Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial process in which highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are injected into tight rock formations to open up cracks so that oil and/or natural gas can be extracted.
To determine the potential impact of fracking in the U.K., a group of Manchester scientists ranked it and other energy sources, such as coal, wind, and solar, after considering environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Of the nine energy sources examined, the scientists found that fracking ranked seventh in sustainability.
To make fracking as sustainable as energy sources higher up on the list, such as wind and solar, there would need to be a staggering 329-fold reduction in environmental impact, according to the researchers.
The team also considered the sustainability of various future scenarios and determined that a scenario in which fracking comprised one percent of the U.K.'s total electricity production was more sustainable than one in which it comprised eight percent.
Fracking in Context
According to the team's study, most research on fracking focuses on the environmental aspects of the process and largely only in the U.S. They claim the socio-economic aspects are largely overlooked and that theirs is the first study to consider the environmental, economic, and social aspects.
“This enables us to evaluate its overall sustainability rather than focusing on single issues, such as water pollution, traffic, and noise, which have dominated the debate on shale gas so far," Adisa Azapagic, a professor at the University of Manchester and a corresponding author of the study, told The Independent.
Some nations have banned fracking, and currently, the U.S. is the only country using it on a major scale. Perhaps this U.K. study will prompt a similar study in the U.S., and if the energy source ranks as low Stateside as it did in the U.K., it could encourage proponents to consider more sustainable alternatives.