FACT: The technique causing such controversy, and the one that everyone is concerned about, is known as High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF), or ‘fracking’ for short. Fracking requires millions of gallons of fresh water, sand and chemicals, is done at very high pressure in vertical and horizontal wells, and is designed to fracture solid shale rock deep underground. HVHF Fracking – which is considered to be a method of unconventional oil and gas extraction – has only been done commercially since about 2007, mainly in the USA, where over a million wells have sinced been fracked.
This is a very different process from the long-used technique of pumping water at low pressure into conventional wells to increase the amount of oil and gas recovered. This technique has been used for decades to stimulate conventional gas wells near the end of their life in order to extend their production, and uses low pressure, very small quantities of water and no dangerous chemicals. It is estimated that about 200 wells in the UK have been subject to this ‘well stimulation’ technique since the 1980s, and is a very different – and much less environmentally damaging – technique to HVHF fracking, which Cuadrilla admitted was the cause of two small earthquakes at Preese Hall in 2011.
This has been confirmed by a letter from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which said: “Cuadrilla is so far the only operator in the UK to use High Volume hydraulic fracturing – this technique was used on the Preese Hall well in Lancashire in 2011.” (Letter Ref: TO2013/15618/RL, 20/08/13)
Click on the link below for the letter itself:
DECC letter confirming only one frack in the UK
Interestingly, this was confirmed in a letter to Peter Lilley MP after an altercation with a Balcombe Resident in 2014 after a Channel 4 interview. You can read details of this, and the letter to Mr Lilley from DECC on the Drill or Drop site.
A related extraction technique is Coal Bed Methane production, which is very similar to fracking, but uses large volumes of high-pressure frack fluid made up of water, sand and chemicals to extract hydrocarbons from coal seams, not shale rock.
Much of this myth hangs on which definition of ‘fracking’ you mean. The global protests about fracking all relate to HVHF fracking, not old-fashioned well stimulation. Yet the shale gas industry and various politicians try to muddy the waters by using ‘fracking’ to describe both techniques, thus implying that the controversial technique of HVHF fracking has been used for decades, which is not the case.
A good example of the industry spin around the word ‘fracking’ is Wytch Farm, in Poole, Dorset, which is the centre of Europe’s biggest oil field. Many supporters of HVHF fracking have cited Wytch farm as a model of responsible fracking, including an article in the Telegraph. However, there are very clear differences between Wytch Farm and the HVHF fracking that is causing such environmental problems elsewhere.
Firstly, Wytch Farm is a conventional oil and gas field, from which the hydrocarbons flow freely, and does not produce oil or gas by blasting high-pressure frack fluid into tight shale rock or coal seams. Of the 199 wells drilled at Wytch Farm not a single one is classified as either Coal Bed Methane or Shale Gas. Also the oil field is actually out at sea, and is accessed via a series of horizontal wells drilled from the 18-hectare well-site in Poole Harbour. Finally, what well-stimulation that has occurred there to extend the life of the wells has been with sea water injected at low pressure, with no added chemicals. This is very different to HVHF fracking, which has never been done at Wytch Farm.
So, when you hear someone say that ‘fracking has been done in the UK for decades’, ask them what they mean by ‘fracking’!
Which brings us on to one of the most popular myths of all …