…That is the question.” Judging by a few recent emails this is a subject which seems to be exercising some residents. So what is it and does it present a threat?
Certainly there is no shortage of material online as a Google search revealed. Less easy was separating the serious scientific writings from the conspiracy sites, many of them little more than blogs with anonymous postings. Put simply, fracking is the injection of high pressure water containing sand and other chemicals into deep rock to stimulate the release of petroleum and natural gas. Fracturing of hard rock was first carried out in 1860 using nitro-glycerine with a patent granted to Col. Edward Roberts in 1865 and in the 1930s with acid but the first experiment with high pressure water took place in 1947 and was commercially applied in 1950. It involves drilling vertically to the hydrocarbon bearing strata and then horizontally so that the liquid can be introduced. When the pressure is released the fractures remain open allowing the gas to flow.
Proponents of fracking argue that it is essential for energy security as well as facilitating economic growth with low energy costs. Opponents argue that it causes pollution, contaminates the water table and might cause earth tremors. After we strip away the hyperbole what is left? Firstly, we need a reliable source of energy and whilst we can complain that new nuclear power stations were not commissioned years ago, that does not address today’s problem. High energy prices mean high bills which have the greatest impact on those least able to pay and jeopardise the jobs of those in energy dependent industry. So-called ‘green’ levies add to the prices we pay. Secondly, we cannot ignore any consequences of fracking and need to avoid the cowboy operations which seem to have caused some of the problems experienced in the United States. Water contamination could occur unless there are restrictions on the types of chemicals used and EU Directives impose limits on hydrocarbon contamination of water from private supplies which serve about 250 properties in the Penistone area. Any so affected might reasonably expect those conducting the operation to provide an alternative uncontaminated mains supply.
We do not know how practical fracking would be in former mining areas where the strata has shifted due to subsidence or at what level oil prices would need to be for it to become commercially viable. Permission has recently been granted for fracking in North Yorkshire and we wait to see if the operation will succeed or if the valid concerns of opponents will be vindicated. Concerns must be taken but we cannot oppose all progress for fear of unintended consequences. If there had been no progress in the past then I would be scratching this column onto parchment with a goose quill and you would be reading it by the light of a flickering candle!