Beginner’s guide to fracking: 6 fracking and your land

Could my land be fracked without my knowledge or permission?
Almost certainly, yes. The horizontal drill shafts can extend 1,500 meters from the well and the fractures can reach a further 600 meters. So if there is a well within that distance of your land, it’s likely that fracking will happen underneath you.

ferm farm

Would I be paid for this?
Probably not, unless the centre of the well itself is on or within a quarter mile of your land. Most oil and gas rights in Northern Ireland are owned by DETI and any royalties would go to the UK treasury. Even if you’re entitled to a share of the royalties, this is dependant upon actual gas extracted and saved through that particular well, so there’s no guarantee you would receive anything.

Can I be forced to have a well or access road built on my land?
Yes, under the Mineral Development Act, DETI has compulsory purchase and access rights (Mining Facility Orders) and it can pass the benefit of these on to the gas companies.

Would I be compensated for disturbance, subsidence, damage or the decreased value of my land?
Not automatically, no, other than any standard payment under a Mining Facilities Order. Apart from that, you would have to go to court, at great trouble and expense, to sue the gas companies. The legal position is unclear, but you would only probably succeed if you could show actual negligence and physical damage.

And if the company went bust or was wound up?
You would be unlikely to receive anything, and could be left with the responsibility and expense of decontaminating your land.

ferm2

Would I be insured against any of these risks?
It depends upon your exact situation, policy and insurance company. You would be wise to check very carefully. Standard agricultural policies do not cover fracking activities on your own land.

But hasn’t fracking been going on in the states for ages with no problems?
Not exactly. This type of high volume hydraulic fracturing has only been used for the past decade or so, and has caused severe problems for local land owners. The gas companies have been exempt from much environmental legislation (of teh kind that farmers have to abide by) and so there has been little monitoring of their activities. When a problem such as contaminated water arises, residents have very often been forced to sign gagging clauses, so they cannot go public about their experiences.

But it would be better here, wouldn’t it?
Not necessarily. We have no specific laws about fracking, so are dependant on regulations drawn up for very different operations administered by bodies which are unfamiliar with the technology, often with a lack of resources and a poor history of enforcement. Fermanagh also has a very different landscape from most of America, with our complex network of loughs, rivers and streams, our rich habitats and unique geological heritage. If Fermanagh’s landscape was to be transplanted to the United States, say many Americans, there is no way that they would frack here.

What can I do if I’m concerned about this?
Contact your political representatives, especially MLA’s and ministers, and let them know that this issue matters to you. Talk to your neighbours, family and friends and encourage them to look behind the cheerful headlines.

If we are concerned about fracking in Fermangh, we all need to speak out now and make sure our voices are heard. It may not be easy, but it will be a lot harder to live with the consequences if we do nothing.

To download this information as a printable pdf, please visit our flyers page.

NFU (Canada) calls for fracking moratorium

The National Farmers Union of Canada has called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, concluding that the process poses a danger to water, food and farmland.

“Many farmers in my area who either have direct experience with the destructive nature of hydro-fracking technology on their water wells, or who have neighbours who have been affected have come to me with their concerns” says Jan Slomp, Rimbey area dairy farmer and Region 7 (Alberta) Coordinator for the National Farmers Union (NFU). “We are in the heart of Alberta’s oil and gas country where our ability to produce good, wholesome food is at risk of being compromised by the widespread, virtually unregulated use of this dangerous process.”

At NFU Region 7’s recent public meeting dozens of concerned farm families heard how their neighbours, the Campbell family from Crestomere, Alberta, had their water well contaminated by highly toxic compounds, which they clearly linked to the fracking of a nearby oil and gas well. Several other attendees then brought forward their stories of losing water wells to fracking near their own farms. “Not many of these stories get made public because the oil and gas companies usually force farmers to sign confidentiality agreements in return for replacement of their water wells” said Slomp.

Iain Aitken, an Alberta cattle rancher and local NFU member observed, “Farmers across Canada largely depend on ground water aquifers for both domestic use and livestock production. The quality of ground water is critical to raising high quality food. Unfortunately in the experience of too many Alberta farmers and ranchers hydraulic fracturing has been associated with water well contamination and damage. That is why our organization is calling for a moratorium on this technique until these problems can be addressed.”

Jan Slomp concluded “The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have really acknowledged there are problems with fracking by releasing several useful suggestions for guidelines to prevent further problems. However these voluntary guidelines are no substitute for strong regulations enforced by an impartial government body. That is what is needed before we can support any resumption of fracking.”

The NFU represents thousands of family farms across Canada. At its 2011 annual convention members passed a landmark resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing of sub-surface oil and gas formations.

The story so far

Once upon a time, something over a hundred million years ago, an awful lot of plankton lived and died and ended up on the muddy bottom of  sea and lake beds mixed up with bits and pieces of vegetation. Sediment gradually built up over the plankton layer, heating it up and exerting such huge pressures that it eventually formed oil and natural gas.  The gas migrated upwards until it reached a layer of non-porous rock such as certain types of shale formation.  (Shale is a mixture of clay and tiny fragments of other minerals). The gas couldn’t get any further and stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

And stayed where it was.

 Even when the world had discovered the wonder of fossil fuels, and was burning them as though there were no tomorrow (which, for millions of species, turned out to be pretty much the case) the shale gas was still left alone because it looked so darn impossible to get out.

Meanwhile, the 1964 Petroleum Act declared that all the oil and gas (yes, technically gas is a type of petroleum) under the ground in Northern Ireland belonged to the Ministry of Commerce (now the DETI), and regulations were drawn up so that they could license private companies to extract it.  They didn’t, of course, envisage drilling for shale gas, but the legislation was broad enough to come in very handy much later.

Over the next couple of decades, oil and gas companies in the United States spent a lot of time and money working on a process called hydraulic fracturing.  The technique, basically blasting a mixture of sand and water underground, had been used for some time to force awkward bits of oil and gas out of conventional wells.  But now, by using much more liquid, far higher pressures and a lot more chemical additives, they could use it to break open shale layers and get their hands on the natural gas inside.

It was, and still is, a pretty crude and unsubtle business, involving drilling down a kilometre or two, then horizontally a few more km, setting off explosives to start the destruction, then shattering the rocks with water at pressures of up to 15,000 psi (pounds per square inch) and holding the cracks open with ‘proppants’, tiny particles of sand or synthetic materials.  There’s no way of controlling how the rocks fracture and consequently where the gas goes, the process uses some very nasty, toxic and carcinogenic substances, brings up more (heavy metals, radioactive materials etc.) from the depths and creates pollution of every kind – air, water, visual, noise and greenhouse gas emissions.  But cheap, fossil fuel energy is the lifeblood of big, big business, and with conventional supplies drying up and oil-producing countries not always doing as they’re told, the idea of being able to get hold of burnable stuff under good American soil was just too tempting.  And, if your citizens aren’t quite sure, you can always introduce a jolly and reassuring cartoon character…

So, the friendly fracosauri went ahead and drilled over 35,000 shale oil wells in the United States alone, plus more in Canada.  Along with other ‘unconventional energy investors’ (sounds, cool, doesn’t it, like a banker who’s thrown away his tie and just, like, shimmied on down to pick up his bonus in a T-shirt?) such as those nice guys ripping up the Alberta tar sands, they made a great deal of money, assisted by their top government connections and exemption from most health, safety and environmental laws.  But, oddly enough, people started to complain.  It seems that the patriotic thrill of having an indigenous gas source wasn’t quite enough to make up for having drinking water contaminated with methane, radium and benzene, poisoned creeks and rivers, explosions and fires, depleted water supplies, subsidence, earthquakes, polluted air, clouds of silica particles, noise and light pollution, massive HGV traffic and serious health problems for animals, birds, fish and people.  By the time Josh Fox’s award-winning documentary Gasland came out in 2010, the trickle of unease had become a steady stream of opposition. As the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said in September 2011,

“These nuts make up about 90% of our population, so we can’t really call them nuts any more.  They’re the mainstream.”

Fortunately for the industry, North America isn’t the only part of the world where shale layers lie deep beneath the ground, holding the possibility of lucrative gas.  As the United States and Canada grow a little heated for comfort, gas companies are busy staking out their claims elsewhere: in China, India, Australia, New Zealand, and, yes, the United Kingdom and Ireland. They’re banking, literally, on the assumptions that people don’t take much notice of what happens in other countries, don’t communicate, don’t learn from one another and from history.  They think, like colonists dangling shiny strings of beads, that the suggestion, not even a promise, of a few jobs and a little state revenue will be enough to overcome enquiry, caution and common sense.

In some places they’ve been surprised.  In the Karoo region of South Africa, a country that needs economic good news more than most, a level-headed and hard-working campaign has kept their unique landscape safe so far.  Across the world more and more people are waking up to the realities of hydraulic fracturing and what it could mean for their environment, their lives and those of their children.  We have yet to see whether or not the ‘nuts’ become the ‘mainstream’ in time to make a difference.

Finally, back to Northern Ireland.  On April 1st 2011 (but probably not as an April Fool’s prank) the DETI granted four licences in relation to oil and gas exploitation in different parts of the region, including Rathlin Island and West Fermanagh.  Links to the licences and a map of the licensed area (which includes the Marble Arch Caves Geopark) are on our Documents page.  The Fermanagh licence has been granted to an Australian company called Tamboran Resources who have also been granted a similar licence by the Irish government in relation to the parts of the Lough Allen basin which are within the Republic.  Tamboran is at present a small company founded by a former investment banker but it is expected that, with these licences and land purchased in Botswana and elsewhere, it will be floated on the Australian stock market next year for over a hundred million dollars.

The licence is for an initial period of five years, during which various types of exploration and test drilling can be carried out.  After this, if the company (or their successors) wish it, and have complied with various requirements, the licence can continue for a further twenty-five years or more.  During this period a thousand individual wells could be drilled in the area on around a hundred sites linked by access roads and including buildings, heavy machinery and vehicles, and 50 x 50 metre water storage ‘ponds’. According to the company’s own website, each site, called a ‘wellpad’, “could be required for the full 65 years“.

As soon as the grant of the licences became known, people on both sides of the Irish border began asking questions.  It was clear, from the experiences of many communities in the United States and Canada, that hydraulic fracturing was not the clean and simple process promised by Terry the Fracosaurus and that our landscape, economy and daily lives would be entirely altered if the proposed operations were to go ahead.  Tamboran held several ‘Information Evenings’ at which some of these concerns – about the effect upon tourism, risk to agricultural production, depletion of water supplies, potential effects upon health, levels of HGV traffic, risk of water and air contamination etc were raised.  It is fair to say that, in the clear view of a large majority of the audiences, the representatives from Tamboran, including the CEO, did not provide satisfactory responses to these questions.

Since then, public meetings have been held in several towns and villages (and more are planned) to explore these issues more fully.  Details of these meetings and other news are available on this website.  The Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network exists to provide information about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing in our area, to help coordinate local groups within the county and to work closely with similar groups in the Irish Republic and elsewhere.  Please feel free to contact us  if you have any questions, or would like to help in any way.

 

p.s.  Tamboran’s website is obviously a work in progress and many of its pages are as yet blank.  We don’t know, therefore, where its name originates from.  However, the only other major references to ‘Tamboran’ on Google are to Mount Tambora in Indonesia. 

Mount Tambora is an active stratovolcano on the island of Sumbawa.  In April 1815 it exploded in the largest and most deadly volcanic eruption in recorded history.  The explosion could be heard two thousand miles away in Sumatra.  Around twelve thousand people were killed directly by the eruption and another sixty thousand from the consequent starvation and disease.  The explosion caused widespread tsumamis across the region and abrupt changes in the world’s climate including the ‘volcanic winter’ of 1815/6. On the island of Sumbawa itself, all vegetation was destroyed and flames and aftershocks were still being observed four years later.  As a direct result of Tambora’s eruption,  1816 was known across the northern hemisphere as the ‘year without a summer’, with frosts and snow in temperate areas as late as June.  Crops failed and livestock died in Europe, North America and other regions, resulting in the worst famine of the nineteenth century.

But it wasn’t bad news for quite everyone.  As Ballard C. Campbell explains in his book Disasters, Accidents and Crises in American History,

“Speculators hoarded and sold farm goods to Canada, and parts of Europe also suffering crop shortages, further driving up the prices of necessary commodities in local markets.”

Closer to home, Dr. Antony Ingraffea, one of the pioneers of hydraulic fracturing has said, referring to Tamboran Resources’ proposals for the Lough Allen basin,

“The trade off here is between wealth and health, there will be a few people who will derive very high wealth from this and everyone else bears the risk of human health concerns.”

Perhaps we can learn from history, after all.

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.

Summary
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)