.

Fracking is a big issue. We’re all busy working, raising our kids best we can and don’t really have time to understand the pros and cons do we? 

Are we being over cautious and blind to our necessities?

I’d say if you are going to put chemicals into the earth, it concerns me and you.

How do we know arsenic is not going to end up in our drinking water? Do we trust the government, the agencies and the energy companies to think long term rather than short term or look after us if it goes wrong? Who decides ultimately what our energy looks like tomorrow?  

I tried to find facts, figures and what the pro and anti tell us; without being hysterical.   

How does it work?

Simplified to bare minimum:

1. Drill further down than we have before onshore in this country
(approx 1km and over)

2. Inject water, sand and chemicals in thick metal pipes
(7 to 15 million litres per well)

3. Contaminated water comes back up, is then recycled or left on site

4. Extract the shale gas (for months or years)

5. Block the well by filling the hole with cement.

Chemicals? What chemicals? 

According to chemistryviews.org three to 12 chemicals are added to the water, 0.5 to 2% of the total amount of stuff that’s injected into the ground. At millions of litres of water per well, that’s large amounts of chemicals into the earth. Forget the worries of big holes we have been accumulating around the earth for years, we now have to think of chemicals coming into contact with layers of soil that have not encountered these chemicals before. I wish my chemistry teacher had warned me I’d need to understand chemical reactions at some point in my life.

From high levels of mercury around the Faroese archipelago to the drugs given to an increasing number of very young children for hyperactivity, some will say our governments have not helped us make informed decisions on what we do, what we buy and what we do to our planet.

It’s not a blame game, it’s a fact. And we’re not stupid or disinterested as we are often accused to be. The vast majority of people in the UK are busy working and are sadly despondent with politicians. But for the first time ever, we can raise our concerns and have a chance of being listened to. It has started, there’s been some U turns, it’s up to us to keep the momentum going. So what are the worries with fracking?

Earthquakes? 

When Cuadrille started drilling near Blackpool in 2011, there were seismic events (highest being 2.3 on Richter scale). According to Cuadrille’s website the British Geological Survey said “The tremors were way too small to cause any damage”. Fair enough. On one site.  What about when you multiply that by an unknown number?

In the US, Nationwide Mutual Insurance stated in 2012 it would not cover risk to farms from fracking (source frackfreedorset.org.uk). Some green organizations say, stop concentrating on earthquakes, that’s only a very small part.

OK, so what’s the bigger picture?

Who are the players in the shale gas market? 

Apart from the governments setting up the rules from the experts’ findings, energy companies will be the ones drilling. Closest to home (in Southern England) is IGas with a license for shale gas in the Weald Basin.

According to their website, they want to play their part in diversifying Britain’s energy mix and have been extracting oil and gas for 30 years. They know what they’re doing. They have not had any catastrophe. Fair enough. We’ve been using their energy to heat our homes for years.

They are working within the new UKOOG charter that will ensure communities will receive a share in the benefits that shale gas may bring.

That sounds good, financially, so how does it work?

What is UKOOG?

UKOOG United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group published industry guidelines to include hydraulic fracturing and the public disclosure of fracture fluid composition. So, fracking will be regulated, and they’ll have to tell us what chemicals they’re using.

UKOOG has also published an engagement charter, they promise £100,000 for the community situated near an exploratory fracking site (whatever the outcome) and 1% of the production revenues (before the operator has accounted for their costs). Evidence will be published and as the industry develops, they are pledging to consult further with local communities. These funds will be distributed via the UK Communities Foundation.

Dorset Community Foundation 

My local one, the Dorset Community Foundation, works with private and corporate donors. It has distributed £10m in charitable grants since 2000. The Bridport Rowing Club received £1,567 in October 2013, the Dorset writers’ network £5,250 in April 2013, the Drimpton Hall £1,000 in 2013, the Beaminster Area Seniors £1,500  in July 2012.

If we had fracking on our doorstep, more money would mean more help. What do financially struggling small charities think about that? £100,000 is very tempting in the least and a tiny portion could mean the survival of a struggling small local charity. Some will see it as a form of bribery, others a necessary evil.

Local impact in an AONB

According to UKOOG, in areas of scenic beauty operations will be screened and the site restored to its previous state once operations are finished. The average site of a drilling rig is 125 ft (38 m) and is needed for an average of 12 weeks. The water needed is 100-300 trucks movements per year per ‘pad’ (area around the well) over 20 years.

As a comparison, UKOOG use the 11 million m3 of milk produced in the UK by dairy farmers representing 370,000 truck journeys yearly. As nobody knows how many pads there will be, nobody knows how many trucks will be driving around our roads.

Exploration sites are preferably 24 hour operations with floodlights. Noise is kept to the minimum possible. Whilst I live in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, these localised nuisances must not detract us from looking at the bigger picture. Sadly they often do. There are questions that will have a far wider and deeper impact.

Will it be safe? 

The Royal Society advised the Government specifically for shale gas. A few extracts from their advice in 2012.

‘It is mandatory for operators to submit reports about accidents and incidents to the UK’s regulators. Reports should also be shared between operators. Reliable data on failures of well integrity, as well as failures or shortcomings in procedures carried out during well construction, operation and abandonment, are not readily available.’

(To be fair, the UK have not been doing this for years -as the US have- so cannot be expected to have these records)

‘These data should not be proprietary to any one company. Commercial confidentiality or the prospect of adverse publicity should not become barriers to sharing data and learning from incident experience. The importance of an open sharing and learning culture is clear from investigations into past oil and gas incidents.’

This, in theory, should enable us to be as safe as possible. I use should as governments and companies use could (provide jobs, provide enough energy for the next 50 years).

But are these the most important questions? What about the long term effects for my kids and theirs? We have to look at that greyest of grey area, climate change.

Policymaking and climate change. 

The RA further advises:

‘Policymaking would benefit from research into the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of shale gas. Policy making would also benefit from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of wider UK policies, including:

  • climate change policy, especially the impact of shale gas extraction on the UK meeting its emissions targets
  • energy policy, especially the impact of shale gas development on investment in renewable energy
  • economic policy, including socioeconomic benefits from employment to tax revenue and from shale gas use.’

Carbon footprint: 

‘There are few reliable estimates of the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction and use in the peer reviewed literature. One US study from Cornell University concluded that the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction is significantly larger than from conventional gas extraction owing to potential leakages of methane’ (Howarth et al 2011). ‘The same study recognised the large uncertainty in quantifying these methane leakages, highlighting that further research is needed’. (Source RA)

The UK government indicate that carbon footprint from shale gas extraction is lower than coal extraction and that methane leaks were mainly due to bad well design or maintenance. The UK therefore will be learning from past mistakes and we can trust risks will be minimised. Research is still carrying on specifically on climate change and how to transform the methane into useable energy.

The best guidelines in the world

The guidelines set out that ‘operators must publicly disclose all chemical additives to fracturing fluids on a well-by-well basis, including regulatory authorisations, safety data and maximum concentrations and volumes. These disclosures meet or exceed all known standards in the global shale gas industry’. (UKOOG)

The government has set out to lead the world on best practice for shale gas extraction. They and therefore we have to rely on the companies that will extract.

Cuadrilla

The pioneer company in the UK is Cuadrilla. Based in the north of England, Cuadrilla is a network of limited companies in different countries, a typical multinational. Cuadrila claim they ‘could create 5,600 jobs in the UK, 1,700 of these in Lancashire’. They also claim that natural gas is an ideal transition fuel and as they receive no public funding, no money is being taken away from funding renewable energy. Cuadrilla Resources Ltd is privately owned by its management team and two investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC.  

When we deal with companies, we obviously deal with people. Cuadrilla’s Chairman is John Browne, ex Group Chief Executive at BP. He is a member of the House of Lords. He is Chairman at Riverstone Holdings LLC (energy private investment firm with $27 billion of equity capital raised, one of Cuadrilla’s investors), Director at Fairfiled Energy Ltd, White Rose Energy Ventures LLP (both oil and gas), Director at Pattern Energy Group (wind and transmission company). He is also chairman of the advisory board at Stanhope Capital, advises Deutsche Bank on climate change and gets book royalties from Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

According to his autobiography ‘Beyond Business’ he invented the oil ‘supermajor’ and led the way on issues such as climate change, human rights and transparency.

We need energy, jobs and taxes

Companies and governments like to talk jobs. Cuadrilla could create 5,600 jobs although it is not clear whether these are for drilling (short term) or extracting (longer term).

To compare to a company that operates in the energy market currently, IGas employ 170 staff over 100 sites in the UK.

Companies also pay taxes into the Exchequer. In 2012 BP paid $1.1bn in corporate income and production taxes according to their global website. According to a thisismoney.co.uk article BP have 67 companies registered in offshore territories (for 85 subsidiaries) too. Energy and commerce are indeed international but we cannot ignore the energy companies’ share of our national budget.

So, what about the Government then: 

The Government wants investment to come to the UK. They promise English local authorities 100% of business rates collected from shale gas schemes rather than the usual 50%. Cameron claims the process could support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills. Could.

Recently at the World Economic Forum David Cameron has made it clear he does not want the EU to add more stringent rules for fracking companies. Does this means our current rules are stringent enough to safeguard us from companies that will put profit before people’s safety? We can only go on past experience and make up our own mind.

Although undoubtedly welcome, some may find Ed Davey’s timing on looking into British Gas interesting. Our Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is asking the regulator to look into why British Gas are so expensive whilst holding 41% of the national share of customers. Better late than never some will say; others -as it happens one of the big 6 energy companies- say that he is meddling in the affairs of the regulator and he should not (The regulator are due to give a report shortly. Source BBC). If the government cannot take action when they are told by the people who elect them that there is a problem, then are we safe with these regulators?

It seems to me our Energy Minister had no choice, he will not be able to sell us the idea of fracking without tackling the big issues consumers currently have with the current energy companies. And British Gas has been a bone of contention with many for years. Only with fracking, it won’t be a case of swapping supplier.

What are we dealing with?

Nobody denies that we are dealing with highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and a method of extraction that has very little data.  As it stands, we have to trust that the Oil and Gas industry will be more responsible than in the past.

If each well only has one or two people on site, we have to trust that each and every individual working for the company will not try and cover an accident, say an arsenic spill for fear of losing his or her job. Accidents happen and should not stop progress. True. There will be monitoring for levels of chemicals in our aquifer (where our drinking water comes from) of course, but is that enough?

There are still consequences that are unknown:

Drilling more and further still 

Drilling more than a thousand metres below the surface is new to the UK, the US have only been doing it for a few years (they claim they’ve been doing it for a long time but does a few decades give us an understanding of the consequences of fracking for the generations to come?).

Increase of radioactive materials to the Earth’s surface

Nobody denies that there will be increased radon and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material in the air and the water. It will be monitored locally so it should be OK. When will we know the real impact of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster? If we keep adding even minute amounts of bad stuff internationally, on and on, and on, when will the balance tip to danger or even, let’s go hysterical, disaster?

Unprecedented quantities of water needed 

Where will the huge amounts of water needed come from? This is probably the least of our worry in this country, let’s face it, water source should never be an issue, although sometimes it is. Water bans in the UK have always puzzled me but we’ve had them.

Contaminated water needs to be stored 

It is not clear yet how flowback water (with its toxic chemicals) will be recycled, the US have had open pits (with obvious problems), containers above ground (a potential temptation for a wicked mind?) or put it back underground. Can we be safe in the knowledge that the ground layers around these contaminated waters will not react to the new chemicals that have been injected? Listen to whichever specialist you want, they don’t agree anyway. I can’t help but worry.

Who invests in green energy? 

If companies invest in shale gas will they invest in green energy or research into better methods? Lord Browne assures us that one does not take away from the other. That’s as it may be, the big world of commerce is beyond my understanding.

It is worth noting nevertheless, that in June 2013 Centrica Plc (aka British Gas) paid £40 million in cash and became an investment partner in Cuadrilla in Lancashire. Big companies won’t put all their eggs in one basket, I understand that much, but if one basket disappears, then maybe investors will put their money into other baskets; maybe the ones that are investing in cleaner energies. Their return may not be as high, but where have high returns led us in the past?

Companies are there to make money. People who are lucky enough to have money to spend, have enough education to be informed and are free to choose help create the markets companies will want to invest in. As more and more people realise this and share information, we can only hope we all make better informed decisions. We do have a choice.

Climate change,
of course it exists,
what will be the impact from fracking? 

Do we really understand climate change? I don’t. Sorry. The problem with climate change, for most of us, even the ones who have gone to Uni but did not study maths or science, is that it goes beyond our every day understanding. Did you know that physicists started warning us about greenhouse effect in the middle of the 19th century?

All over the world scientists have been warning us ever since with new findings to back up their theories. And to this day, loud voices still spread doubt.

Is it now time to help the big hungry machine of western society say stop?

Breathe.

Think.

Learn from our mistakes.

We are in the middle of devastating floods.

Why?

Will our floods teach us anything? 

Let’s look at where we are now and what we (Joe Public) know. We’ve built on flood plains, we’ve taken the hedges away, we’ve put concrete and tarmac all over the show and we know that when the ground is saturated, water will find its course to the lowest point. Joe Public have been saying this for years. Country folks sure have.

So why did we build in the flood plains in the first place? Did the scientists not warn us? Was it the cheapest way out of a housing crisis? Whatever the reasons, we probably felt we had no choice.

Flood defenses may be the answer to dealing with this crisis now. But who listened to the country folks who said stop taking our hedges away or the top soil will disappear into the rivers? Who listened to the scientists who said monoculture is dangerous for the future of the ground? Did farmers have any choice? How many farmers who tried to go organic early on survive? How many small farmers have survived full stop. These were choices made for housing and eating. Yes I know industrial revolution, feeding the world and all that. We’re now being convinced that we need shale gas to heat our homes and cook for our children. Do we?

What will be our flood defenses for shale gas, if in 75 years we realise we have gone too far? Will we merely be shut up and told ‘this is not A Level chemistry’?

We have a choice, and the British Government is telling us to use common sense. Things are changing.
The internet is changing things.

We know that there were snippers in Kiev.

If history was written by Kings’ scribes in the past, current history is being written and filmed by everybody. We can reach our governments, they cannot keep ignoring us.  If we don’t make the most of this, then what next?     

Who decides? 

At the moment, I’d say the UK government is realising that its people and their petitions cannot be ignored all the time. Not all ministers have clocked social media feedback yet but fact is they’re flocking to twitter (almost flocking and definitely yet to understand how it works but you know, one step at a time), some still think that people who sign petitions are stupid, but then where I live Town Council voted against monthly meetings’ information being sent by email in 2013. Yes. Seriously. Let’s keep printing reams of paper, collate, staple, deliver and pay somebody to do this. And increase our Council Tax. I digress but I had to tell you. You need to know these things. How else will we ever evolve?

Back at national level, it is a good thing British Gas is finally being investigated. It is a good thing we have a government that does listen to us -as well as the lobbies of course-, whether you call it a U turn, vote swaying or listening. And no, I am not a member of the Conservative party. I don’t care who is in government, they’re all individuals who have to make decisions. And like us, they need the information to help them decide. Forget the bad apples, they’re everywhere and distracting us from taking action. Let’s not use them as a good excuse for apathy, we’ve been doing this long enough on too many subjects.

Decisions, decisions

We do not have enough information yet to understand what we are doing to our finite earth. We may never do. Meanwhile, we need to decide what to do with the information we have. Renewables are not perfect but if I have to choose between unsightly and arsenic, I’ll choose an ugly turbine. If I have to choose between unspoiled grassland and solar panels, I’ll choose solar because when a better solution is found, the solar farm can be dismantled and the grassland won’t have disappeared forever. And yes, I realise that we need to extract minerals or metals for renewables’ engineering and that there are consequences there too. This is what we have to play with at the moment, whilst our government tries to convince us that fracking is a good idea.

I cannot help but get increasingly frustrated in my rural heaven by all the No to wind turbines, No to solar farms, No to anaerobic converters, No to fracking, No to emails.

Yes to what then?

Scotland getting the North Sea Oil?

That decision is in somebody else’s hands. A few months away, it may be Goodbye North Sea Oil, Bonjour EDF who in forty years have still not found where to safely store nuclear waste. If we know that one thing is, to the best of our knowledge, more dangerous than the other which one should we go for?

Bonne chance England.

——

Sources: 

http://www.ukoog.org.uk/community/benefits
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-myths-and-realities-of-shale-gas-exploration

http://www.dangersoffracking.com
http://www.energyfromshale.org
http://www.psg.deloitte.co.uk/NewsLicensingRounds_GB_ON_0806.asp

http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/shale-gas/2012-06-28-Shale-gas.pd

http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317140158707

http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/news/cuadrilla-news/article/cuadrilla-welcomes-centrica-as-new-investment-partner-in-lancashire/

http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/lord-browne-of-madingley/2172

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8285247.stm

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