The first shipment of shale gas arrived at the Ineos plant in Scotland early last week, amid a heated debate on the potential environmental impact of shale fracking in the UK.
Shale fracking is a term which refers to the process of drilling into the Earth in order to release shale gas, which is usually inaccessible beneath the Earth’s surface. In exchange, a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals is inserted into the space where the drilled shale rock is removed.
The shipment was imported from the United States and contained 27,500m3 of ethane from Pennsylvania shale fields. It is the first import of fracked shale to arrive in the UK.
A debate regarding the environmental impacts of fracking has been constant in both Scottish and English Parliaments since importing shale from the US to be used in the UK’s energy sector was proposed.
Experts have claimed that the carcinogenic chemicals used in the process of fracking shale gas could potentially be threatening to the underground habitat where water can be contaminated. This would create strenuous conditions in the groundwater arena.
Not only could a liquid solution be created as a result of fracking, but also physical tremors that have already been observed back in 2011. Tests on shale gas fracking were conducted near Blackpool, in Lancashire, where two earthquakes of magnitudes 1.5 and 2.2 were recorded. The test fracking operations were consequently suspended following advice from a government-appointed panel.
Campaigners against fracking have also criticised the UK Government for their concern over the controversial practice, claiming it is being used as a distraction from the lengthy search for the most sustainable energy solutions.
Politicians have also shown their discomfort with importing shale to be used in the energy sector. Labour Party MP Barry Gardiner, said to the BBC: “Fracking locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy.”
However fracking has been a core source of energy for almost a century, in the US and Canada.
Some believe that the positive aspects of fracking are enough to balance the issues it presents to environmental sustainability. Experts argue that because fracking only emits half the amount of CO2 that coal does, it is a better alternative to fossil fuel productions. They also suggest that the method of fracking allows access to oil and gas that would, by standard resource-extraction procedures, be more difficult to draw out.
Upon the arrival of the US shipment, CEO of Ineos, Jim Ratcliffe told the BBC: “This is simply about the renewal plan for Grangemouth. Grangemouth has always relied upon the North Sea for its raw materials and the North Sea is in decline…so this is all about securing those 10,000 jobs and maintaining a profitable facility here in Grangemouth and it’s been very successful.”
Ineos spokespeople backed up Ratcliffe’s views to the BBC, continuously emphasising how bringing in shale gas could support the economy as it has in the US. They also pointed out that the UK has shale potential for the future, according to research Ineos has produced. Their reports allegedly demonstrate pockets of shale in areas including South and North Yorkshire, Lancashire and across Scotland.
Ratcliffe highlighted his belief that fracking has proved to be successful in America, and that it has been so for many years: “It’s a safe industry and it produces extremely competitive energy and raw materials and chemicals,” he said.