The extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing presents a number of serious environmental risks to wildlife and society. We have particular concerns that the dash for this fuel this is running ahead of effective regulations to minimise and eliminate those risks.

The issue

What is fracking?

Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process used to extract shale gas from solid rock. Fracturing fluid (a mix of water, sand and chemicals) is pumped into the well. The pressure causes the rock surrounding the pipe to crack. A solid proppant (typically sand or man-made ceramic) holds open these cracks to allow the trapped natural gas to escape and flow back up the well to be collected.

Concerns and regulation

Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing wildlife and society. Therefore every possible step should be taken to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to invest more in renewable alternatives. (Further details at the end).

Tougher regulation can make the industry safer, but not safe. The United Nations Environment Program has concluded that “fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [gas] is extracted properly”

Potential issues for wildlife

  • Insufficient protection for areas designated for their nature conservation importance – (further details at the end)
  • Risk of groundwater contamination
  • Climate change
  • Waste – including radioactive substances
  • Landtake and resulting fragmentation of habitats and ecological networks
  • The use of large amounts of fresh water
  • Impact on local communities
  • Fracking is also not popular with the UK public. The latest government research shows public support for fracking slipping away, with just 16% supporting the extraction of shale gas for use in the UK, the lowest level since the Department of Energy first polled people on the issue in 2013.

Our position

Alongside a large cross-section of environmental and conservation groups the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust does not support the Government’s rush into fracking – prompted by serious concerns about the threat fracking poses to communities, wildlife and the natural environment.

There are three main reasons why we do not support fracking as currently proposed:

  1. The UK will be left with a gas-dependent energy system for decades to come, meaning our ability to meet our legally-binding carbon targets will be significantly compromised and focus will be taken away from renewable energy sources.
  2. The current protection proposed for environmentally-sensitive areas is not stringent enough to guarantee their protection.
  3. Fracking poses multiple environmental risks, such as contamination of groundwater, and methane leakages, which could severely harm communities, wildlife and ecosystems. Large amounts of land are also required for fracking to take place.

If fracking is permitted, we want to see stringent regulation put in place as recommended in the report ‘Fit to Frack?’. These include:

  1. Avoiding sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources
  2. Making Environmental Impact Assessments mandatory
  3. Requiring the shale extraction companies to pay for the regulation
  4. Preventing taxpayers from the costs of any pollution
  5. Making water companies statutory consultees in the planning process
  6. Requiring a Groundwater Permit for all operations
  7. Making sure the Best Available Techniques for mine waste water management are rigorously defines and regularly reviewed
  8. Ensuring full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact
  9. Ensuring monitoring and testing of shale gas operations is rigorous and independent
  10. Minimising and monitoring methane emissions

Fracking potential locally

In August 2015, 27 licences were awarded for fracking in the North of England including licences to the company Ineos for areas to the east of Sheffield and to IGas for areas to the north-east of Sheffield. Central Sheffield and areas to the south and west of Sheffield are in the next licencing round (14th) which is currently undergoing consultation (see below).

Licence holders still have to apply for permission for undertaking activities through the planning process. However, there is a risk that even if Sheffield and Rotherham Local Planning Authorities do not support fracking applications, the Government can now intervene and potentially make a decision if they think a Planning Authority is taking too long. But as a lengthy decision in Lancashire shows – understanding the potential impacts of a proposal is complex - these decisions should not be rushed.

What we have done and will do

  • We held a members’ evening to discuss the issue.
  • We have responded to a consultation on ‘The 14th Licencing Round – Habitats Regulation Assessment’. We made comments outlining our concerns that the assessment process would not adequately protect the top tier of nature conservation areas - European Protected sites – and their buffer zones.
  • We will continue to monitor the areas licenced for fracking to see if any permissions are given for Sheffield and Rotherham. If they are and applications to frack are made, we will assess the application and comment and/or object/lobby as appropriate.
  • We will inform members if this happens and equip you to make your feelings known. We will update you via our website, Kingfisher, our e-newsletter and via social media.
  • If fracking is permitted in this area, we will campaign for the strictest regulations and controls.
  • We will work with the Wildlife Trusts and other relevant organisations on the above where appropriate.

What you can do

  • Get in touch with us if you have any local fracking concerns.
  • Write to your MP anytime to tell them what you think about fracking and any concerns you may have. Also voice support for renewable energy solutions - find your MP's contact details here. If Louise Haigh is your MP (Heeley) you can sign her petition calling for a halt on fracking until environmental and public health concerns have been addressed.

Evidence and references

Fracking and climate change

To have a chance of limiting global warming to 2°C we need to limit emissions to 565 billion tonnes CO2 emissions. Proven fossil fuel reserves are 2795 billion tonnes – five times the safe usable limit – this could lead to potential warming of 6°C. The International Energy Agency says that increased exploitation of shale gas would set the world on course for a global temperature rise of 3.5°C, enough to trigger catastrophic climate change. Although gas is ‘cleaner’ than coal, it is still a fossil fuel and the Committee on Climate Change say that a move to shale gas would be incompatible with meeting our mandatory carbon budgets. The Tyndale Centre agree and state that “even if there were to be a rapid transition from coal to shale gas electricity, this could still not be reconciled with the UK’s 2°C commitments under either the international Copenhagen Accord or its own national Low Carbon Transition Plan. The Government is asking the Independent Committee on Climate change to report on whether fracking is compatible with the UK’ climate change targets – we will look out for this report.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, said, “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing wildlife and society, so every possible step should be taken to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to invest more in renewable alternatives. Fracking could take us several steps backwards, in terms of meeting climate commitments, and also poses multiple environmental risks, such as contamination of groundwater, which could severely harm communities, wildlife and ecosystems. These serious concerns must be addressed.”

Protection for wildlife sites?

The Infrastructure Bill (Jan 2015) originally said there would be a ban on fracking in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest and introduced mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments. But just eight months later, a major U-turn on this commitment has placed some of the country’s most sensitive and precious wildlife sites at risk by excluding SSSIs from the ban and allowing licences for underground activity in highly protected wildlife sites.

Fracking will also be allowed more than 300m beneath private land without the landowners consent. This is bad news for conservation landowners with sensitive sites that often reply on delicate aquatic ecosystems.

For more information about fracking

The Wildlife Trusts:

Frack Free South Yorkshire:

Sheffield Against Fracking on Facebook and @notracksheff