Environment

Why fracking won't make your energy bills cheaper anytime soon

Fracking will resume in the UK as part of prime minister Liz Truss's plans to lower energy bills. The problem is, it won't lower bills. Here's why

A protest sign reading: "ban fracking now".

Fracking was effectively banned following evidence that it was causing minor earthquakes. Image: Friends of the Earth Scotland

Liz Truss hasn’t taken long to spark controversy as prime minister by lifting the moratorium on fracking in the UK.

Fracking, a process used to extract shale gas from underground, has been effectively banned since 2019 following evidence it was causing minor earthquakes in Britain. 

The plan to resume fracking forms part of Truss’s plan for lowering energy bills and boosting domestic energy supply.

But here’s the problem: resuming fracking will do little, if anything, to lower your energy bills in the short term. At the same time, it’ll contribute to the climate crisis.

It’s also hugely unpopular and has been dismissed by everyone from environmentalists to the government’s own climate advisers and even former energy minister and now-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. 

Here’s what fracking actually entails, and why it won’t lower your energy bills.

What is fracking?

Fracking is the process used to extract oil and gas from rocks deep underground.

The process involves drilling underground and using a high-pressure mix of chemicals, sand and water to release the gas inside the rocks. 

“Fracking” refers to the way in which the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure process.

Why is fracking bad for the environment?

Naturally, any extraction of fossil fuels is bad for the planet. But fracked gas is particularly damaging because it also requires a large amount of energy to extract, as well as fracked gas tending to leak more into the atmosphere than conventional oil and gas. 

Aside from the greenhouse gas impacts of fracking, the process also risks causing water, air and sound pollution, with an accident meaning that toxic chemicals could leak into the land or water supply.

Fracking has also been linked to tremor events which have disturbed local communities. 

Why is the government considering fracking again? 

Lifting the moratorium on fracking is part of Liz Truss’s plan to lower energy bills for ordinary people and boost domestic production of energy.

The idea is that more domestic production of energy will reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign energy imports while lowering the cost of energy overall. 

Lifting the ban on fracking would actually break one of the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledges.

The Conservative manifesto in 2019 promised: “We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”

So far that evidence has not emerged. The government is yet to release a report it commissioned into the possible adverse effects of fracking in the UK.

With the new announcement on fracking, environmentalists are now urging the government to release the report. 

Will fracking make energy bills lower?

Fracking will do little, if anything, to lower energy bills in the short term. There are several reasons why. 

Firstly, it will take up to a decade before fracking is able to deliver enough gas to actually meet the energy needs of the UK.

As former energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng wrote in The Daily Mail earlier this year: “The UK has no gas supply issues. And even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside.”

Secondly, there isn’t a sufficient amount of gas available for extraction to actually have any impact on the price of gas more widely.

As Kwarteng put it: “No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon.”

History also suggests big promises on fracking may not actually come to fruition. 

Fracking is popular in the US, but many have pointed out the UK does not have nearly the same land mass available for drilling.

That means fracking “may well not work at all because the UK does not have the vast empty expanses of the USA”, according to Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

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Whitaker added: “Before the fracking moratorium, the industry had 10 years of the government ‘going all out for shale’ and giving them all the support denied to onshore wind. 

“In that time, the frackers produced no energy for the UK, but managed to create two holes in a muddy field, traffic, noise, earthquakes and enormous controversy.”

Environmental groups and the government’s own climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have repeatedly pointed out that renewables are now a much cheaper source of new power generation than any fossil fuels or nuclear power, as well as having the potential to create thousands of jobs.

In a letter addressed to the new PM this week, the CCC said only a shift to a renewable energy system would solve the UK’s climate crisis and cost of living crisis at the same time. 

It wrote: “The best policies for the consumer are those that support lasting energy security and a low carbon, low-cost energy system. The independent analysis of our respective organisations is that this will deliver a long-term return on investment and set the UK on a path to prosperity.

“The UK cannot address this crisis solely by increasing its production of natural gas. Greater domestic production of fossil fuels may improve energy security, particularly this winter. But our gas reserves – offshore or from shale – are too small to impact meaningfully the prices faced by UK consumers.”

So who actually supports fracking?

Fracking is deeply unpopular among the wider public, not least among those who had to suffer its ill effects in the past.

According to a survey conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2021, 45 per cent of respondents said they opposed fracking, while just 17 per cent supported it. 

It’s been reported the government could attempt to drum up support for fracking by offering energy bill discounts for residents local to the drilling.

Under David Cameron’s government, councils were offered financial incentives to accept fracking in their area, but this failed to shift the poor reputation of the process among residents.

Support for fracking is even low among Tory MPs, especially those in constituencies with gas licences. 

Earlier in the year, a survey of 138 Conservative MPs with gas licences in their constituencies showed just five supported fracking.

Aside from the risk of pollution, earth tremors and spoiling of the countryside, fracking is also a disaster for the climate.

Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups have urged the government to keep the fracking ban in place. 

Friends of the Earth campaigner Danny Gross said: “Fracking is disruptive, unpopular and will do little to boost energy security or bring down bills. 

“Fossil fuels are at the root of so many of the problems we currently face. 

“We need clean, modern solutions to the energy and climate crises. That means insulation, energy efficiency and developing cheap renewables like onshore wind and solar.”

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