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Frack Off! But Where To?

Only someone who has spent the last five years in the remote Amazon rainforest could be unaware of the influence of unconventional hydrocarbon resources on the economy of the United States.
This article appeared in Vol. 10, No. 4 - 2013

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Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011.  The shale gas/tight oil boom means that the country is on the verge of self-sufficiency and possibly energy security, and is soon to be overtaken by China as the world’s largest importer of oil.

Yet even though the US has benefitted from this boom, there is still considerable opposition, particularly to fracking. Several states, including New York, New Jersey and Vermont, have passed laws prohibiting the practice – despite the fact that it has been undertaken for decades. Impassioned arguments are being put forward about the possible environmental and health effects resulting from shale gas and tight oil extraction.

The frenzy has now passed to Europe, with France leading European nations with a complete ban on fracking. In the UK, despite support for shale gas extraction from the government, attempts to drill an exploration well in southern England have been frustrated by large groups of protesters, vehemently opposed to fracking – even though the procedure may not actually be used at the site. The media are having a field day reporting how local people are worried about wildlife, pollution, flaring, spreading industrial sites, water use, escalating atmospheric carbon, oil company profits… the list continues. However, there has been little discussion about the fact that shale gas has much less CO2 and H2S than other forms of natural gas, and emits 50% less carbon than coal. Using locally produced shale gas reduces the amount of oil being transported around the world in ships, which burn the ‘dirtiest’ fuel available. And is it better to use fuel extracted under strict, transparent environmental and safety regulations, or import supplies from countries where less attention is given to these matters?

We cannot deny that there are issues associated with fracking – as there are with any large scale industrial process, particularly one at the cutting edge of technology and concerned with a vital aspect of life, the provision of power. We need constant, intelligent, informed debate, not only over the pros and cons, but about the alternatives – with the possible exception of nuclear energy, no one has yet come up with a viable, long term alternative to fossil fuel.

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