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What can we learn from hydraulic fracturing in America?

Posted 6 April 2016

“I learned that there are regulations in place to protect the land, but these aren't always applied to the gas and oil fracking industry, which surprised me greatly.

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Final year Harper Adams University student Emily Barnacle is completing a research project about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Texas and Oklahoma.

The Rural Enterprise and Land Management (REALM) student, from Twyford, Leicestershire, hopes her study will help to provide an insight into the benefits and problems of the practice, before the UK fully exploits this energy source.

Emily, 22, said: “I first became interested in the hydraulic fracturing industry when I went out to work on a ranch for the summer in Texas and Oklahoma before studying at Harper Adams.

“When you’re driving out there, you can see the rigs throughout the landscape, which is very different to the view back home. 

“I wanted to look further into the sector, as it was so imposing. We don’t have it over here in the UK yet, but with the government already granting dozens of licences for exploration in December 2015, it won’t be long until we do. My study provides guidance that I believe will help us move forward with the adoption of this industry.

“A lot of research has been done on the environmental and health implications hydraulic fracturing has, but I didn’t understand, or see much work on, the impact on agriculture. That’s why I chose this topic for my dissertation and it’s received some great interest. The president of the CLA has requested to have a copy once the dissertation has been completed. 

“I interviewed six ranchers in order to gather data to analyse. Although six sounds like a small number, they have large acreage due to the nature of the holdings in Oklahoma and Texas. The majority of the landowners interviewed have in excess of twenty thousand acres. 

“I saw that the main issues that surround fracking from the farming perspective are livestock and water contamination. 

“I learned that there are regulations in place to protect the land, but these aren’t always applied to the gas and oil fracking industry, which surprised me greatly. 

“In addition, I found out that on some occasions, interviewees also had a business interest in the gas and oil industry and therefore had a different perception compared to managers of the ranches. 

“Therefore, one of my recommendations is that regulations are created and upheld. If there’s a dairy farmer who is relying on a borehole, their business could be devastated if the well is incorrectly sealed. Some of the ranchers in America admitted this concern in their beef enterprise. 

“However, not everything is so easily comparable between the two countries. The ranches in America are so large, that having a rig on their land does not affect them greatly as it’s land they might not visit for a proportion of the year. While farmers here have much less land, so if there was a rig on their property it would be much more intrusive.

“I originally went out to America because I was invited out there for the summer by a friend of the family, Tom Cavanagh, who’s the ranch manager. He’s also a Harper Adams alumnus. I’ve been out to America over two summers already to work with Tom, and both were brilliant and informative experiences. Tom has specific expertise in gas, oil and water along with being directly involved in agriculture. 

“I’d like to say a big thank you to Tom for helping me with this project by providing contacts for my interviews and for allowing me the opportunity to experience the Oklahoma ranching lifestyle. I also want to thank my supervisor, Dr Richard Byrne, for his advice and guidance throughout the dissertation.

“I’m going out to America again this summer to help out on the ranch, thank my interviewees with a beer before I return in September where I will be joining Shouler and Son in Leicestershire as a graduate rural surveyor.” 

Emily has nearly finished writing up her findings and recommendations, in good time for her final deadline in May.

‘Making My Mark’ is a collection of dissertations being completed by Harper Adams final year undergraduate students which have an interesting story behind them or are on a subject of public interest. If you have a dissertation you wish to be included, please email press@harper-adams.ac.uk

 

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