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What is fracking and why are people angry about it?


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Following the first fracking licence in five years being granted in the UK, amidst protests and much criticism you might be wondering 'what is the fracking, all about?'

Here is the low-down on the process.

What is fracking?

More properly known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas or oil trapped within it.

How much potential is there for developing shale gas and oil?

Fracking seen in Michigan, US (Dale Young/Detroit News/AP)

Assessment by the British Geological Survey suggests there are an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources in the Bowland Shale which stretches across northern England.

There are “modest” shale gas and oil resources in Scotland, with an estimated 80 trillion cubic feet in the Midland Valley and an estimated six billion barrels of shale oil in the area which stretches across Scotland and includes Glasgow and Edinburgh.

And there is an estimated 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil in the Weald Basin in southern England.

But it is not known how much of the resources can be extracted, with exploitable reserves thought to be much lower than the total estimated oil and gas.

Why is fracking controversial?

Fracking protesters in Yorkshire
Yorkshire protesters unite against fracking (John Giles/PA)

The process has been mired in controversy since it hit the headlines in 2011 for causing two minor earthquakes in Lancashire, prompting a temporary ban on fracking in the UK.

The ban was later lifted, with controls put in place to prevent tremors, but fracking continues to attract opponents who fear it can also cause water contamination, noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas – a fossil fuel – is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change, and that the focus should be on developing cleaner sources of energy such as renewables.

Why is it backed by the Government?

Imitation fracking rig and drill installed by Greenpeace in Parliament Square, London, with the Houses of Parliament in the background
Greenpeace created an imitation fracking rig and drill in Parliament Square earlier this year (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ministers believe the experience of the US, where shale gas has been widely exploited, shows it could boost tax revenues, create jobs, reduce reliance on energy imports and bring down household fuel bills, although experts have questioned whether it would have any impact on energy prices.

The Government sees gas as key to future energy supplies as it bids to phase out the most polluting electricity source, coal, by 2025, and has said it is going “all out for shale”, with tax breaks and community payments to get the industry going.

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