Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing, to give it its full name – is the UK’s hottest ongoing energy battlefield. Protests break out almost everywhere that exploratory drilling is due to start. There is considerable opposition to a fracking bonanza in the UK.
Its advocates, which include significant sections of the Coalition government, point to the fracking-led oil and gas boom in the US as showing the UK’s potential for generating cheap fuel, while creating loads of jobs in the process.
They even suggest that an abundance of fracked fuel will help the UK cut its carbon emissions. Meanwhile, they routinely downplay its risks and hazards.
Opponents, however, claim the US experience shows it to be a short-term distraction from our urgent need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels – and a very expensive, debt-fuelled, environmentally-damaging, water-contaminating distraction at that.
Indeed, the high cost of drilling – the result of each well’s short life-span – has ensured the US fracking industry is saddled with high levels of debt and depressed assets, which is in turn becoming a major drag on continued exploration. Exactly how much of a drag is not clear as the US fracking industry inhabits a regulation-free zone obscured by an enormous corporate PR cocoon.
In addition to this, many of the costs associated with fossil fuels are externalised and are otherwise hidden by tax breaks, subsidies and incentives. And that when these costs are added to the equation, fossil fuel production actually becomes more expensive than the still relatively fledgeling renewable alternatives.
Meanwhile, here’s an interesting piece on the London School of Economics blog about how US coal production, far from being displaced by the shale oil and gas boom, is enjoying an export boom. And where’s the coal being exported to? The likes of Britain and India. Excellent!