What is Fracking?
With the government promising communities £100,000 if they are fracked during shale gas exploration, you might expect they and the industry would have a good working definition of what was, and what wasn't, fracking
Unfortunately it is the Tory and LibDem government we are talking about here, so any hope of clarity when all they are interested in is a mad dash to get drilling is overoptimistic.
So what IS fracking, according to the government and its agencies?. Unfortunately no-one knows. DECC and the EA have a stab at explaining to me, but this is totally at variance with what the government are saying.
Play spot-the difference!
The Environment Agency tell me this-
"Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique that uses fluid, usually water, pumped at high pressure into the rock to create narrow fractures.
These create paths for the gas to flow into the well bore and to surface.
Once the fractures have been created, small particles, usually of sand, are pumped into them, these particles keep the fractures open when the water is flowed back up the well. The water normally contains small quantities of other substances to improve the efficiency of the process, e.g. to reduce friction."
DECC say this (note they rather pass the buck to EA)-
"An acid wash is a routine well operation used both onshore and offshore that is designed to clean up the mudcake which can fill in the pores and natural fractures. Mud particles are flushed into the adjacent rock as part of the drilling process, and often a small amount of acid is circulated through the mud system of the well to try to flush it out. I don’t view this as fracking because there is no positive intention of enlarging existing fracture or creating new ones. But it would be reasonable to describe it as a stimulation technique, because washing out the mud will allow more gas or oil to flow, which is the point of any kind of “stimulation”.
The EA will consider in all cases the impact of injecting any fluid into the subsurface, whether it is just from drilling, an acid wash or a frac. HSE review all the well operations and do discuss with DECC when unusual operations are planned.
To frac a rock you have to increase the fluid pressure significantly and the point at which it will break can be clearly identified in testing. The new guidelines for shale gas operations which UKOOG have codified with input from DECC, EA, SEPA and HSE describe the new procedures and documents required to obtain consent to frac. The whole purpose of these new procedures is of course to mitigate seismic risks. In general, we expect these risks to be associated with high-volume fracking operations like those conducted at Preese Hall, rather than the much smaller volumes involved in an acid wash. But where we think there might be any seismic risk, we will ask the operators to provide a risk assessment, and will apply proportionate controls if necessary."
The Government, in its planning guidelines issued to Mineral Planning Authorities at the end of July says -
"Hydraulic fracturing is the process of opening and/or extending existing narrow fractures or creating new ones (fractures are typically hairline in width) in gas or oil- bearing rock, which allows gas or oil to flow into wellbores to be captured."
I am still awaiting the opinion of the BGS as to what constitutes fracking, and where acid wash, acid etching, acid stimulation, acid fracturing, and DFIT slot into the definition.
I think we must fight each application on its merits. It is clear that the government and its agencies will NOT define fracking for us. They rely on the idea that it is high pressure, high volume, but fail to define any limits on pressure or volumes of liquids.
The only consolation is that DECC do agree that what we had at Preese Hall is not comparable with the "200 fracked wells" that the pro-frackers claim in the UK.