What is fracking? Fracking Explained

According to a recent BBC news report, Cuadrilla's shale gas reserves in its North West of England licensing area, may be significantly higher than first estimated. As has been the case with this controversial, and often emotive, subject; protests in Manchester followed days afterwards. PIF takes a closer look at what Fracking entails and why it's become such a hot topic.

Article Link: An Expert View on Fracking

It was reported in 2013, by the British Geological Survey, that the North West's Bowland Basin could be harbouring around 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. Cuadrilla's original estimates of 200 tcf, in its license areas alone, has now been significantly upscaled to 330 tcf, it was announced at the recent Shale UK conference.

In his address to the conference, Cuadrilla geologist Huw Clarke, announced that results from two extra test wells, since their first fracking forays in 2011 (which were alleged to have caused small earthquakes around their Preese Hall site), had prompted the revised figures for their overall estimated gas reserves.

The stakes are high; with significant backing from the UK government, not to mention a 25% investment into the Bowland exploration from British Gas owners, Centrica. Whilst protesters voice environmental concerns around the seismic activity and potential groundwater contamination, to name but a few.

It's still unclear how viable shale gas can be, as a source of energy, with some experts asserting that up to 33,000 wells could be needed in Bowland to mirror US fracking models, and Cuadrilla themselves admitting that it could be several years before they know for sure themselves.

We've compiled some useful FAQs, based on data from the British Geological Survey, to help inform your thinking.

What is shale gas?

The British Geological Survey (BGS) says that, “Shale gas is mostly composed of methane. Methane is ‘natural gas’ and is the gas used to generate electricity and for domestic heating and cooking.”

Video: What is shale gas?

What is fracking?

“After initial exploration of the shale deposits, a borehole is drilled into the shale horizon at a carefully selected site,” say the BGS.

“A process called hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') is undertaken. This involves pumping water into isolated sections of the borehole at pressures high enough to fracture the surrounding rock. Sand entrained in the water helps to 'prop' open the fractures, create permeability in the rock and allow the gas to flow into the borehole.”

Video: How do we get shale out of the ground?

Can fracking cause earthquakes?

BGS: “The two main induced earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011 were very small. To put them into context, they were less powerful than some of the earth tremors that have been associated with coal mining in the 1950s and 60s and that occur today.”

Video: Does fracking cause earthquakes?

What risk does Fracking pose to groundwater?

BGS: “There are two potential impacts on groundwater. The first is associated with the supply and consumption of water for fracking as groundwater may be considered as a source of this water. The second is contamination of groundwater. In both cases the regulations that apply to shale gas extraction will require a detailed risk assessment before any authorisation or permit is granted.”

Video: Does Fracking pose a threat to our drinking water?

Can shale gas meet UK energy needs?

BGS: “It is possible that the shale gas resources in the UK are very large. However, despite the size of the resource, the proportion that can be recovered is the critical factor. If the amount of recoverable shale gas does prove to be large this will be a significant indigenous source of gas for the UK and may reduce our reliance on imported gas.”

For more information about fracking visit PIF overview infergraphic, and shale gas, visit the British Geological Survey.

Get the latest process industry news

Interested in receiving even more industry-leading news from Process Industry Forum delivered directly to your inbox? Then sign up to our free newsletter. Bringing you the latest news, trends, innovations and opinion from across the process industry, our exclusive newsletter gives you all the industry insights of the moment in one, easy-to-digest bulletin. Stay ahead of the competition with regular process industry news instalments from PIF.

    Our Partners