What is Fracking?
The Fracking Process
The process of fracking essentially is the extraction of natural gas (methane) from shale rock using high volume hydraulic fracturing.
Shale rock is found throughout Ireland. It is formed from mud laid down in layers millions of years ago. Originally the mud was mixed with rotting vegetation but, as it sank further and further underground, now has methane gas trapped between the layers. Shale used for gas production usually is a mile or more below the surface.
Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is an industrial operation pumping large volumes (over 4 million gallons) of water mixed with thousands of tons of sand and chemicals at explosive pressure through the shale, shattering the rock and releasing the gas.
The fracking process.
How is the gas produced?
• A concrete mining “pad” is constructed for up to 24 wells.
• A well is drilled down to the shale rock layer.
• A “casing” of steel pipe and cement around the bore is designed to keep fluids and gases from escaping and contaminating underground aquifers.
• Once the well reaches the shale layer (a mile or more belowground), the drill travels horizontally along the shale layer another mile or two.
• Hydraulic fracturing then takes place along the horizontal section, releasing the gas, which escapes up the pipe to the surface.
• Initial target area 100,000 acres, 7-acre pad every square mile, up to 24 wells per pad.
• 3,000 wells planned in Fermanagh/Leitrim.
• Farming and tourism are not compatible with fracking!
• Access to land allowed for ”energy infrastructure” works.
• 1,000 heavy vehicles needed to construct a pad and drill one well. Huge traffic problems on country roads.
• Diesel fumes, dust, noise.
• Emissions from wells – petroleum products – Benzene, Toluene, Xylene (BTEX) highly toxic.
• Sand used during fracking causes silica dust, cause of silicosis in workers.
• All wells leak over time, causing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
• Thousands of tons of chemicals and sand are used during fracking.
• Many of those frack fluid chemicals are toxic, e.g. concentrated acids, bleaches and detergents, formaldehyde and other biocides.
• 40% or more of the millions of gallons of frack fluids used come back to the surface. This “flowback” contains heavy metals (chromium, lead), radioactive elements (Radium, Uranium), salt (up to 30%) and BTEX petroleum products. There is NO acceptable disposal route for toxic flowback liquids in Ireland.
• Accidents happen – spillages, vehicle accidents, leakages from tanks, ponds etc. Streams, rivers, lakes contaminated.
Undergrounds leakages happen. Methane gas can contaminate aquifers supplying domestic water (tap water on fire). Frack fluids can also leak into drinking water supplies, 243 recorded instances of water contamination in Pennsylvania.
• Health impacts in general attributed to toxic emissions from well sites situated near houses. Include cancers (e.g., leukaemia), respiratory and dermal diseases.
• Workers have increased risk of silicosis from the sand used.
• Other impacts include cardiovascular, renal, immune system, mental health, injuries, endocrine disrupters that can impact future generations as well as mothers and babies.
• Communities are also impacted – sudden influx of outsiders, crime, stress, mental illness, splits between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
Jobs and Economic Boom?
Yes, there would be jobs associated with the industry, especially in the initial phase. However, most would not be local – teams of experienced workers are brought in by the industry to do specialised jobs. Local jobs are mostly confined to non-specialist labour and construction. Such jobs are temporary. Long-term maintenance jobs are few – maybe three per 24 wells.
Gas produced locally does NOT result in cheaper bills for local people, any more than Scottish oil resulted in cheap oil for Scotland. The gas would go into the international grid and sold at market prices.
Royalties would be paid to central government on profits after development costs, etc. These would not be more than could be generated from alternative energy sources, e.g. solar, wind, water.