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What is Fracking?

 

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a technique that allows for the exploitation of methane gas from unconventional sources. Unconventional sources are rock layers deep underground in which the gas does not occur in a large bubble, but is dispersed in very small pore spaces and fractures throughout the rock. To release it, the rock needs to be cracked, in a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The main targets for this process are coal bed methane (in layers of coal), tight gas (in sandstone) and shale gas (in shale or mud rock).

To enable this process, drilling pads with 8-16 wells are constructed. To reach the rock layer, first a vertical well is drilled. The drilling then continues horizontally, generally for about one-and-a-half kilometers through the rock layer. The wellbore is lined with concrete, in which small holes are drilled. The rock is then cracked by explosions using a perforating gun.

Fracking fluid is pumped into the well under high pressure to enlarge the cracks in the rock and release the gas or oil. Once the well is depressurized, 40% to 60% of the fracking fluid is forced back up the pipe. After that, the gas freely flows to the surface and is captured. It is then treated (if necessary) and transported via tankers or pipelines to be sold.

Why is it controversial?

 

Oil and gas companies say hydraulic fracturing is perfectly safe and has been practised safely in many countries for over 60 years. However, fracking on a larger scale, based on a combination of slick-water-based fracturing techniques and horizontal drilling, has only been around since 2005. This technology has led to operating models that are increasingly challenged, mostly on environmental grounds. Experiences in the USA, Germany, England and other countries have given rise to many concerns about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing. Contamination of ground- and surface water with fracking chemicals, methane and naturally occurring underground substances have been reported, as well as earthquakes, air pollution and release of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. There is concern about the effects fracking may have on agriculture and tourism. On top of that, there are no regulations specifically for hydraulic fracturing. For these reasons there is a moratorium on fracking in several countries and American States.

Why this website?

 

Gas companies aim to use hydraulic fracturing to exploit shale gas in Ireland from 2013 onwards. To date, there has been no proper discussion about the possible consequences that this method of extraction may have in Ireland.

There are many articles, films and reports about fracking. Many of them promote either the point of view of the gas companies or that of the anti-fracking action groups. We aim to write a balanced report to enable an informed discussion on the economic, environmental and social effects of hydraulic fracturing, so people can make informed decisions on whether this process should be allowed in Ireland or not.