TOPIC GUIDE: Fracking
"The UK must embrace the use of fracking"
PUBLISHED: 22 Aug 2014
AUTHOR: Rossa Minogue and Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng
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Amidst global concerns regarding energy security and climate change, the issue of Fracking has come to the fore, and become one of the most controversial political issues in the UK today. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a technique of extracting oil and gas by forcing large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure causing tiny fractures in rocks far below the surface, and allowing gas and oil deposits trapped within to be released [Ref: BBC News]. Invented in the United States in 1947, it has been used an estimated 2.5 million times around the world [Ref: Wikipedia] and advocates, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, argue the technique could boost the UK economy by creating an abundance of cheap energy [Ref: Telegraph] as well as creating thousands of jobs [Ref: The Times]. In the midst of fears that conventional oil reserves may soon peak, fracking could ensure energy security for generations to come, some argue [Ref: Bloomberg]. Whilst others feel that fracking is fundamental to continued economic and social development: “The production and supply of energy was grasped in terms of the extent to which it emancipated people, the extent to which it freed them up to realise ever expanding objectives, from flight to electricity grids. In a sense, our civilisation, such as it is, is based on power” [Ref spiked]. Opponents dismiss these arguments though, and claim that the potential environmental impact of fracking far outweighs any economic benefits. These critics argue the process has been known to cause minor earth tremors, and some fear it could trigger severe earthquakes [Ref: BBC News]. More broadly, they observe that at a time when we should be turning to alternative, low-carbon energy sources to combat climate change, fracking encourages a continued reliance on fossil fuels [Ref: Guardian].
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Fracking DEBATE IN CONTEXT
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.
Fracking has been used in the UK’s off-shore drilling operations in the North Sea since the 1970’s, but the process was banned from June 2011 to April 2012 after onshore fracking was cited as the likely cause of a minor earthquake in Lancashire [Ref: BBC News], and Germany currently has a ban on fracking [Ref: The Times]. However, a report by The Royal Society stated that the UK moratorium should be lifted because: “Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used in the oil and gas industries for many decades” [Ref: The Royal Society]. Opponents however, argue that there is a: “...moral responsibility” to tackle climate change for the sake of future generations [Ref: Guardian], and that a move towards fracking detracts from developing and using low carbon renewable energy sources [Ref: Independent]. Fracking produces large amounts of toxic waste, they argue, including methane, and all fracking wells eventually suffer leakages of chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, with 6% of wells leaking immediately [Ref: Guardian], having catastrophic consequences for the environment and wildlife [Ref: BBC News]. They also point to the fact that waste from fracking sites has been known to contaminate drinking water [Ref: Huffington Post], resulting in recorded cases of people becoming seriously ill [Ref: The Times]. In opposition to these arguments, others note that: “Nothing is completely risk free” and as such, suggest that these concerns are not reason enough to reject fracking outright [Ref: Reason]. Moreover, according to some: “Natural gas from fracking actually benefits the environment” [Ref: Guardian], and evidence from a recent IPCC report is cited to substantiate this view [Ref: Telegraph]. In addition, new techniques have refined the process of fracking, and it is noted that in the United States, fracking fluid can now be recycled so that it can be used at multiple drilling sites [Ref: Forbes], and waste fluid is stored deep in the ground, and is unlikely to leak into the water table [Ref: The Royal Society]. Others take a more balanced view, and accept that whilst fracking would increase the UK’s contribution to global emissions, shale gas emits far less carbon dioxide than coal, and if done safely, and implemented along with carbon capture technology, gas can be used: “...as a bridge to a low carbon future” [Ref: Guardian], a view supported by Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change [Ref: Gov.UK].
The United States is often cited as an example of fracking success; moving from a net importer of gas to a net exporter [Ref: The Times], and has recently overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading exporter of gas and oil [Ref: Telegraph]. In light of this, supporters state that fracking for gas is imperative for the UK’s energy security, as it would protect us from overseas price shocks brought on by global events [Ref: Telegraph]. Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed the fracking industry could create as many as 64,000 jobs in the UK and has the potential to drive domestic energy prices down [Ref: Telegraph], as well as fuelling up to £6 billion of inward UK investment in the coming years [Ref: Guardian]. Fracking will be beneficial for local communities advocates claim, suggesting that councils could raise up to £3 million each year through fracking rights, which they could use to lower council tax and fund community schemes [Ref: The Times]. Supporters also cite the fact that the United States has seen a 25% reduction in household gas bills in recent years as a result of having home grown energy [Ref: The Times], although, it should be noted, Chancellor George Osborne has suggested the same reduction in domestic energy bills may not happen in the UK in the short term [Ref: BBC News]. However, many of the claims made about the economic benefits of fracking have been called into question [Ref: New Statesman], with one eminent scientist calling claims that fracking will lower domestic bills: “...Baseless economics” [Ref: Independent]. Critics are keen to characterise arguments about the economic benefits of fracking as being purely hypothetical, pointing out that the projections of gas reserves in the UK are still unproven, and even if correct, they may be beyond the reach of current extraction methods [Ref: New Statesman]. And most strikingly, as a retort to the economic benefits argument, one commentator states bluntly that, “...we can’t put a price on the environment. The air, the water, the land – these are precious resources which we must conserve, if we are to leave a habitable world to future generations” [Ref: New Statesman].
Frack to the future?
The fracking debate also raises broader social issues beyond economic and energy concerns, with some stating that: “Anti-fracking zealots are the enemies of progress” [Ref: Telegraph]. Proponents of fracking in the UK assert that finding new and innovative ways of extracting natural resources is fundamental to human development, and something to support on principle. Risk aversion is at the heart of anti-fracking sentiment they claim, with one commentator observing, as evidence of this outlook, that: “They say coal is dirty, and normal oil production might overheat the planet. Hydroelectric dams kill fish. Nuclear plants could suffer meltdowns. Windmills kill birds” [Ref: Reason]. But anti-frackers dismiss these claims, and suggest a better use of new technological developments would be to invest in renewable industries such as off-shore wind, which currently receive six times less in subsidies than fossil fuels, and accuse supporters of propagating a: “...fracking fairytale” [Ref: Huffington Post]. Even if we move towards fracking, they argue, it will be up to 5 years before we even know if the shale reserves in the UK are viable [Ref: Independent] and they criticise supporters for failing to note the differences between the UK and the US; there are 8 times more people per square mile in the UK, thus making the exploration process vastly different to that in the US [Ref: Guardian], and subject to the concerns of far more local communities [Ref: New Statesman]. So, where does the balance lie; are the economic and energy benefits simply too large to ignore? Is fracking an example of human ingenuity and progress, or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, and ultimately, a hindrance to tackling climate change? Should the UK embrace the use of fracking?
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
Tom Greatrex New Statesman 17 December 2013
John Vidal Guardian 19 August 2013
Tim Black spiked 27 March 2014
Tony Allwright The Times 2 March 2014
Chris Faulkner Guardian 19 December 2013
David Cameron Telegraph 11 August 2013
Boris Johnson Telegraph 9 December 2012
Natalie Hynde Guardian 26 February 2014
Bianca Jagger New Statesman 19 September 2013
George Monbiot Guardian 19 August 2013
Natalie Bennett Huffington Post 27 July 2013
Robin Russell Jones Independent 23 July 2013
Peter Foster and Alastair Good Telegraph 25 November 2013
Economist 16 November 2013
Ed Davey GOV.UK 9 September 2013
Tim Rayment The Times 4 August 2013
Christopher Bateman Vanity Fair 21 June 2010
Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
The Times 20 July 2014
The Times 24 April 2014
John Stossel Reason 13 March 2014
Tom Bawden Independent 13 March 2014
Suzanne Goldenberg Guardian 26 February 2014
David Blackmon Forbes 10 February 2014
Anne Perkins Guardian 5 February 2014
Chris Huhne Guardian 26 January 2014
Fiona Harvey Guardian 24 January 2014
Paul Stevens Guardian 19 January 2014
Misha Glenny Financial Times 17 January 2014
Alice Thomson The Times 15 January 2014
Jim Pickard and Guy Chazan Financial Times 13 January 2014
The Times 12 December 2013
Caroline Lucas Guardian 16 October 2013
The Times 15 October 2013
Tim Stone Guardian 9 September 2013
George Monbiot Guardian 30 August 2013
Telegraph 19 August 2013
Zoe Williams Guardian 15 August 2013
BBC News 27 July 2013
Heidi Vella New Statesman 23 July 2013
Tony Juniper Independent 28 June 2013
Royal Society 1 June 2012
Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.
IN THE NEWS
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
Guardian 28 July 2014
Telegraph 22 July 2014
BBC News 23 May 2014
BBC News 20 May 2014
Energy and Technology Magazine 19 May 2014
Bloomberg 5 May 2014
The Times 29 April 2014
Huffington Post 24 April 2014
Guardian 24 April 2014
BBC News 24 April 2014
The Times 23 April 2014
The Times 18 April 2014
Telegraph 13 April 2014
Telegraph 13 April 2014
Guardian 12 April 2014
Guardian 25 March 2014
Telegraph 23 March 2014
BBC News 13 March 2014
The Times 6 March 2014
Guardian 31 January 2014
Russia Today 13 January 2014
Independent 8 January 2014
Energy Voice 18 September 2013
Independent 3 September 2013
BBC News 2 November 2011
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