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Frack to the future?

Reporting on energy supply is rarely straightforward given the variables that inform the debate.

Throw shale gas into the discussion and opinions often become militantly polarized.

So-called shale or tight gas is extracted from shales using a process called fracking, which - in its simplest terms - involves injectingwater, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to crack the shale rock and release trapped gas.

Advocates believe the process is safe and could unlock around 200 trillion cubic feet of gas whilst opponents claim it is linked to water contamination, health problems and earth quakes.

Both sides are going to come face to face this Wednesday at the Shale Gas Environmental Summit in London.

Event organisers SMi Conferences say the event will examineexisting, current and proposed shale gas extraction, with a focus on the associated environmental impacts.

The two day conference will then examine the risks associated with extraction, environmental benefits and challenges, public opposition and support, responsible development and product management.

Opponents from Frack Off, the national anti-fracking network, claim the event is nothing more than ‘greenwash’ designed to attract investors. They will gather at 1500 on Wednesday to disrupt the event and hold a “people’s assembly” to discuss the environmental impacts of fracking.

In a statement, Sophie Choudri, 24, a member of Frack Off, said: ‘This conference is all about spin. It is just the fossil fuel industry PR machine trying to tell the people in power that they should let them make lots of money.’

In May this year the UK’s Energy Select Committee published a report saying it had found no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing poses a risk to underground water aquifers, provided the drilling well is constructed properly.

Last week, however, energy secretary Chris Huhne distanced himself from shale gas when he said it ‘has not yet lit a single room nor cooked a single roast dinner in the UK.’

‘Shale gas may be significant,’ he said during the Renewable UK conference. ‘It is exciting. But we do not yet know enough to bet the farm on it. Faced with such uncertainty we do what any rational investor does with their own pension fund – we spread our risks, we have a portfolio.’

Skills are on the agenda this week at IMechE who host a lecture entitled ‘What’s your solution for the skills gap? this Wednesday.

Attendees will hear about the Equality Act and its effects on engineering. They will also be able to discuss the ways engineers themselves can broaden engagement with engineering, thereby helping to address the skills gap.

According to the event’s publicity material Education for Engineering (E4E) will give a presentation before the debate designed to share the initial results of their research into the diversity profiles of those doing STEM qualifications at age 16.

Sheffield’s Business and Innovation Network is hosting the second in a series of free annual events designed to stimulate discussion, promote the sharing of best practice and support collaboration across disciplines in science and between research and industry.

Starting Wednesday, the three day event includes workshops, exhibitions and networking opportunities.

The organizers say the first day has attracted an international line up of speakers to set the context by highlighting current political and funding priorities as well as the importance of universities engaging with industry to translate research into economic and wider social benefits.

Day two and three of the event are focused around moderated and themed workshops and includes a workshop on offshore wind power, asking whether Britain can rely on offshore wind energy.

Finally, tomorrow marks the introduction of a new £50 bank note into circulation that bears portraits of James Watt and Matthew Boulton. The pair formed Boulton & Watt in 1775, an excellent example of how private investment (and patience) can help deliver revenue via innovation.

Readers' comments (14)

  • But aren't we being asked to bet the farm on offshore wind, a smart grid that would be redundant with distributed gas generation, nuclear subsidy or CCS? Not to mention we don't have the money to bet right now.
    In another year or so we'll know more about shale gas in the UK and Europe and can make an educated decision. Right now there is a big risk that we could end up spending money we don't have to solve an energy security issue that we may not have. There is a complete library of shale gas at , we think people can do their own research and make up their own mind.

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  • It seems to me from reading various books and reports that there's more of a UK energy crisis coming than is apparent from comments in our celeb obsessed media, while Mr Hoon's advice recently to 'shop around' the various supply companies is stunnenly short of anything resembling an energy policy! I suspect that there will be much desperate hole drilling into shales when the awful reality dawns, in a few years time.

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  • Give it ten years of drilling and fracking - and our kids will be left to pick up the pieces (again). The consequences are so chaotic and utterly unpredictable. Let's not even go there!

    Hmm. is another fossil fuel resource really what we need?

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  • Renewable hydropower has killed 170,000 in a single dam failure (Banquio), coal has killed many more, wind farms have a fairly high death rate for their feeble output, shale gas has proved to be safer and nuclear is the safest of all.

    So the UK squanders money on wind and solar power, soft pedals on nuclear and lots of people insist that it condemns shale gas without considering the evidence.


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  • I agree with the comment that asks - do we really need more fossil fuels right now?

    There are risks associated with all energy supplies and more still with no energy - hypothermia etc.

    However Nuclear risks are of a different nature and should not be lumped in with other technologies which are basically fail-safe and reversible - there are the the physical risks of containment failure or incompetence of course, but the long term economic risk is very serious and the socio political risk even more so in my view. Nuclear technology embeds divisions in a society that is already too divided.

    None of that answers the question of how we manage the exisitng nuclear legacy - there is a powerful argument for a thriving nuclear industry which exists to clear up the mess.

    I would love cheap green electricity but I really don't want more police with guns walking around as part of the price, I'd prefer to switch off and put onanother jumper.

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  • With regards to some of the comments made about hydro fracturing,this process has been used for numerous years in Britain in the water well drilling industry but only lately has this became a problem,mainly due to uneducated people who are against oil and gas drilling on mainland Britain.The chances of contaminating the water table at shale depths are considerably lower than water well drilling.

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  • Hi diesel, as one of the engineers on this project I would like to respond to your comment. This is how it works 2 shifts 12hr days 12hr nights one week on days one week on nights so you need down time to shift adjust! Also you need to understand with equipment such as TBM's there is a high maintenance factors involved so on weekends the job doesn't stop what happens is we have to maintain the equipment to keep it running this can range from the TBM the motors, pumps etc within the TBM the loco that is the supply link to the TBM down to concrete silos within our sites! You need to understand that yes we would all like to go flat out 24/7 but in the long run this would only be creating a false economy and the equipment would end up spending long periods of down time due to failures! as they say prevention is better than cure!!!

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  • surely, the potential amount of gas there can only serve to put downward pressure on current gas and electricity prices. It has to; the government sem incapable of doing anything about reducing prices.

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  • Hydrofracking has been done for nearly 60 years, but the horizontal slickwater frack is a relatively new technology developed in 2005. Since fracking began in earnest in Pennsylvania in 2008, we've seen some groundwater contamination, namely thermogenic methane migration. Of greater concern, however, is massive volumes of frack wastewater, loaded with heavy metals, VOCs, benzene and even radioactive compounds like Radium 226, as well as toxic air emissions. This new process, even if it is done correctly 100%, will inexorably alter our hydrological cycles and adversely impact human health. Pennsylvania's water supply is still recovering from coal. A decades old coal fire still burns beneath our state, and we face toxic abandoned mine drainage issues. We do need the jobs, but we certainly don't need another dirty fossil fuel!

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  • I'd rather have a forest of wind turbines than risk contamination of our water supply. I feel uncomfortably close to the site at Singleton. Also more could be done with pump storage and with carbon capture and storage.

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