Posted at 01 March 2018

Separating Frack from Friction

Paul Skade
By Richard Ludlam
Marketing Manager

Intrigued by all things engineering, as a youngster I originally looked to understand how things work then, how to make them work better.

After time in eng...

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There's an area where fracking is really going off the seismic scale - and it can be witnessed whenever the opposing forces of its anti and pro lobbies clash.

 

In Balcombe, Sussex, the battle lines were drawn between the drilling company Cuadrilla and the anti-fracking protesters. As far as the latter were concerned, it could have been the town-munching Godzilla they were preparing to fight, a company that wasn't so much trying to earn a crust as wickedly undermine the earth's crust.

Much of the media coverage voiced the fears of the plucky little band fighting to save the planet from oblivion; toxic chemicals polluting the water, the high risk of earthquakes, the industrialised disruption to the sleepy, peaceful hamlet of Balcombe. 

The problem being, of course, that no fracking was taking place. The site was being drilled conventionally, with the aim of gauging potential oil reserves in that part of the Weald Basin. So it was all a great deal of fuss over nothing.

At least, that's what the pro-frackers would have you believe. And that's how their backers in the media reported it. 

The truth - as is so often the case - lies somewhere between the two opposing points of view. Any substantial discoveries might well lead to a decision to use fracking. But even then, fracking can only proceed when any applications to the Environment Agency are approved.

The real problem here is that when people take up opposing positions within an argument, their aim changes from seeking ways to finding a solution to finding ways to win the argument. Each side will deliberately ignore any facts that might endanger their chances of emerging triumphant. And each side digs in, immovable, irrevocably resistant to any calls for a more amicable approach. 

As another example of this phenomenon, anti-frackers recently gleefully announced that an article published in Science magazine has found fracking is accompanied by an increase in quakes triggered by distant seismic events. 

In fact the report stated that, although over 100,000 wells across the US have been subjected to fracking in recent years, the largest induced earthquake recorded was 
too small to pose a serious risk, being of a magnitude of 3.6. However, the report went on to say, wastewater is often injected into a nearby disposal well. And due to the weakening of a pre-existing fault through elevating the fluid pressure, several of the largest earthquakes in the US midcontinent in 2011 and 2012 may have been triggered by these disposal wells. (Thankfully, this is extremely rare.)

So, in their briefings to the media, the anti-frackers deliberately fail to mention the existence and inherent problems of a second kind of well. And in their briefings to the media, the pro-fracking lobby, quoting the safety record of the 100,000 fracking wells, also fail to mention the existence and inherent problems of a second kind of well. 

Is this really the way to debate and arrive at workable solutions to Britain's growing energy problems? Shouldn't we be talking purely in terms of science and technology, rather than taking up positions more akin to sci-fi and theology?

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