How many roads …

… will be recognisable in West Fermanagh, if hydraulic fracturing gets underway?

The fracking would take place through wells drilled on ‘wellpads’, industrial sites constructed throughout what are now rural woods and fields. Let’s look at a single wellpad, the smallest type which could be used,  containing just eight wells. (The licensee, Tamboran Resources, say that they anticipate using a design which could accommodate sixteen or more.) We are assuming a twenty ton lorry as this is about the biggest that will fit on our rural Fermanagh roads.

1. Construction of pad base.
According to Tamboran (see above) an eight well pad occupies approximately six acres = 0.024 square kilometres. This will require a base of aggregate and concrete.
Using a half metre depth of aggregate: 20000 msq x .5 = 10,000 cubic metres of aggregate will be required.
A ton of dry gravel is approx 0.6 cubic metres so each pad base would require 16600 tons or 830 one-way lorry journeys.
Using a 15cm (6 inch) depth of concrete: 0.02 square km x .15m = 3000 cubic metres of concrete will be required.
One cubic metre of concrete weighs around 2.3 tons so each pad base would require 6900 tons or 345 one-way lorry journeys.

2. Sand (used for hydraulic fracturing)
Each well will require around 2500 tons of sand so eight wells will need 20,000 tons or 1000 one-way lorry journeys.

3. Water (used for hydraulic fracturing)
Tamboran say the large 50 x 50 metre water pond on the wellpad will provide eighty percent of the water needed for one well frack*. They anticipate that the pond will be 6metres deep, but kept at around five metres full to avoid any overflow.
This accounts for 50x50x5m = 12500 cubic metres of water.
If this is 80% of the amount required to frack a single well then the total needed must be around 15625 cubic metres or 4.13 million US gallons .
So 8(wells) x 4.13(million gallons/well) x.2 (20 percent not obtained from pond) = 6.6 million gallons of water which will have to be brought to the wellpad.
A tanker lorry weighing 20 tons holds 4800 US gallons.
6.6million gallons divided by 4800(each tanker’s load) = 1376 one-way lorry trips of water (and considerably more, if less water is available via the pond).

*The idea that so much water can practically or safely be diverted from the natural water cycle into these ponds is widely disputed.

4. Waste water (brought back up from the well, contaminated with salt and other substances)
Let’s use 25% as the amount that is likely to flow back to the surface  (this is a conservative estimate). This waste has to be transported somewhere. Given the shallowness of the shale, it is unlikely to be injected back underground, and to treat it on site would be extremely difficult (and require the use of considerable quantities of chemicals).
8 wells x 4.13million(gallons of water per well) x25% = 8.25million US gallons of waste water per pad.
Divided by 4800 (capacity of tanker) this gives 1718 one-way lorry loads of waste water.

5. Other.
Ancillary construction traffic (e.g. to make roads, move equipment etc.) will require at least 100 lorry journeys (and more if, as seems likely, forestry land will be used, so needing tree clearance and excavation / flattening of site). There will also be other smaller vehicular traffic.

Aggregate : 830
Concrete : 345
Sand : 1000
Water : 1376
Waste : 1718
Ancillary: 100

Total : 5339 x 20 ton one-way lorry journeys per pad.

Tamboran state that “as many as 10 wellpads could be being constructed each year about seven years from now” (on website, as above).
That means 5339 x 10 = 53,390 one-way journeys per year, or well over a thousand every week. Of course, these are one-way journeys and the lorries will have to go back again, so the number can probably be doubled.

Two thousand twenty-ton lorries driving along our narrow rural roads and through our villages and townlands every week. Just take a moment to imagine that.

According to Tamboran’s website, they hope to build around a hundred wellpads, and to add eight or sixteen more wells to each. That means at least this level of heavy goods traffic, and very likely much more, for many, many years. And each wellpad, Tamboran proudly say, “could be required for the full 65 years”.

If you’re old enough, or uncool enough, you probably remember John Denver’s Country Roads:

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowin’ like a breeze.

They’ve had fracking in West Virginia for a while now, recently implicated in the major East coast earthquake and a toxic algae bloom that wiped out thousands of fish along 35 miles of the Dunkard creek.

And one thing is certain, the roads aren’t much like heaven any more.

(Thanks to Tom White for all statistics and calculations)