What exactly is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as it’s now commonly known, is not a new technology. It was invented in 1947 and has been standard practice for much of the world’s oil and gas extraction since then. Of the 2,000 conventional wells drilled onshore in the UK since the Second World War, around 200 of these have used fracking without incident. Fracking works by injecting a mixture of water and sand with a small amount of disclosed chemicals into shale rock under high pressure. This causes the rock to fracture, releasing the oil and gas trapped inside, which is then pumped to the surface.
How established is fracking?
Though it has only recently come to the attention of the general public, hydraulic fracturing is in fact an established technology, first developed in the 1940s. Over 200 wells in the UK have safely used fracking to access oil and gas over the last 30 years. It is a highly regulated and safe industry and while the technique that is being discussed in the media today uses higher pressures and more water – it is still the same technology.
What chemicals are involved in the fracking process?
99% of fracking fluid is made up of water and sand. Beyond this a very limited number of chemicals are used that are familiar to most of us, such as citric acid, guar gum (a common food additive, used to suspend the sand in the fluid), and even common table salt. The fracking fluid is only used during the drilling period and will be recovered and recycled. Once the well moves to the production phase, fracking fluid is no longer used or required. The composition of the fluid that is used will also be publicly available in line with recent regulation.
Current regulations require full disclosure of chemicals used in the process to the relevant authorities. IGas intends to publish all chemicals used and a full list will be made available via this website when they are used.
Chemical substances are also registered and approved under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation.
Where are the fracking and flow-back fluids stored?
All waste water is stored onsite in secure steel tanks and then sent to water treatment plants where it’s recycled. This is a highly regulated process in the UK under the Environment Agency and has been happening safely at our onshore oil and gas sites for many years. It is also different from the USA, where water has been gathered in large open pits.
What percentage of the fracking fluid is recovered?
Between 25 and 75% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, this in then recycled onsite in a secure water tank and taken by truck to a water treatment plant. The water that returns from the well is likely to contain small quantities of minerals that have dissolved into the water from the shale rock.
How is the fracking fluid cleaned and disposed of?
The water and fluid is recycled onsite in a secure water tank and taken by truck to a water treatment plant, a process regulated by the Environment Agency.
What type of gas is extracted using fracking?
Natural gas. The same type of gas that heats our homes and that we’ve been extracting from the North Sea and also onshore in the UK over decades.
Does fracking require flaring?
The oil and gas industry avoids flaring and venting natural gas wherever possible. Natural gas is a valuable both economically and as an energy resource. It is therefore in the best interests of operators to be as efficient as possible and to deliver every cubic foot of production possible to customers.
There are, however a number of situations where flaring and venting are necessary. Flaring is most importantly used as a safety mechanism at oil and gas facilities to remove gas safely prior to plant maintenance, or if there is a problem with the facility. In some cases, very small amounts of natural gas are flared if it is not economically viable to build a pipeline or other infrastructure to bring it to market; for example when very small amounts of natural gas are found in conjunction with oil deposits.
How is flaring regulated?
Flaring and venting of methane and other emissions are heavily controlled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
Has fracking been done in the UK prior to Cuadrilla’s attempt in Blackpool in 2011, which caused two earthquakes?
Yes. Over two hundred wells have been fracked in the UK to release oil and gas. However, the fracking in Blackpool and Fylde was the first of shale rock formations in the UK.
The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering explained the incident like this:
“The most likely cause of the events was the transmission of injected fluid to a nearby (but previously unidentified) pre-stressed fault, reducing the effective stress to the point where the fault slipped and released its stored energy. The energy released was several orders of magnitude greater than the microseismic energy associated with routine hydraulic fracturing.”
Are the regulations on fracking tougher here than in the States?
Yes, the regulatory system in the UK is arguably the toughest in the world. In the US each state sets its own rules and regulations meaning there is a much less cohesive system. In the UK, we are strictly regulated by several bodies, including the Department for
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minerals Planning Authorities, Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.
Does fracking cause earthquakes?
After more than a million wells have been fracked worldwide, only a handful of noticeable seismic readings have ever occurred. Durham University’s definitive survey of all induced earthquakes over many decades concluded that “almost all of the resultant seismic activity (from fracking) was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it” and that mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage causes more and bigger tremors. The tremor in Blackpool was the equivalent to someone jumping off a ladder, according to experts at Durham University.
Has IGas been responsible for any recorded tremors in the UK?
How is IGas ensuring that there won’t be a repeat of the tremors seen in Blackpool in 2011?
If we do get the relevant permissions to hydraulically fracture for gas then we will be operating under very strict guidelines that include monitoring before, during and after any drilling.
We will undertake real-time seismic monitoring that is used to operate a traffic-light warning system. The thresholds set for this system are extremely low, meaning that any operations will be halted if a seismic movement of a local magnitude greater than 0.5 is detected. This is well below the level that could be felt at the surface and is similar to that caused by vehicles, trains and farming activities. In fact it is smaller than the maximum ground motion granted to other commercial activities.
Do IGas’ operations risk damaging local property?
No. All our operations have to go through numerous regulatory assessments and must meet the highest standards before they receive the permits, licenses and approval required for any activity to take place. Many of our sites have been part of the community for over forty years and are testament to the safety of Britain’s onshore industry.
The Association of British Insurers, representing 90% of household insurers, is satisfied that exploring for gas onshore will not harm homes and that the process of fracking itself should have no bearing on an individual’s or a business’s ability to get insurance or mortgages.
Will the new gas production cause subsidence?
No. This process does not remove large quantities of rock from underground, like coal mining for example. There are no documented cases of shale operations, either exploration or production, causing subsidence.
How can you be sure that the fluid you inject into wells won’t contaminate groundwater?
Hydraulic fracturing has been used in over two million wells worldwide since the 1940s and studies have found no historical cases in which the fluid injected into wells has contaminated drinking water; this has been confirmed by the UK Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.
As confirmed by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, the fractures created by the hydraulic fracturing process are very unlikely to extend more than one kilometre. Given that hydraulic fracturing in shale takes place at depths of several thousands of metres, or even several kilometres, there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing poses any risk to water aquifers, which are usually found at depths no greater than 200 metres.
With regard to drilling through the aquifer itself, this is something that the British onshore oil and gas industry has been doing safely for decades. The well design (steel casings cemented in situ) is designed to ensure that the aquifers are protected. This process is overseen by the key Regulators (BEIS, Environment Agency and the HSE).
Have there been any cases where fracking liquid or produced water have leaked into the water table?
Shale gas formations are typically found much deeper underground than conventional oil and gas sources. In the UK, hydrocarbon extraction will therefore be taking place at a depth a long way from groundwater so as to ensure that the possibility of any fractures extending into aquifers is negligible.
We’ve seen the video of a man igniting tap water in the US – is this going to happen here?
The simple answer is no. The total number of aquifers that have been found to be polluted by either fracking fluid or methane gas as a result of fracking in the US is zero. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States closed its investigation at Dimock, Pennsylvania, concluding there was no evidence of contamination. The phenomenon of flammable water depicted in the film Gaslands occurs wherever water aquifers encounter naturally occurring bio-methane underground. And the phenomenon of gas coming from the tap occurred a long time before drilling and fracking ever took place, but by the time this was established the connection between flammable tap water and fracking had already been made. It has since become an urban myth.
Doesn’t fracking use huge quantities of water?
It does of course use some water but just so we are clear, the quantity of water required to frack an onshore shale well is broadly the same amount used to irrigate the typical British golf course each month – and there are over 7,500 of those across the UK. This is also equivalent to the amount of water needed to run a 1,000MW coal-fired power plant for just 12 hours. It is also worth noting that we always work with the local water companies to monitor and ensure water usage is kept to a minimum.
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