Hydraulic fracturing (more commonly known as “fracking”) is a controversial process used to extract natural gas from unconventional resources. It has been applied commercially since the 1950s but has recently become a subject of intense debate. This is due to the massive increase in gas produced via fracking since the start of the millennium, particularly in the United States. In 2000, hydraulically fractured wells produced 7 per cent of the nation’s gas supply, while in 2015 they produced 67 per cent. The country has experienced widespread economic benefits from the growth in natural gas production: energy is cheaper, the sector provides over 150 000 jobs and it has reduced the reliance on other countries for energy imports. Nevertheless, there is significant controversy surrounding fracking due to its potential environmental and social impact.
Fracking has been proposed as a solution to Australia’s current energy crisis, with advocates arguing that the removal of state bans to allow the production of unconventional resources will end the shortage and lower electricity prices. Those opposing the notion have voiced environmental concerns and pointed to the fact that there is an abundance of conventionally sourced gas leaving the country as a lucrative export. There are valid arguments supporting both sides of the debate. The dilemma for policy makers is whether to risk long-term environmental and social sustainability to provide a reliable supply of energy now to the domestic household and industrial market, at a low cost.