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What is fracking? A new source of cheaper business gas?


Recent developments have brought shale gas to the forefront of the UK energy industry. But what is fracking and how could recent events affect business gas rates?

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is not a new technology. The technique was invented in 1947 and has been in use since 1950. In recent years the technique has increased in popularity due to improvements in drilling technology, especially horizontal drilling.

What is fracking?

The concept of fracking is simple – no different to breaking a sheet of glass, except that shale rock trapping deposits of oil and gas is shattered.

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The rock is fractured by a pressurised liquid made of water, sand, and chemicals pumped down a well. Natural gas and/or oil flows back up and is extracted.

Fracking pros and cons

The US has seen gas prices plummet after fracking became widespread with significant benefits for the economy. Businesses have used cheaper energy to boost manufacturing and the country may soon become a significant exporter of gas and oil after years of costly imports.

On the flipside, there have been concerns over some of the chemicals used polluting the water table. There have been videos of people setting fire to their drinking water after fracking and there have been reports of (small) earthquakes.

What is taurine?

The chemicals used in fracking include taurine, benzene and other substances, some of which are toxic and/or carcinogenic. Critics have expressed concerns that these chemicals could enter the water table and pollute drinking water, raising serious health concerns. Others claim that there is no scientific proof of such risks and that responsible use of proven techniques and proper oversight will ensure safe exploitation of an invaluable resource. The debate continues.

What does fracking mean for the UK?

The debate over fracking has been especially fierce in the UK. Different rules on land ownership complicate matters – in the US landowners own the mineral rights for everything under their land but in the UK the legal situation is more complex.

After protests resulted in the suspension of drilling in southeast England, fracking focused on the northwest. While the debate rumbles on, it appears that fracking drilling will go ahead in one site.

Opinion remains divided. The Conservative government appears to be supportive of fracking and other organisations have also thrown their weight behind the push for gas. UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), an important industry body, and GMB, a union, recently reached an agreement on shale gas, focusing on safety, skills and supply chain development.

Aside from working together to increase awareness, their charter made a joint commitment to the establishment of an Industry Safety Forum, ensure skilled jobs are created and local communities benefit and British manufacturing and other supply chains have the opportunity to benefit.

Cheaper business gas

While such developments may cut business gas bills, the benefits will take years – or even decades – to be evident. Small to medium sized businesses are unlikely to see anything apart from lower prices.

Those advantages can be unlocked today – a wealth of new business gas suppliers means better deals. But without the time to spend on searching through the scores of quotes, smaller businesses are losing out.

We can help – in just 20 minutes you can compare business gas prices and switch gas supplier. Find out why we are the top-rated business energy compare and switch site: call us on 0330 0100 251 or fill in the form at the top right of the page.

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