On Thursday, the government lifted restrictions on hydraulic fracking, a controversial method of drilling for shale gas. While fracking could produce billions of pounds’ worth of gas, there are controversies over the environmental and economic effects of bringing it back.
What is Fracking?
Fracking works by drilling a well downwards and sideways into gas-bearing black shale, which forms from deposits of mud, clay, silt and other organic matter. Explosive charges blast holes in the walls of the well to release the gas, and a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals is pumped down at high pressure.
The shale rock splits, releasing the gas, which is brought to the surface by the pressure of the water mixture. Shale gas is known as “energy gold” since it’s in such high demand, and Britain has a number of resources.
In the US, where hydraulic fracking is widespread, the process has been associated with higher risks of groundwater contamination and methane leaks. Just last year in Lancashire, the process triggered earth tremors – in the same area it will soon resume.
Although reports say fracking is completely safe with strict regulation, the fact is that shale gas is not exactly a renewable energy source. With the green light coming so soon after the controversial Energy Bill, which aims to decrease reliance on non-renewable sources, it seems like a strange move.
Will Fracking Change my Household Bills?
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat’s Energy Secretary (and the man behind the Energy Bill) thinks it is “unlikely” that drilling for shale gas will drive down energy bills.
On the other hand, fracking proponents emphasise that drilling for shale will reduce the need to import gas from elsewhere. Says Prof. Alistair Fraser on Radio 4:
“…it might not lower the price but it will stop us relying on imported gas from places like Norway, Russia… we’ll have more control over the price in that case.”
That “control over the price” is a tiny bit worrying.
The Conservative side of the Coalition government seem more optimistic, citing the jobs created by reintroducing the project and the possibility of making the UK more self-sufficient. The Prime Minister’s secretary says that because there is a new energy source on the market, there is “great potential for prices to come down.”
Energy regulator Ofgem claims that only a surge in fracking across Europe will bring down energy prices, but consultants Pöyry foretell a 2-4% decrease in bills.
Ed Davey outspokenly disagrees with the Conservatives on this issue, so with the government in-fighting it seems as though we will have to wait and see what effect fracking will have on our household bills.