Political fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing — the process of drilling water, sand and chemicals into a hole in the ground to create cracks through which gas and/or oil will flow — is not new. But the debate on how it affects the landscape above and below ground level is hotting up in the UK as the government presses ahead in its continued support for the shale industry.

UK Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt has resigned from her role as parliamentary aide because the coalition she belonged to supports the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). And the Scottish government yesterday announced a moratorium on planning consents for unconventional oil and gas developments. But is it an unnecessary evil or a safe and valuable energy source, and will the government keep its positive stance on fracking in the run-up to the general election if public opinion itself becomes more fractious?

The UK’s Green Party argues the general direction we all need to be moving towards is sustainable energy. It claims that fracking will increase climate change, put communities at risk and will not lead to lower energy bills.

Fracking uses a lot of water, which must be transported to the site, and one concern is that the water will become contaminated by the chemicals involved in the process. Another worry is that fracking causes earthquakes, according to the Seismological Society of America. But it maintains that fracking rarely causes earthquakes that are felt by humans, and pro-fracking seismologists might argue coal mining has been linked to earthquakes for years.

UK citizens are also concerned about increased traffic as a result of fracking operations, as well as the ensuing noise, not to mention the perceived lack of compensation to landowners should shale be discovered under their property.

But advocates of fracking say that it has a place in our future energy needs. It will contribute to the UK’s energy security, is cleaner than coal, and, in the US at least, has driven down gas prices. The Department of Energy and Climate Change cites a review from the Royal Society in 2012 that says: “The health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.”

With a general election coming up in May, and a recent increase in poll ratings and membership by the Green Party — which claims it is the only major party fighting fracking — it will be interesting to see if the coalition gives in to public opinion to gain votes, or risks alienating the electorate by holding fast with its pro-fracking policy.

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