UK, New Study: Fracking is one of the most harmful forms of energy production

Fracking Is Among the Most Harmful Forms of Energy Production, Study Finds by Chelsea Gohd, January 16, 2018, Futurism

A new study by U.K. scientists examining the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of fracking ranks the controversial practice seventh amongst a pool of nine energy sources. The study could prompt similar research in the U.S., the only nation currently fracking on a major scale.


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.

Their study has been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

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.


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.

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“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. [Canada and Australia are too using it on a major scale, although banned in a few courageous and wise jurisdictions] 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. [Emphasis added]

The study:

Sustainability of UK shale gas in comparison with other electricity options: Current situation and future scenarios by Jasmin Cooper, Laurence Stamford and Adisa Azapagic, April 1, 2018, Science of the Total Environment

Shale gas ranks between the fourth and eighth relative to other electricity options.

To become the most sustainable option, large improvements would be needed.

This includes a 329-fold reduction in environmental impacts.

A 16-fold increase in employment would also be needed.

An electricity mix with less rather than more shale gas is more sustainable.

Many countries are considering exploitation of shale gas but its overall sustainability is currently unclear. Previous studies focused mainly on environmental aspects of shale gas, largely in the US, with scant information on socio-economic aspects. To address this knowledge gap, this paper integrates for the first time environmental, economic and social aspects of shale gas to evaluate its overall sustainability. The focus is on the UK which is on the cusp of developing a shale gas industry. Shale gas is compared to other electricity options for the current situation and future scenarios up to the year 2030 to investigate whether it can contribute towards a more sustainable electricity mix in the UK. The results obtained through multi-criteria decision analysis suggest that, when equal importance is assumed for each of the three sustainability aspects shale gas ranks seventh out of nine electricity options, with wind and solar PV being the best and coal the worst options. However, it outranks biomass and hydropower. Changing the importance of the sustainability aspects widely, the ranking of shale gas ranges between fourth and eighth. For shale gas to become the most sustainable option of those assessed, large improvements would be needed, including a 329-fold reduction in environmental impacts and 16 times higher employment, along with simultaneous large changes (up to 10,000 times) in the importance assigned to each criterion. Similar changes would be needed if it were to be comparable to conventional or liquefied natural gas, biomass, nuclear or hydropower. The results also suggest that a future electricity mix (2030) would be more sustainable with a lower rather than a higher share of shale gas. These results serve to inform UK policy makers, industry and non-governmental organisations. They will also be of interest to other countries considering exploitation of shale gas.

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