One of the key topics at the moment regarding the future of global energy revolves around the extraction of gas from shale formations through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. There is a vigorous and strongly polarised debate between pro- and anti-fracking campaigners, based around environmental concerns. Many of the issues raised though are just ill-informed crap. The media are partially to blame for this, as well as the ridiculously naff Gaslands viral ‘documentary’, ironically so as it is devoid of any actual facts.
The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) have recently released a review of environmental risks associated with fracking, and concluding, despite it being in no way their position to, that shale gas extraction should go ahead in the UK. The Geological Society recently held a shale gas briefing meeting where gas extraction was discussed purely in a geoscientific context. What these both provided, adversely to so much of the material out on the interwebz, is evidence. What they both seem to at least imply, is that fracking CAN be done. What they don’t address is the question of whether it SHOULD be done, in alignment with the plans to decarbonise UK industry and forge a Green Economy in the UK to mitigate climate change. Despite this, the debate between many parties continues about environmental risks. Although not all have been addressed, many of the ‘big ones’ have, and subsequently demonstrated to be non-issues.
This is a slightly different post to the usual, you know, fossils and shit. It concerns the psychology behind climate change and mobilising towards a green future. Now this is by no means my area of expertise, but when I attended a talk recently by Oliver James at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, entitled “Our Mad World”, it really struck a chord with me. As a young research scientist, considering the psychology behind the science is really quite tangential to what I’ve been taught, and not something I’ve ever considered in detail. James gave a wonderful talk (without using PowerPoint, bonus!), and the way in which he spoke and delivered his message really resonated with the attendees.
The extraction of shale gas both in the UK and globally is currently one of the hot topics of environmental science. A vigorous debate exists between industrial companies who wish to pursue extraction of methane through a process of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and environmental groups who are insistent that methane extraction will be detrimental to the environment in numerous ways. This debate is largely fuelled by the persistent coverage of the negative aspects of fracking, as well as perhaps a sense of distrust towards the hydrocarbon industry. However, what is ubiquitous in these debates is a general lack of understanding of the core geoscience and technical aspects of extraction. This information is required, not just for governing bodies and industrial organisations to have an empirical foundation for actions, but also to engender a sense of public confidence through transparency and recognition of a scientifically rigorous basis.
Yesterday, this intern was fortunate enough to attend a Parliamentary Committee meeting on Higher Education Reforms, with the Rt Hon (innit) David Willetts MP. Most people reading this will probably recognise him as the current champion for pushing open access in Government policy with the Finch Committee, so seeing him in the flesh was a starry-eyed moment for me. The proceedings were concerned with the White Paper on Higher Education Reform, published November 2011, and the subsequent consultation responses (dispatched on April 5, 2012). As the Geological Society have an input into geoscientific education in the UK, I attended to see if any of the issues we had addressed were raised.
These are my notes from a seminar I attended last night. Anyone interested in shale gas and fracking should find them of interest. The event was recorded, and will hopefully arrive online in the near future.
Speaker: Richard Davies, Professor of Energy at Durham University, and Director of the Durham Energy Institute
Title: Risks and realities: shale gas, geology, and public opinion
‘Fracking’ is the process of induced hydraulic fracturing to extract methane gas from sub-surface shales. Recently, this process has been adopted by companies in the UK such as Cuadrilla, but the techniques have been met by public, media, and professional opposition. This is partly due to previous issues such as groundwater contamination in the US, and microseismicity induced by Cuadrilla in Lancashire when conducting a pilot test. What has become apparent is the lack of effective regulatory regimes, and their management, as well as a general paucity in empirical backing to the processes and risks. These issues need to be addressed before further shale gas exploration and extraction is conducted.