Will controversial practice lead us to frack and ruin?

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As gas extraction ban is lifted, we examine the ins and outs of the process and what it could potentially mean for the Lothians

Q What does fracking involve?

A The process involves blasting large amounts of sand, water and chemicals down a well to shatter rock formations underground and release the trapped shale gas.

Q Why is it controversial?

A It has been widely linked to causing earth tremors. In 2001, two small quakes in Blackpool measured 1.5 and 2.2 on the Richter scale led to Westminster suspending the process for 18 months. Green campaigners claim it can release methane gases and harmful chemicals which could potentially contaminate drinking water supplies.

Q How can it cause earth tremors?

A If the fluid used in fracking moves along a fault line it can release the energy stored in the fault which causes seismic activity that can be felt on the surface.

Q Is it safe?

A The earth tremors are unlikely to cause any injury in themselves but there are concerns they could damage the well, allowing toxic chemicals to leak into the water table. However, parliament’s energy select committee concluded there was little risk to water supplies so long as drilling was carried out correctly.

Q Where could fracking take place locally?

A There are widespread deposits of shale gas across the central belt of Scotland, including Edinburgh and the Lothians. These areas all face being put out to tender by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change in the new year so companies could apply for fracking licences across the board.

Q Does anyone currently hold a fracking licence?

A Stirling-based Dart UK has a licence for onshore exploration and development of shale gas and coal bed methane covering a large area including the mouth of the Firth of Forth and part of West Lothian. Its website states the company is in the early stages of exploring black metal and Lothian shale zones but bosses maintain there are no plans to start fracking because the geology does not require it.

Q What is the threat to landscape?

A Gas wells could potentially spring up in rural locations but would not be as visible as wind turbines or power stations. But fracking sites have already been linked to lowering house prices with estimates putting the reduction at between ten and 20 per cent.

Q What are the benefits of fracking?

A Advocates say that fracking is safe energy and that it will create jobs and help move the country towards self-sufficiency, bringing down energy bills. In the United States, shale gas now accounts for 23 per cent of domestic gas production and 22 per cent of domestic consumption, helping to contribute to a drastic fall in energy prices for industry and householders.

Q Could we expect the same reduction in household energy bills?

A Analysts predict it would only reduce bills by between two and four per cent and take a long time to come into effect.