UK fracking revolution comes with big risks

 

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In what it has called ‘the starting pistol at the latest stage of the race’, the Telegraph newspaper has reported that fracking, or Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE), whilst touted as the solution to our energy problems, does in fact come with big risks.

They state: “If all goes to plan, the UK’s 14th onshore licensing round will replicate the kind of shale revolution that has helped to power the US economy out of the financial crisis. But get it wrong and fracking in Britain, which comes with a fair share of environmental risk, will become too politically toxic for any future government to consider.”

To read the article in depth, click here.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/11810171/Britains-shale-fracking-revolution-comes-with-big-risks.html

England smashed open with fracking auction

Whilst there were those that knew that this was coming whether they liked it or not, there were many English citizens who did not see this powerful knockout blow-to-their-dreams coming.

Yesterday (August 18th 2015), in their 14th Licencing round, Westminster Government successfully opened up the auctioning gates to 27 plots of land to the Oil and Gas companies for purposes of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

The areas up for purchase include several areas across the north of England and Midlands including Middlesborough, Scarborough and the Historical City of York.

Each individual auctioning block measures 10km by 10km, bringing the total area of land to 2,700 sq/km for these particular licensed areas. It is not entirely clear whether or not areas of special scientific interest and environmentally sensitive areas are going to be protected.

Why has this move come as a shock for so many?

In my own opinion, there were three events over the last 14 months that lead the English into believing their land would not be fracked:

  • The collective moratoriums in Wales and Scotland.
  • The (temporary) stalling of fracking in Fermanagh, N.Ireland
  • The ban of USGE in New York.

The success of those three peaceful, law abiding campaigns seemed to build a momentum within the consciousness of many, not just the English, but the Irish, N.Irish, Welsh, and Scottish also, that the practice of USGE was something that could be stopped.

The bottom line here is that as a result of those three successes, people really did feel that if a local area felt opposed to the environmental and health risks of fracking that this meant that fracking wouldn’t go ahead.

However those that could look at the facts properly, and without emotion, could see clearly that this wasn’t the case, in particular when you take into account that David Cameron’s strong Pro-Fracking views.

Further to this, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villers has previously backed fracking in Northern Ireland and only 8 months ago FFAN reported that the Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change Matt Hancock expressed his desire for Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction to proceed despite the fact that recent drastic diminishing oil and gas prices may make the energy extraction process even more unprofitable for both government and corporations.

This support for fracking by our collective Government Officials comes despite the fact that The British Medical Journal (BMI) criticising the technical, economical and health deficiencies of USGE and Australian medical journal the LANCET highlighting the health risks of fracking via water, air and soil transport systems.

Yet, fracking can only go ahead, subject with local planning consent by local councils. However, Westminster can over turn this.

As a result, many English citizens have woken up this morning with proverbial bloody noses as the stark reality hits them in the face that their area is now up for grabs, and they will have felt bad for not seeing it coming sooner.

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales should take heed.

Below is the 14th Onshore Round of Licences that are up for auction.

14th round

Westminster speed up application process once more

The UK Government has once more sped up the application process that relates to Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

In a move that is more likely to affect the auctioned areas from the 14th round and beyond, USGE applications now force local councils to grant the application no later than 16 weeks, without extension. Whilst planning applications are already subject to a 16 week deadline, there was the option of extending the deadline so that more information could be gathered. However, that option has now been removed.

If the deadline is reached and the application not granted, the Westminster Government has the right to step in, overrule the local council in question, and grant the application to the Oil and Gas companies.

This move may not be in the spirit of the law that would allow time for research for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Health Impact Assessments (HIA). However, the move to keep application processes within 16 weeks is within the letter of the law, and is therefore not illegal.

The move can be deemed as a shame because  EIA’s and HIA’s should be carried out so that the risk to human health and quality of live can be assessed before any new industry moves into an area, in particular fracking, which has already earned itself such a dark shady past, despite Governments globally stating that the practice is safe.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards.
Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards. (image source: council.lancashire.gov.uk)

Sadly, the 16 week ‘no-extension-available’ deadline won’t allow the local councils the time to assess the dangers to the people and environment in their area properly.

This runs risk of hurting other humans, children and adults, today and tomorrow and the option of an extension for further research is a good thing, and it should not be removed.

But it has been. And it is not illegal.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council, who have had to deal with Cuadrilla, said that the Cuadrilla case had “dragged on” so long, because the deadlines his council sought had been extended to get more information. He said: “I can see what the direction of travel is: it’s to remove local determinism, and the right of local people to have a say,” Furthermore Johnstone felt that reducing the role of local planning risked storing up problems later. “If they [government] don’t gauge the anger now, they run a real risk of not giving the public any outlet to express their views. If you shut out off the safety valve, you’re going to have problems.”

Fracking explosion kills 70,000 fish

A fracking explosion that occurred in Ohio last year (June 2014) ended up killing 70,000 fish in what appears to be a series of unfortunate events that would make even Lemony Snicket blush.

The Ohio disaster serves as a stark reminder of the fact that with fracking accidents, the damage created can be quite difficult to bring to a halt, even despite our best efforts of regulation and mitigation.
The Ohio disaster serves as a stark reminder of the fact that with fracking accidents, the damage created can be quite difficult to bring to a halt, even despite our best efforts of regulation and mitigation.

The event started at 9am, June 28th 2014, with a break in a hydraulic line that sprayed fracking chemicals over nearby hot machinery.This in turn caused an estimated 20 trucks to catch fire, leading to 30 recorded explosions

The fracking well was allowed to leak for a full 15 hours allowing flow back fluid to emit into a tributary of Opossum creak, until the wells closure at midnight.

The fires themselves were burning for seven days, despite the best efforts of local fire services who fought to extinguish the flames.

The incident is a sobering reminder to the environmental risks posed by shale gas extraction operations, where both fracking companies and governments have fought to sooth public opinion on the dangers of unconventional shale gas extraction.

The Ohio explosion, or explosions as it were, lead to the death of around 70,000 fish and also facilitated the deaths of salamanders, frogs and crayfish through the exposure of flow back fluids that were estimated to travel 5 miles from the epicentre, falling short of the main Ohio River.

Opossum Creek leads into the Ohio River, 1.7 miles upstream from public drinking waters for West Virginian residents. Officials say that no drinking water was contaminated by the tragedy.

Kentucky fracked fish?

Nami Resources Company, a Kentucky based Oil and Gas Company have pleaded guilty to charges that infringed both the Clean Water Act and Endangered species Act after it was found that a 2007 fracking waste water spill led to the deaths of several species of fish in the area.

They were fined $50,000 for the incident.

The fracking waste water originated from four of their fracking well sites into the Acorn Fork Creek in south-eastern Kentucky. Soon after, the majority of the fish in the area died, including those that belonged to two endangered species.

Chrosomus cumberlandensis, otherwise known as the 'Blackside Dace', was one of teh endangered species of fish negatively affected by the incident.
Chrosomus cumberlandensis, otherwise known as the ‘Blackside Dace’, was one of the endangered species of fish negatively affected by the incident.

Researchers studied water samples and the bodies of the dead fish, and concluded that the fracking spillage had lead to an acidification of the water, and resulted in the fish genocide, with the deceased fish showing signs of gill lessons, liver and spleen damage.

The research into the incident formed the basis of the 2013 peer reviewed study here.

 

Texas pass ban on hydraulic fracking bans

The U.S. State of Texas has passed a bill through Texas Senate that limits the ability of municipal powers to place bans on fracking related operations.

In other words, the Texas Senate has passed a ban on fracking bans.

Texas Senate Chambers (image source: eaglefordtexas.com)
Texas Senate Chambers (image source: eaglefordtexas.com)

As reported by EaglefordTexas.com:

The Senate voted 24-7 for House Bill 40 — also known as the Denton fracking bill. It reasserts state control over drilling while spelling out some limited powers that cities have in regulating surface operations. The bill will now go to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature. The push for the bill came after Denton residents approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing in November.

Lawmakers have said that the bill is necessary to clarify state and local regulations and prevent a statewide patchwork of unreasonable ordinances that would threaten oil and gas production. The fight over who controls urban drilling began after Denton residents approved a ban, not on all drilling but simply on hydraulic fracturing. A grassroots group felt that the city and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the industry, were not doing enough to protect them.

To read the article in full, click here.

Fracking wastewater spill in north dakota

The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) has revealed that a spill of fracking wastewater, otherwise known as brine, has been released been notified of a
produced water (brine) release in Renville County approximately 5 miles southeast of Tolley.

Renville County, North Dakota
Renville County, North Dakota

The fracking company responsible, Enduro Operating, has reported that 25 barrels of oil and 820 barrels of brine were released –  70 barrels of which left the oil well location, whilst the remaining released 750 barrels contained on site.

The view the North Dakota press release in full, click here.

Taxpayers to pay for fracking pollution

The Guardian news paper has just revealed that in the event that fracking companies go bankrupt, the costs incurred for pollution to the environment will be burdened onto the UK taxpayer.

Cuadrilla shale gas drilling rig is set up for 'fracking', Weeton, Blackpool, Lancashire, in March 2012. Photograph: Alamy
Cuadrilla shale gas drilling rig is set up for ‘fracking’, Weeton, Blackpool, Lancashire, in March 2012. (Image source: alamy)

Normally, fracking companies would take out a bond as an insurance policy in the event of environmental pollution. However the need for bonds has been rejected by Minister of the Environment Dan Rogerson, who stated:

“We believe that the existing regulatory framework is fit for purpose for the exploration and exploitation of onshore oil and gas activities. There are a great number of checks and controls available to us to ensure that operators comply with the requirements of their permits and deal with the wider pollution risks without adding to existing regulation.”

To read the guardian article in full, click here.

Minister: methane extraction to go ahead in UK, despite drastically diminishing gas prices

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change Matt Hancock expressed his desire for Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction to proceed despite the fact that recent drastic diminishing oil and gas prices may make the energy extraction process even more unprofitable for both government and corporations.

Matthew Hancock, the U.K. Conservative party's business and energy minister, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. The ruling Conservative Party is lining up investors to kick-start fracking across swathes of rural Britain, and challenge opposition from the village halls and country estates in its political heartland. Credit: Getty Images.
Matthew Hancock, the U.K. Conservative party’s business and energy minister, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. The ruling Conservative Party is lining up investors to kick-start fracking across swathes of rural Britain, and challenge opposition from the village halls and country estates in its political heartland. Credit: Getty Images.

When asked by co-anchor Guy Johnston that current low oil and gas prices may postpone and delay the need to extract methane gas from the strata of the UK, Hancock denied any reduction in what he called a ‘neccessity’ to drill for methane gas as he looked to minimise any fear that gas prices were being hit as hard as oil prices.  In response, Johnston gently forced the Minister to confirm that it follows that gas prices diminish soon after oil prices. The minister firmly replied:

“The contracts are tied. This is a long term project for the UK, we’re right at the start of a long term project [that] has cross party support in the UK for the principle of getting this potential that could be enormous out of the ground. Geologists are clear that there is a huge quantity of gas deep underneath the UK. The question is how much of it we can economically recover. There are planning decisions this month…and later this year just to get the first extraction out….. It’s an exciting prospect. It is the duty of the government to [make sure] it happens.”

When challenged again by female co-anchor Francine Laqua on the fact that oil and gas prices are diminishing and that this would reduce the sense of urgency for unconventional shale gas extraction, the Minister replied:

“I don’t think that’s quite right, [as] the benefits are not only obviously just for getting the shale out of the ground for the companies involved, but also [for] the security of supply domestically.”

In an interview that did little to tackle scientifically proven environmental or social liabilities of the practice of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction experienced elsewhere around the globe, the Minister further reconfirmed that significantly lower natural gas prices in the UK will not have any impact on the desire of the UK government to conduct the controversial process of fracking.

When Anchor Johnston, by way of analogy, stated that if methane was extracted at a price that was higher than the selling price, an economic loss would be incurred, inparticular if gas prices are tied to oil prices. The Minister for Energy and Climate Change stated in response:

“From the government’s point of view….the benefits remain…. In terms of companies who may be looking to take part, we’ve got to make the margins work….we need to change the fiscal regime [to make it] economic.”

Anchor Lauqua questioned if the government planned on giving any benefits to alleviate the [financial] burden [of lower sales price for oil and gas] for the drillers. To view the Minister’s measured response to Anchor Laqua’s question, you may watch the Bloomberg interview in full, click the link below.

UK Minister for Energy and Climate Change discusses methane extraction with Bloomberg News. 05/01/15.

The right honourable Matt Hancock not only serves as Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, but also as Minister of State at the Dept. of Business, Innovation and Skills. Previously he gained a Masters degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge.

 

NASA: methane hotspot can be seen from space

It has been confirmed that a methane cloud above the south west of the United States can in fact be detected by satellite instruments that orbit the earth, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan and NASA.

The methane cloud currently hovers above the quadruple interstate area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, directly above America’s most productive geological methane basin, the San Juan Basin, where oil and methane gas is being extracted for energy consumption both domestic and foreign.

It has been concluded by both NASA and the University of Michigan that the methane released has been a result of methane extraction processes. The high emissions were recorded in 2003, prior to the advent of hydraulic fracturing in 2006. Parts of the oil and gas system were leaking even before fracking, said Eric Kort, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map. (Credit: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)
This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map.
(Image source: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)

The permanent methane plume covers 2,500 square miles and is the accumulation of leaked methane, both accidental and deliberate. The methane released from the ground into the atmosphere is estimated at half a teragram (500 million kilograms) annually, about as much methane released by the United Kingdom across the oil, coal and gas industries combined.

The methane hotspot is the largest ever seen above the United States and is measured as more than  three times the ground level average.

References:

Kort, E.A., et al. 2014. Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space. Geophysical Research Letters. [Online]. VOLUME 41 (9). [2 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL061503/abstract

Dr Phillips, T (NASA). 2014. US. Methane ‘HotSpot’ Bigger than Expected – NASA Science. [online]. [1 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/09oct_methanehotspot/