What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is a risky technique often used to exploit hard-to-get fossil fuels, such as shale gas and coalbed methane. It’s expensive to do and is only economically viable when oil and gas prices are high. It involves drilling up to several kilometres deep and pumping gallons of water, proppants (like sand), and toxic chemicals under high pressure into a well. This opens up fractures in the rock so that gas can flow easily and be extracted.

What is unconventional oil and gas?

‘Unconventional oil and gas’ (UOG) is used to describe shale gas, shale oil and coalbed methane. They are 'unconventional' because unlike conventional sources of gas which are found in larger, easier to access reservoirs, the gas is trapped in tiny little pockets in the shale rock or coal seams. They are also known as unconventional because of the novel techniques – like fracking and horizontal drilling – used to extract the gas.

Unlike shale gas, coalbed methane extraction doesn’t always involve fracking – at least not in the early years of a well. Instead, coal seams are de-pressurised by pumping out large volumes of water. But as gas flow starts to decline after a few years, wells are often fracked to get more gas. There are serious environmental problems from coalbed methane extraction even if fracking doesn’t take place.

Underground coal gasification, an industrial process that involves partially combusting coal underground and capturing the resulting gas, is sometimes also described as unconventional gas. UCG is highly experimental, and far less developed than coalbed methane drilling and fracking. In October 2016, the Scottish Government banned UCG after huge public pressure.

Why is it so bad?

Harmful chemicals which are used during drilling and fracking can contaminate water, soil and air . These processes can also mobilise toxic chemicals, pollutants and radioactive substances that occur naturally in the coal and shale.

Many fracking chemicals are dangerous to humans, animals and the environment. Communities that have experienced fracking report symptoms associated with exposure to these chemicals. These include respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, skin irritations. A growing body of evidence is linking the industry to serious impacts on reproductive health, and potentially even cancer.

Fracking means continuing our dependence on fossil fuels, which we cannot do if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Fracked gas is not low carbon, and methane leaks may mean it is as bad as or even worse than coal in climate change terms.

Investing in unconventional gas now will lock us into to dangerously high carbon emissions and make it much harder for Scotland to meet its legally binding climate targets.

Is fracking happening in Scotland?

Large parts of the central belt are currently under license for oil and gas exploration, and a number of coalbed methane wells have already been drilled. However, responding to huge opposition to fracking, in January 2015 the Scottish Government put a moratorium in place on shale gas and coalbed methane while it assesses the risks and consequences. The Government will hold a public consultation in early 2017, and come to a decision on whether fracking should be allowed to go ahead after that.

Read more about shale gas fracking and coalbed methane (PDF).

Read more in our in-depth briefings

Fracking fuels climate change

We already have many times more fossil fuels than we can safely burn without causing catastrophic climate change.
Climate science tells us we cannot afford to burn most of the fossil fuels we have already. Fracking will open up another source of carbon emissions, further driving dangerous temperature rises.  Instead we should plan a move away from fossil-fuelled industries that is fair to the communities and workers who currently depend on them. Scotland cannot be a climate leader if it allows fracking to go ahead. Read more in our detailed briefing.

Fracking can damage your health

Gas drilling and fracking can contaminate water, cause air pollution and are linked to serious public health risks.
Toxic chemicals used in fracking can endanger public health. Leaks from faulty wells and equipment can pollute soils, air and water. Residents near fracking sites report symptoms of respiratory problems, nausea, rashes and headaches. A number of studies point to gas extraction affecting the weight and health of babies born close to fracking sites, and cancer causing chemicals have been found in waste fluids.

Fracking creates more dirty, dangerous traffic

Fracking means huge volumes of traffic. Heavy lorries transport equipment, toxic fracking fluids and enormous amounts of contaminated waste water on and off site. US communities have been transformed by thousands of extra truck journeys, often on previously quiet roads. Traffic accidents, noise and air pollution will all get worse. Read Scottish Environment LINK’s detailed submission to the [link]Scottish Government on Transport impacts from fracking. 


Fracking can pollute air, soil and water

Shale gas fracking and coalbed methane involve chemicals that are harmful to the local environment. Industrial accidents can occur during drilling, fracking and transporting toxic waste. Wells can leak polluting land and water with chemicals and gases harmful to animals and nature. Read more in our detailed briefing on Shale gas and coalbed methane.


Fracking economic benefits are hyped

The economics of the US shale gas boom are not all they are fracked up to be. Economists say that fracking won't bring down energy bills here in the UK, and production will be much more expensive here than across the Atlantic.  Research indicates that the fracking industry’s job claims are wildly exaggerated, and any jobs likely to be short-term, whereas the risks posed are long-term. Renewable energy and energy efficiency create more jobs than fossil fuels: we should invest in creating thousand of these jobs instead! Read more in our briefing on Jobs and economy.

People Power can stop fracking

Strong opposition from local communities has already led to a temporary moratorium on fracking, and a ban on underground coal gasification.
Scotland can ban fracking. Opposition from local communities has already led to a moratorium on shale gas and coalbed methane, and a ban on underground coal gasification. All over the world people are fighting back against these dirty, dangerous fossil fuels, with an ever growing list of bans and prohibitions. We have the chance to say no to fracking and put Scotland on the path to a fossil free future.