In the land where the apocryphal Robin Hood once harried a Sherriff, a new chapter of British history is being written. Nottinghamshire County Council recently approved a planning application by IGas to drill exploratory shale gas wells. If they are found to be viable then IGas will seek to tap them with hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a technique wherein a mix of water, sand and chemicals is pumped underground to create cracks in the rock through which trapped gas can be collected. Nottinghamshire joins Lancashire and Yorkshire as among the first counties to approve the process, and that is a very good thing for Nottinghamshire and the UK.
Firstly, this is because fracking is good for the environment. Natural gas produces half the CO2, a quarter the Nitrogen Oxide and 0.8% the Sulphur Dioxide of Coal (those numbers are 67.9%, 42.5% and 0.8% relative to oil), according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It saves habitats, only using 0.39 acres for every 1000 homes it powers, while coal, biomass and win use 0.74, 0.8 and 6 respectively. In the CPS report ‘The Facts of Fugitive Methane’ it was shown that fugitive emissions are a non-issue.
There -is truth in talk of gas leaking into water wells but such leaks were happening a long time before fracking began, because areas that have a lot of gas in the ground do, in fact, have a lot of gas in the ground. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee reported “troublesome amounts of . . . methane” in the water in 1976, and talk of “burning springs” goes back to the 1700s. If anything, fracking is less likely to pollute water than other forms of drilling, as its deep wells mean the action is separated from the water by thousands of feet of rock.
Separately, there are worries about fracturing fluids contaminating the water supply. The idea that these fluids could somehow seep into the groundwater through several Eiffel Towers of impermeable stone, however, is rather tenuous. As former head of environmental protection for Pennsylvania John Hanger put it, “frack fluids returning from depth, from 5,000 to 8,000 feet under the ground, to contaminate an aquifer? When the industry says that’s never happened, that has in fact never happened.” Disposing of the water waste is an issue, but companies like TerrAqua Resource have developed methods to recycle the water to be used again.
Second, the potential benefits for the regional economy are phenomenal. Research from the Manhattan Institute showed that from 2007-2011, in the depths of the financial crisis, counties in Pennsylvania, USA, with more than 200 wells added jobs at a 7 percent annual rate. Where there was no drilling, or only a few wells, the number of county jobs shrank by 3 percent.
The study also showed that per-capita income rose by 19 percent in Pennsylvania counties with more than 200 wells, by 14 percent in counties with between 20 and 200 wells, and by 12 percent in those with fewer than 20. In counties without any wells, income went up by only 8 percent. This shows that not only does fracking create vast numbers of jobs, both directly and through services used by frackers, but it creates quality, high-paid jobs at that. In an industry where a water truck driver receives a starting salary of $60,000 (£48,227), and the average wage is put at almost $71,000 (£57,064), that’s hardly surprising.
Moreover, shale development has been shown to be exceptionally beneficial to the local economy. The National Bureau for Economic Research showed that more than 1/3 of revenues stayed with the local economy; within 100 miles of new production, $1 million of extracted oil and gas generates $243,000 in wages, $117,000 in royalties and 2.49 jobs.
The advent of hydraulic fracturing in Nottingham would bring a glut of new, high-paid jobs in a County with an already low unemployment rate of 4.8%, a substantial cash infusion into the local economy, and the chance to be at the forefront of a prosperous industry. It would be a source of cheap energy at home, promoting energy independence. This could be the beginning of positive rebalancing of the UK economy, brought about not by bringing down the South but raising up the North and the Midlands. It is a fantastic development, and Nottinghamshire County Council has made the right choice. Others should follow their lead.