For centuries we’ve powered our nation with fuel buried deep underground. Mines once littered the landscape, extracting coal to be used in our factories and homes, and in more recent years gas and oil has been pumped from wells in the North Sea. But as the pits close and our North Sea reserves deplete, we now rely on importing almost half our energy from abroad.
But the new discovery of a rich reservoir of gas and oil could change all that. Beneath our green and pleasant land is an untapped resource of gas in shale rock, thousands of feet below the ground that could fuel Britain for decades. The process for extracting it is hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Those in favour of fracking think it could be positive for our economy. One such supporter is Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator.
But those who oppose the method here believe we should leave shale gas, a fossil fuel, in the ground and look to renewable sources of energy instead.
Fracking has become a national debate in Britain and it’s one the Government are determined to win. With an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying underneath Britain, just a tenth of which could supply our energy needs for over 40 years, it is seen by many as an opportunity which is too good to miss.
But what is the environmental cost? Some are concerned that drill pads will spoil our landscape while others say we shouldn’t be using another carbon emitting fossil fuel.
In the USA, fracking for shale gas has revolutionised the power industry, supported nearly 2 million jobs, seen fuel bills tumble and is worth billions to their economy. However, fracking in America has also had well documented problems and there are environmental and health concerns.
On the Tonight programme – at 7:30pm on ITV – reporter Fiona Foster meets the protestors and villagers of Balcombe here in the UK and also travels to Pennsylvania in the United States to hear from those whose lives have been affected by this new industry, including Ray Kemble.
Ray’s water was pumped from a well on his land and a few weeks after fracking began on his neighbour’s property, he noticed a problem. He told us, “[It] started coming out like a charcoal grey and then it turned brown…then it went green, then it went grey, then it turned black.”
The gas industry claimed chemicals in the water were a naturally occurring phenomenon. Last year Ray’s water was deemed safe to drink, but he remains unconvinced.
Someone in Pennsylvania however who has had first hand experience of a change of fortune is dairy farmer Danny Hoover. He leased his land to a shale gas company and now the income from the gas money has allowed him to buy more cows and make improvements to his farm. Danny said, “It’s changed my life and changed a lot of people’s lives, brought a lot of jobs and security to a lot of people.”
The UK Government insist the industry will be subject to stricter regulations here.