Fracking: Total invests £30m in controversial shale sector
Environmental campaigners attack plans, but what exactly is fracking and why is it so controversial?
FRENCH energy giant Total has today announced plans to invest in Britain's shale gas sector, a deal believed to be worth £30m.
The company has bought a 40 per cent stake in two exploration licences in the Gainsborough Trough, a geological basin in Lincolnshire, east England and will help fund the site's exploration programme. But environmental campaigners have attacked the plans, accusing the UK government of ignoring the risks of fracking, the process used to extract gas from shale rock beneath the ground.
What exactly is fracking?
The process involves drilling down into the earth and injecting shale rock with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas inside. The word "fracking" is short for hydraulic fracturing. Recent estimates suggested there could be as much as 1,300tn cubic feet of shale gas lying under 11 counties in central and northern England. This would equate to more than 500 years of gas supply for the UK. However, no fracking is currently taking place and drilling firms must apply for a licence if they wish to carry out the process in the future.
Why is it so controversial?
Environmental campaigners have raised concerns about the huge amounts of water needed to carry out fracking and are worried that the process can cause small earth tremors, such as the two small earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude that hit the Blackpool area in 2011. Another concern is that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. Campaigners believe the government should invest in renewable energy rather than continuing to rely on fossil fuels. The industry says the small number of pollution incidents seen in the United States, where fracking is used extensively, is down to bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique. The potential use of fracking in the UK has led to protests around the country.
What is the significance of the Total investment?
It is the first major oil company to invest in Britain's fledgling shale sector, says the Financial Times, and the deal will be seen as "a big vote of confidence" for the industry, which is being heavily promoted by a government keen to replicate the success of the US shale boom on British soil.
Will the Total deal spark more protests?
Hundreds of protesters turned out at a fracking site in Barton Mass, Greater Manchester, yesterday. But their efforts seem unlikely to halt the tide of interest among corporations and the government, says The Guardian. Other energy giants seem likely to follow in the footsteps of Total, says the newspaper, with whispers that Chevron, Conoco and Shell could soon follow.
How is the government promoting fracking?
The most recent drive to promote the shale industry came today from Prime Minister David Cameron. He pledged to allow English local authorities to take all the business rates collected from shale gas schemes – rather than the usual 50 per cent. The government says these projects will support 74,000 jobs and reduce energy bills, but Greenpeace described it as "a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard-pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area". ·