Fracking, the future of UK business energy?
In research recently published by the Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology, scientists based at Durham University’s Energy Institute have found that the seismic activity generated by the controversial process of induced hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is negligible.
In 2011, the UK fracking industry came under scrutiny after a minor earthquake in Lancashire was attributed to local shale gas operations. But with research concluding that the dangers of fracking are outweighed by the benefits, and the announcement in the Government’s latest budget of incentives for the recovery of shale gas, it looks like fracking may soon provide a crucial UK business energy resource. But what is fracking and will it provide a viable alternative to dwindling North Sea gas reserves and the UK’s over-reliance on imported fossil fuels? Induced hydraulic fracturing is a process by which underground seams are split open to release the natural resources contained within. A well-bore is drilled in to reservoir rock formations and a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped in to the seam, forcing the rocks apart and propelling the fuel towards the surface. Previously inaccessible underground reservoirs of petroleum oil and a variety of naturally occurring gases, the most common being shale gas, can now be extracted from the ground. But what sort of impact will this have on global fuel supplies? With the steady decline in global oil and coal reserves, shale gas is an abundant and increasingly vital resource. In the US alone, shale gas now accounts for around 20% of the country’s natural gas supply, a rise of 19% since 2000. With a significantly lower CO2 content compared to coal and oil, increased usage of natural gas saw US Carbon emissions dip to a 20 year low in 2012. Although this may appear to be good news for the environment, activists warn that investment in fracking may divert resources from research in to sustainable, carbon neutral energy projects. Perhaps the most unpredictable outcome of fracking is the influence it will have on energy prices. With the government’s long-term commitment to the development of the fracking industry, the UK may once again have a profitable national fuel supply. A 2011 study by Rice University, Texas has suggested that the expansion of the shale gas industry will loosen the stranglehold which Russia and the Middle East has on natural gas and limit the power they have in dictating export prices to Europe. Although fracking is likely to remain a divisive issue for the foreseeable future, in the long run it may prove a vital boon for British industry and a welcome respite from the yearly increase in imported gas prices. Here at the Utility Helpline, we will be keeping a close eye on the development of the fracking industry and the impact it has on UK business energy prices.
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