Asthetics and appearance, Local Impacts, Site location, Surface Impacts

“Dear Aunty, could Lancashire really look like this if fracking takes off?”

Oh my goodness, no dears, I don’t think so.

I noticed someone posted this link on Twitter, with the suggestion that this is what awaits the people of the Fylde.

There are several reasons why we needn’t be too concerned for the Lancashire landscape (apart from the fact that our planning regime wouldn’t allow such development).

Firstly, in the US cherubs, not only is the shale rock often much closer to the surface, it also tends to be much thinner than here in the UK.

The Bowland shale in Lancashire, for instance, is a mile thick in parts. That’s over 5,000 feet.

Now, because it’s so thick, operators wishing to extract gas in Lancashire will be able to do so with a much lesser surface footprint than you see in the aerial shot of Texas, dears, and that’s because they’ll be able to drill what are known as ‘vertically stacked lateral wells’.

What’s that in English, sweeties? Well, simply put, it means operators will be able to drill a single vertical wellbore from the surface, and then from this, a series of horizontal wells fanning out into the shale near the base of the well, deep underground using the fascinating directional drilling techniques that have been developed. They’ll then be able to come up the vertical shaft a bit, and drill another series of horizontal or lateral extensions and so on.

This configuration will enable operators to access a greater volume of gas with fewer wells drilled from the surface. That means fewer well pads, and therefore a much more minimalistic impact on our countryside.

In the US shale plays, that are notably thinner, they have no alternative other than to drill many wells from the surface.

A second reason why the Texan experience is unlikely to be repeated here is one of population density sweeties.

This is often given as a reason not to exploit our shale gas resources, but in actual fact it’s probably a bit of a blessing. You see, operators in the US – especially in the wide open spaces of places like Texas – don’t have to be as sensitive to their neighbours because there are fewer of them. Here, it’s the reverse cherubs, so operators have to think very carefully about the positioning of their wells.

A third and final reason why operators here are unlikely to puncture the Lancashire landscape with lots of separate wells is one of cost, dears.

Extracting gas in the UK is probably going to be more expensive than the US. One way operators can keep those costs to a minimum, and therefore make shale gas extraction more viable, is to avoid the mobilisation and de-mobilisation costs associated with constantly moving all their drilling and fracking kit from site-to-site flowerpots.

The added advantage is that, the less things have to move, the less likely it is that we’ll see spills and other incidents associated with de-coupling and re-coupling hoses and pipes etc.

There is just one thing that might mean we see something more akin to the Texan experience and that’s the Greenpeace legal block.

In the unlikely event that this succeeds, an unintended consequence would be to force shale gas drillers to abandon the idea of drilling underground horizontal wells and force them, instead, to drill thousands more vertical wells from the surface.

Food for thought.

Until next time xxx

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