How is the current situation of fracking in the world?

The United Kingdom announced the decision to suspend fracking. With this measure, it joins the initiative that Europe has led and still has a long way to go in the world.

Fracking equipment

Fracking equipment / Photo: Joshua Doubek

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: ¿En qué va el Fracking en el mundo?

The suspension announced by the United Kingdom is, for the moment, temporary, although the opposition seeks to make it permanent. This decision was taken after the results of a report by the United Kingdom Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), where fracking is shown as a probable predecessor for earthquakes, also ensuring that it is not possible to really predict the magnitude that earthquakes could have if it continues.

Fracking is a soil drilling process to extract large amounts of gas and oil found in rocks. To achieve this extraction, on the one hand, you have to use tons of water, in addition to affecting the soils. The gas release process requires water mixed with chemicals and used at high pressure and that makes the gas flow outwards.

This is the environmental reason why many organizations are against continuing to use this process. On the contrary, it seeks to turn towards renewable energy so that fracking becomes obsolete. According to a report by the AIDA Americas organization, “one of the compounds found in fracking waste fluids in places like Britain and the United States is Radio-226, a radioactive element that can emit radiation for approximately 1,600 years. This implies that the damages of a possible radioactive contamination could affect up to 23 generations in the future”.

In the specific case of the UK decision, the earthquake prevention suspension is not new. A first approach to the prohibition of this practice in the country was in August 2019 when the only company authorized to carry out the process, Cuadrilla Resources, caused an earthquake of 2.9.

According to El Plural, in 2011 there were tests that ended in other temporary suspensions (in Lancashire) after two earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2. "A subsequent study found that it was 'very likely' that the gas test perfonration was the cause of the tremors." Therefore, careful monitoring of this type of extraction had been suggested to avoid possible disasters. Meanwhile, the country's business secretary said that the suspension will not be removed until it is proven that fracking can be done safely.

Road to the ban

Countries at the global level are tending to a shift from energies with fossil fuels to renewable energies. This, in part, is due to the initiative and responsibility of the Paris Agreement. This step, however, cannot happen overnight and the efforts of the States must also go hand in hand with the increase in energy efficiency that is achieved, mainly, with the rational use of energy.

Read also: The truth behind the Paris Agreement climate pledges

Canada, for example, has spent its efforts, not to ban it but to regulate it. For this, the North American country has strict policies that limit the procedure in places where the terrain is superficial, because it is there where the soils are vulnerable and can end in seismic disasters.

The United States, Mexico, and China are some countries that also have strict policies to carry out this process. The rules include having the exact geological information of the drilling sites to avoid affecting sensitive soils. It must always be carried out with the authorization of the corresponding state agencies and with approved safety mechanisms, thus seeking a more sustainable extraction process.

This, however, is not enough for those who criticize fracking. This type of security may present a change in the model to prevent disasters and reduce human damage, but the environmental impact of the process is not changing at all. Of the countries mentioned above, China includes an environmental component in its fracking policies. "The activity must be subject to laws related to the control of environmental pollution, both atmospheric and caused by solid waste", says La República.

Fracking in Latin America

Progress in the prohibition of this process in Latin America is practically nil. Although there are state efforts to regulate and in some cases it has been temporarily suspended, there is really no incentive to end the exploitation of the rocks.

In these advances, Argentina stands out, which uses a method similar to that of China mentioned above. In order to maintain control over extraction, it is carried out by state-owned companies that specialize in carrying out the process in a sustainable manner. This country has also focused on the rational use of energy, in order to reduce the use and consumption of fossil energies in the long term.

Costa Rica is one of the most advanced countries in fracking. According to El Espectador, in 2017, he established a bill “to advance the elimination of the use of fossil fuels and exploitation of oil and gas”. And since 2019, it launched a policy to suppress fossil fuels in 2050. Therefore, although currently the practice of fracking has not been banned, the state initiative to migrate to other types of energy production is seen.

In general terms, there are regulatory initiatives that have been stranded in the courts and congresses, which has left the issue with great ambiguity.