Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas trapped in hard shale rock by drilling into it and creating small explosions to release the gas. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure, which allows the gas to be released, captured and stored above ground. It is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing and refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high pressure mixture.
Although there are potentially huge hitherto untapped sources of natural gas the process has caused controversy:
- There are concerns that potentially carcinogenic chemicals can sometimes escape and find their way into drinking water sources.
- Some American householders also claim that shale gas leaking into their drinking supply causes tap water to ignite.
- In the UK, energy company Quadrilla’s test fracking operations triggered two minor earthquakes on the Lancashire coast in June 2011.
Fracking is often cited as an alternative to renewables as natural gas is a relatively cleaner alternative to oil and coal. If the industry is properly regulated and the best industrial practice is used then there is potential for its role as a stopgap but not a long-term alternative to renewable energy.
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