Fracking - what's all that about?
Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurised liquid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally - certain veins or dykes are examples. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a technique in which typically water is mixed with sand and chemicals, and the mixture is injected at high pressure into a wellbore to create small fractures (typically less than 1mm), along which fluids such as gas, petroleum and brine water may migrate to the well. The radial distance of influence of the process from the well bore is typically 150yds. Hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, then small grains of proppant (sand or aluminium oxide) hold these fractures open once the rock achieves equilibrium. The technique is very common in wells for shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas and hard rock wells. The first experimental use of fracking was in 1947, and the first commercially successful applications were in 1949. As of 2010, it was estimated that 60% of all new oil and gas wells worldwide were being hydraulically fractured. Opponents of fracking point to potential environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flow-back, and the health effects of these.
For these reasons fracking has come under international scrutiny, with some countries suspending or banning it altogether. Last week in a Lords' discussion on fracking, Baron Howell of Guildford said "there are large, uninhabited and desolate areas, certainly in parts of the north-east, where there is plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence, and where it could be conducted without any threat to the rural environment". After much adverse reaction he apologised, and said he was thinking of drilling off the Lancashire coast, not the north-east - (it's a mistake anyone could make!). He went on to say he wanted the derricks in "unloved places that are not environmentally sensitive" - Bolton* comes to mind.
Seemingly what he meant was there was plenty of land for fracking without it impacting on highly populated areas. What he said came out as an insult to the residents and good people of one of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of our country. Two days of uproar and one apology later, Baron Howell of Guilford compounded the blunder by explaining his “stupid error” was saying the North-east when he meant the North-west.
What a Silly Billy! - as Baron Howell's political opponent Denis Healey would say... Stupid fracker in my opinion!
*Bolton, in Lancashire, was spared the heavy bombing that many similar industrial areas of Britain were subjected to during WWII. However Punch Street and Ardwick Street received bombing hits in an air raid in October 1941 - where almost £30 of damage was caused.
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13/09/2013 - we have updated the blog post to include this infographic - Fracking explained.