignore us. Fortunately, it doesn't work and not only does our supporter base keep growing, we've regularly had our comments featured in national and local newspapers and on TV and radio.

Fracking and Renewabes

Do we even need fracking when we've got renewables like wind and solar?

A:

The short answer is yes, because renewables like wind and solar are intermittent (the wind doesn't always blow, the sun doesn't always shine) and only produce electricity. Gas, on the other hand, is constantly available and can be used not only to generate electricity but also to produce heat - which is important to our manufacturing industry but also to the four-fifths of homes that have gas-fired central heating. Shale gas and renewables can actually compliment each other, and we support both.

Public Opposition to Fracking

Aren't most people opposed to fracking in the UK?

A:

No, that's not the case at all. The most trusted, long-running opinion research on this is the Government's quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker. It has consistently found that:

 

~ 20% support fracking
~ 50% have no strong opinion
~ 30% oppose fracking

That means that, actually, around 70% of people want it to go ahead or are at least neutral. Opponents are therefore in the minority.

Fracking and Gas Imports

Can't we just carry on importing gas rather than extracting shale gas?

A:

We could, but that puts us at the mercy of those countries from whom we buy our gas. Since 2004, Britain has been a net importer of gas as North Sea supplies have begun to diminish. In 2016, around 60% of the gas we used was imported, with a fifth of that coming in ships as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar. If diplomatic ties between the UK and the countries it buys gas from should end, or if a pipe carrying gas ruptures or a cargo of LNG is diverted, we may find ourselves with substantially less gas than we need. Producing our own gas, from shale, means we're less vulnerable to sudden shortages no matter what the cause. Not only that, but domestically produced gas will raise new taxes for government to spend on public services - imported gas contributes nothing to the public purse.

Fracking and Water Use

Fracking uses millions of gallons of fresh water per well, and will deplete our supplies leaving homeowners with low water pressure and insufficient quantities of water for drinking and bathing, is that right?

A:

It's right that it uses millions of gallons of water per well, yes, but who uses gallons as a measure any more? Only those that are opposed to fracking because they want it to sound like it will consume enormous amounts of water. Even the longest horizontal wells are unlikely to use more than 27,000 cubic metres each - that's roughly the same amount that 180 people would use in a day. Existing industrial and commercial uses of water dwarf the quantities that fracking will use, with homeowners prioritised in the event of drought conditions. We've put fracking's demand for water in context here.

Radioactive Waste Dumping

Didn't one of the fracking companies dump radioactive waste in the Manchester Ship Canal and, if so, why haven't they been prosecuted?

A:

No, that never happened - at least not the way the story is told by opponents of fracking. The facts are that Cuadrilla in Lancashire sent its flowback wastewater to the United Utilities treatment facility in Davyhulme, Manchester, in 2011 where it was treated in accordance with the sites' environmental permit. Treated material from the Davyhulme facility is lawfully discharged to the Manchester Ship Canal. Davyhulme processes sewage flows of around 6,600 gallons a second, which means the total quantity of fracking wastewater accepted at the site over many months in 2011 is the equivalent of just 5 minutes’ worth of normal daily inputs. Nobody has been prosecuted because nobody has done anything wrong.

Well Failure and Leakage Rates

6% of new fracking wells fail straight away, 60% of wells fail within 20 years and all wells fail eventually, so aren't we going to end up with lots of leaking wells over time?

A:

This is classic sleight-of-hand used by some opponents of fracking to create the impression that all shale gas wells will eventually leak and pollute the environment.

The statistics are taken from a document produced in 2003 by Schlumberger, one of the world's leading oilfield services companies ("the industry" said it, so it must be true). But the focus of that document wasn't fracking wells because they'd really only been drilling these in the US since 2005 - the focus of the document was on wells drilled offshore on the US Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it discussed a persistent problem called Sustained Casing Pressure or SCP, if you read it properly, you'll quickly realise that the whole thrust of the paper is to explain how SCP can be fixed.

Fracking wells will be lined with three separate layers of steel casing, all with cement between. A well would only lose its integrity and affect the environment if all 6 of these barriers were to fail simultaneously - which doesn't seem likely to us at all. In industry terms, a well failure refers to a single barrier being compromised and these are soon fixed.

Another way to think about it is this: there are over 2,000 existing onshore oil and gas wells in the UK, some dating back to 1938, but they're not all leaking and spoiling the environment, are they?

Fracking wells won't all fail, lose integrity and leak their contents into the environment over any period of time as far as we can see.

 

Fracking and Health

I keep hearing that people who live within 5 miles of a fracking site get ill, and that there are more premature babies with birth defects - are my family and I going to get sick?

A:

Yes, you are going to get sick. We all do, from time-to-time. But will fracking cause that? Based on the available evidence, it seems not. 

There hasn't been a single study anywhere that we've found which conclusively and definitively links fracking with unwanted health impacts. Not a single one. There have been lots that imply that people living near shale gas development in the US are made sick by fracking though, and unfortunately these get into the news because bad news sells. 

When these sorts of studies are published, it's always worth getting a copy and reading the conclusions of yourself - you'll often find that the results are much more mundane and inconclusive than the news headlines would have you believe. Look at who is behind them too - many are undertaken by pseudo-scientific establishments that are funded by anti-fossil fuel groups like the Park Foundation, and so there's an obvious risk of bias creeping in.

We are not epidemiologists, but we've used online research tools in the UK to examine whether health outcomes in communities around the 2,000 or more existing onshore oil and gas wells are any worse than everywhere else and they're not, by any measure. And we've been unable to find any evidence that oil and gas workers (the people most likely to be exposed to potentially harmful substances) suffer with chronic or acute health problems any more than the rest of the working population.

There's more about fracking and health here.

Flaring Gas 24/7

Is it true that they'll be flaring gas (also known as 'methane burn-off') 24/7, all year round, with jets of flames that light up the night sky?

A:

No. Many people worry about the night sky being filled with jets of naked flame from 24/7, 365 days a year flaring, and that's because opponents of fracking regularly use images showing that and say it's what we can expect here in the UK.

But it just isn't true. 

For most of the lifetime of a shale gas well, gas is never flared. Think about it - why would someone spend many millions extracting gas just to burn it all in a flare, when the objective is to sell it into the national grid to be used by people and businesses? They wouldn't.

An exploration well is allowed to flare gas because it has no connection to the distribution network, but it will never light up the night sky because, in the UK, enclosed flare systems are used - common on landfill sites, sewage treatment plants and even food processing factories. You can find out more about flaring here.

Flaming Taps and Fracking

When fracking starts, we'll be able to set our tap water on fire, we don't want that

A:

That's flat out not going to happen. Josh Fox, the filmmaker behind Gaslands in which there's a scene showing people lighting their tap water on fire, has admitted in public - when questioned by an investigative journalist - that gas in people's water was a problem in that part of Denver, Colorado, long before fracking came along.

Check out this clip here.

You'll hear reference to biogenic and thermogenic methane (natural gas). Biogenic gas is formed near the surface at shallow depths, and is produced by the natural decay of organic matter, like fallen leaves. Thermogenic methane is formed at much greater depths and higher temperatures, and is a result of the breakdown of plant and marine life hundreds of millions of years ago. Scientists can tell the difference according to the isotopic signature of the gas. The gas in people's taps in Denver is biogenic methane, which Fox acknowledges.

Aside from the fact that he clearly faked those infamous scenes in Gaslands, only 1% of people in England draw water from private wells - the other 99% of us have it piped directly into our homes by utility companies. Flaming tap water hasn't been linked to fracking in the US and won't be here in the UK either.

 

Isn't fracking banned in a lot of countries?

I've heard that fracking is banned in many countries, why aren't we banning it here too?

A:

Actually, we're only aware of one country out of a total of 195 globally (196 if you count Taiwan as a country in its own right) that has a permanent, legislative ban on fracking and that's Bulgaria. 

A small number of others have temporary, politically-driven and reversible moratoria in place. These include Romania, France, Germany, South Africa and Wales. France doesn't use anywhere near the amount of gas that other countries do because it obtains so much electricity from nuclear power. Germany's moratorium is an odd one because it allows fracking in tight sand reservoirs and also says that individual German states can, if they choose, allow fracking in shale. 

Scotland and Ireland have announced that they will ban it, but it has yet to be voted on by their respective parliaments and so we may yet see these plans scaled back to being temporary moratoria again. 

Beyond this small handful, there are no other countries with moratoria or total, permanent, legislative bans. Anyone claiming otherwise either doesn't have all the facts or is being wilfully dishonest.

 

Highway spills

Isn't there a huge risk of hazardous material spills during transport to and from sites?

 

A:

Why would there be?

Is there anything special about the materials being transported to and from fracking sites that makes them unusually prone to being spilled? Is there anything notably different about the sorts of containers and vehicles used, or the quantities involved?

No, not that we can see.

Harmful construction chemicals are shipped around the country every day on lorries, eventually reaching the shelves of B&Q. Billions of litres of petrol and diesel are moved in road tankers every year, from refineries to filling station forecourts. Water treatment chemicals like Hydrochloric Acid and Sodium Hypochlorite are transported in 1,000 litre IBC's to swimming pools and leisure centres. Wastes that are much more hazardous than fracking flowback are taken away from industrial facilities to treatment and disposal centres.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT) last year saw 9,873 Million Tonne Kilometres of dangerous goods transported on roads around Britain, of all classes. This includes products that are flammable, toxic, infectious and corrosive. 

This is going on around us all of the time, but you don't regularly hear news of major spillages do you?

That's because the transport of hazardous materials is very well regulated. Vehicles are selected that are appropriate for the loads they will be carrying, containers have to meet certain regulatory standards (including for leakproofness in an accident) and drivers receive detailed mandatory training that's refreshed every few years.

We're not saying there's zero risk of something going wrong, but it's a very low risk if done properly.

Like everything, it's important to view the risks in perspective - compared with, say, petrol and diesel transport, there will be significantly fewer hazardous goods loads created by fracking and the materials involved will themselves also be less dangerous to people and the environment in the case of a road spillage. Fewer loads means fewer opportunities for things to go wrong and therefore a lower likelihood of spills; less dangerous materials means lesser consequences if something does go wrong. Together, those factors (low likelihood and low consequence) add up to a low risk.