While much of the public concern about hydraulic fracturing has been with the toxic chemicals deployed and the potential for increased seismic activity, less attention has been given to the impact of increased transport.
Transport problems associated with fracking are likely to be a particular problem in the UK, where drilling will necessarily take place close to centres of population – even relatively rural shale deposits such as those beneath The Weald and The Vale of Glamorgan cannot be compared to those under the wide open plains of Texas or North Dakota. So it is inevitable that fracking will result in a large increase in heavy lorry movements as equipment, chemicals and water are moved into well pads to allow fracking to occur. Nor are UK frackers likely to enjoy the waiver from environmental legislation that has allowed US frackers to dump the spent fracking fluids in reservoirs next to the drill pads. So, all of the water and chemicals transported into the area will also have to be transported out again, leading to roughly a doubling of the transport movements observed in the US fracking industry.
Although the noise contribution of transport has been raised in planning decisions, other, less tangible problems may cause greater concern in the long run. Dr Paul Goodman, researcher in transport and the environment at Newcastle University and lead author of a new report into the effects of fracking on transport, explains:
“Additional road traffic would primarily be heavy duty vehicles such as tankers bringing the water required for the fracturing process to and from the well site. As well as being highly visible, the presence of tankers on roads has a number of environmental impacts – on greenhouse gas emissions, local air quality issues such as NOx emissions and particulate matter, and noise and damage to road surface and structure.
“While traffic might not be the immediate thing that springs to mind when considering fracking operations, it is important to understand what the traffic impacts might be and consider how these could be mitigated.”
In the US, taxpayers have been left to pick up the bill for the damage caused by fracking-related damage to the transport infrastructure. Longer term health problems caused by increased air pollution will be picked up by health insurance companies in the US, but will fall on the publicly-funded National Health Service in the UK. Both “costs” amount to an additional public subsidy to an industry that the majority of the public do not want.