What does fracking mean for greenhouse gas emissions?

Fracking in the UK is still within its exploratory phase, however proposed amendments to the infrastructure bill could facilitate its implementation by allowing “any substance” to be pumped under people’s homes in the UK as part of the hydraulic fracturing process, while changes to trespass laws prevent landowners from blocking fracking under their homes. Although many consider fracking to be the answer to the UK’s energy crisis, it requires water and chemicals to be drilled thousands of feet into the ground, acting as a mini earthquake to break apart the rock and free up natural gas. This requires fracking fluid: a mix of 596 chemicals, many of which remain undisclosed, as well as hundreds of lorry trips in order to transport the fluid, resulting in environmental regression.

In the US, fracking has been central to climate change plans, and the Environmental Protection Agency published a report claiming that greenhouse gas emissions dropped 3.4% in 2012 compared to the previous year, and that emissions have declined 10% since 2005. This is largely credited to the switch from coal to natural gas, suggesting that fracking could in fact lower greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to tackling climate change if it is used as a “bridge fuel” between coal and renewable energy. The fracking success of the US has altered world perspectives on natural gas, including the UK’s.

However, it is thought that these figures may have been overestimated, and fracking could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is likely that a boom in natural gas would result in the reduction of renewable energy sources, as it would provide a cheap alternative. Therefore, the long term effects of fracking are counterproductive in tackling climate change, resulting in very little benefit to the environment. A reliance on natural gas alone won’t prevent climate change – so is it really worth all the risks?

Not only does fracking produce the greenhouse gas fugitive methane, but the ability of shale gas to replace other energy sources in the UK is unproven, and it won’t necessarily reduce gas prices. And even if it did, cheaper gas would mean more energy consumption, which would increase CO2 emissions in the long haul.

Furthermore, the UK’s first experiments with fracking in Blackpool were suspended after two months after it resulted in two mini earthquakes in Lancashire, fueling nationwide anti-fracking protests. It also makes it much more difficult to preserve the country’s natural beauty, and it could result in the selling of public forest estates. Despite controversy and wide-ranging public opposition, fracking has been allowed to resume in the UK, with the 2014 Queen’s speech confirming that shale gas will be considered a bridge fuel between coal and renewable and nuclear energy, to reach 2050 decarbonisation targets.

Renewable energy sources are essential in order to achieve a low-carbon or decarbonised energy sector, and a recent article by Steven Davis and Christine Shearer of the University of California argued that there is a crack in the natural gas bridge. This analysis, composed of global energy use, argued that the recent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is not directly linked to the increased use of natural gas, and that the switch to natural gas alone is not enough to tackle climate change – instead, new climate change mitigation policies must be put into practice.

Prospective areas for fracking have now been identified within the UK, with the government promoting the use of natural gas as a potential domestic alternative that would lessen reliance on imported energy, such as gas from Russia. However, natural gas emits Co2, meaning fracking would only hinder efforts to tackle climate change. Switching to renewable energy sources would provide a much cleaner alternative.

One response to “What does fracking mean for greenhouse gas emissions?”

  1. Fracking is dangerous, more to the water supply than it is to carbon emissions, as far as I know. One chemical that is used in “super-fracking” is polyacrylamide, which contains residual amounts of the incredibly harmful acrylamide. Also, New York’s recent ban on fracking due to Dr Howard Zucker’s report on the potential health risks is evidence of the dangers involved. The report in question suggests that, amongst other findings, “air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals”, “climate change impacts due to methane and other volatile organic chemical releases to the atmosphere” and “drinking water impacts from underground migration of methane and/or fracking chemicals associated with faulty well construction” are all risks associated with fracking.