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Overview - Issues with Energy exploitation

Economic and environmental issues associated with exploitation of energy sources

There are many issues attached to exploiting our remaining reserves of fossil fuels.  Some of these affect our natural and built environment, whilst others issues involve the economic impacts of using these resources.  Some of the main issues with fossil fuel use is the damage to the natural environment during extraction and the production of pollutants during burning such as CO2 which lead to global warming, dust which is hazardous to human health and Sulphur Dioxide which contributes to acid rain.
Coal is a reasonably cheap source of energy for example compared to other fossil fuels and we still have reserves left in the UK, in areas such as the Northumberland coalfield for example.  However, is it correct and morally right to continue to use non-renewable and unsustainable fossil fuel reserves when we have viable renewable alternatives such as wind or solar power?  We also have nuclear power stations across the UK, but many of these need renewing or completely rebuilding.  Many of the current nuclear power plants will need decommissioning, a very costly and long process.  In addition, nuclear power plants produce nuclear waste, which needs disposing of in a safe manner (currently it is stored underground).  Many people around the country worry about the safety aspects of nuclear power and nuclear waste disposal and don’t want it in their local area.  This is known as NIMBYism, Not In My Back Yard.  However, Nuclear energy can produce lots of power and has a low carbon footprint except for in the initial construction of the plants.  A huge new plant is planned for Hinkley Point to start generating electricity in 2025 in a joint project between EDF (Électricité de France, a French energy company mainly owned by the French government) and financed in part by the Chinese government.  Questions have been raised about the whether it is a good idea to allow foreign governments access to our energy infrastructure. 

Even renewable energy types, such as biofuel, wind, tidal and solar power have issues relating to them despite being broadly supported by environmental groups. Renewable energy takes up space that could be used for other uses, such as producing food, and the natural environment can suffer.  Offshore wind farms damage the sea bed for example and are hazardous for birds, whilst on land local s can complain about wind turbines being an eyesore and producing too much noise.  More information on the positives and negatives of these fuel types can be seen in section 1.17.

Fracking is a current and new technology that is being investigated in the UK.  It is already used in the USA and the UK government seems keen on its use in the UK.  The first Fracking site on the Fylde in Lancashire has been approved.  The process generally involves pumping a mixture of sand and chemical laden water into Shale rocks at very high pressures.  This shatters the rock and releases Shale Gas which is trapped within the rocks.  This has drastically reduced energy costs in the USA and has reduced the USA reliance on imported gas and oil.  However, the long term environmental impacts of this process are unknown and fears exist over water contamination, water use and even small earthquakes in fracking areas.  Also, in a country such as the UK which has huge potential for using wind power, tidal power and solar power (in the south and east) do we need to exploit something as environmentally damaging?

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