#Fracking hypocrisy from Fylde MP

“Dear Aunty, is it true that MP Mark Menzies is being more than a little hypocritical in his statements on shale gas?”

It certainly seems so poppets.

Following the news that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, has “recovered” the Cuadrilla planning appeals and will now make the final decision himself instead of the unelected planning inspector, Mr Menzies is reported in the Blackpool Gazette to have asked the Secretary of State to justify his actions, asking this question in Parliament:

“For what reasons he has decided to recover the planning appeals by Cuadrilla Resources to build shale gas wells at Roseacre and Preston New Road?” to be told it is because the drilling appeals involve proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance.

He has previously said, on the same topic:

“The fact that this major planning application has been called in by the Secretary of State is a well-established process for such important developments.

“While I am sure there will be claims that this is some kind of Government conspiracy, it is actually more democratic in that the decision will be taken by an elected representative of the UK Government, rather than an unelected civil servant with no democratic oversight.

“I know in the past there have been major planning appeals, such as the Queensway development in St Annes and the travellers’ site application in Newton, where residents have successfully campaigned for the Secretary of State to call in decisions to ensure the proper level of oversight.

“The process is well-established in that the full public inquiry will still be carried out by the inspector, a report and recommendation made before a final decision by the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, meaning there will be that additional level of oversight on these crucially important matters.

“I will be speaking to the Secretary of State about these applications and will impress upon him my belief that the decision made by the local council should be adhered to.”

On 4th December, he also asked this Parliamentary Question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what he weight he plans to give to the views of people living close to the proposed shale gas well at Roseacre and Preston New Road in the process for considering planning appeals by Cuadrilla Resources to build wells at those sites.”

He seems rather intent on making sure that local views trump national interests, doesn’t he dears?

Which is strange, because on 27th November, Mr Menzies expressed entirely the opposite view on the matter of Heathrow expansion.

Here’s what he said:

“We have one of the biggest airports in the world, with a proven track record of success, at the edge of one of the greatest cities—possibly the greatest city—in the world, so it is frustrating that we have spent all this time prevaricating and being sucked down by, in effect, glorified nimbyism. I say to Members from west London: “It is not about you; it is about the future of the United Kingdom.” I find the stance taken by some people in recent years quite frustrating; it really is starting to wear a bit thin. This is not about electoral or mayoral campaigns; it is about the economic future of the UK.

“It is frustrating that national infrastructure issues that affect not just London but my constituents in Fylde are being sucked down to the lowest common denominator of what is right for a handful of constituencies in west London.

“My constituents, and many others in the regions of the United Kingdom, would be delighted by such an opportunity for jobs and growth—they would absolutely bite your hand off—but we have been pulled down into a very narrow debate about what is right for west London. What is right for the United Kingdom is that we build a third runway and identify Heathrow as the hub airport for western Europe. What is right for the United Kingdom is not that we have a fudge, but that the Government’s decision is clear and timely, and that we get on with it. Let us get it built.”

So, where fracking is concerned, Fylde MP says local not national interests should win the day. Where Heathrow is concerned, we should ignore local NIMBY’s and just get on with it.

Mr Menzies appears to be tying himself in hypocritical knots. He should stop playing this silly political game and throw his weight behind shale gas in Lancashire, helping to secure much needed jobs and investment. Because, as he rightly points out to Members representing West London constituencies: “It is not about you; it is about the future of the United Kingdom.”

Until next time xxx

Asthetics and appearance, Local Impacts

100 shale gas pads on the Fylde? So what…

Recently, anti-fracking activist Alan Tootill took it on himself to produce an illustrative map of the Fylde showing what he suggests will be the likely spacing of 100 shale gas well pads should Cuadrilla eventually progress to developing the Bowland Shale.  But he’s been very naughty in his misrepresentation, as you’ll see dears.

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Environmental controls, Ionising radiation, Legislation, Permitting, Public safety, Radioactivity, Surface Impacts

Why do drill cuttings not have to be treated the same as fracking flowback fluid?

“Dear Aunty, why do drill cuttings not have to be treated the same as fracking flowback fluid?” asks Fred at Counterbalance.

What a good question. And easy to answer my dears.

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RAFF, a Lancashire anti-fracking group, has been forced to withdraw misleading literature after being caught with its pants on fire by the ASA
Ideology, Leaflets, Nimbyism, Publicity

RAFF, a Lancashire anti-fracking group, has been forced to withdraw flawed leaflet

“Dear Aunty, is it true that Residents Action on Fylde Fracking has been forced into an embarrassing withdrawal of anti-fracking literature in Lancashire?”

Yes, it most certainly seems so dears.

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Air emissions, Environmental controls, Permitting, Pollution prevention & control, Public safety, Worker safety

“Dear Aunty, can we expect dangerously high levels of carcinogenic air emissions at UK fracking sites?”

“Dear Aunty, can we expect dangerously high levels of carcinogenic air emissions at UK fracking sites?”

No sweeties, I don’t think we can.

A recent report from the US, widely cited by UK media outlets like the Independent and constantly circulated by shale gas opponents, suggests that dangerously high levels of benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulphide were found near US fracking sites.

According to the study author:

“We explored air quality at a previously neglected scale: near a range of unconventional oil and gas development and production sites that are the focus of community concern. The study relied on 35 air samples taken from 11 sites at homes and farms near fracking sites in the five states. Sixteen of the samples found unsafe levels of two carcinogenic chemicals — benzene and formaldehyde, as well as hydrogen sulphide.”

So, the first thing to note, dears, is the very small sample size: there are hundreds of thousands of wells in the US where gas and oil are being extracted. Taking just 35 air samples from only 11 locations means the results are immediately questionable. It certainly wouldn’t be safe to draw any conclusions from this study that could then be applied more widely.

Then, of those samples, fewer than half had unsafe levels of benzene and formaldehyde.

Most troubling of all, however, is the way these samples were collected:

The samples were collected by trained, local grass-roots citizens groups during times of heavy industrial activity or when experiencing headaches, nausea or dizziness

This introduces all sorts of risks concerning the validity of the results, cherubs. For a start, no matter how good the training they received, there’s a chance that not all the grab samples would have been taken properly, especially if they were taken when the volunteers were already feeling unwell – the risk of human error. There’s also the possibility that the samples could have been taken in a manner that would deliberately exaggerate the results.

The study would be much more indicative had it been performed at much larger scale and using continuous, passive monitoring where it’s harder to fake the results.

And then there’s this to consider too, poppets:

Six of the samples were taken near compressor stations and all contained formaldehyde levels with increased lifetime cancer risks, according to the study.

So, not at actual fracking sites themselves, but elsewhere in the infrastructure used to get shale gas from where it’s produced to where it’s used. And probably natural gas from conventional reservoirs too.

How can we be so certain we won’t see this repeated in the UK?

Well, for several reasons.

Take benzene, for instance. In the US, my loves, diesel – which contains benzene – has been used in hydraulic fracturing. The Groundwater Directive in Europe, and therefore the UK, won’t permit this. And although benzene is often encountered in hydrocarbon reservoirs, the levels found in the UK have been in the very low, single digit parts per billion range.

Formaldehyde, similarly, isn’t something we’ll see used in the UK. It has properties that mean it’s an effective bactericide but the only such product currently authorised for use (in very minor quantities, and not needed so far) is Glutaraldehyde. And even this is unlikely to be used in future because operators will likely use pre-treated mains water in hydraulic fracturing – which doesn’t need Glutaraldehyde adding – and, during any reuse of fracturing fluid, it’s probable that non-chemical alternatives like UV disinfection will be relied upon poppets.

We also have air emissions legislation that operators would have to comply with.

But there’s another reason, dears, and it has nothing to do with laws used to protect the environment. It’s called COSHH.

You see, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health is well established legislation designed to protect the people most likely to be exposed to hazardous substances in industry – the workers.

Working together closely, HSE and the offshore oil and gas industry have developed all sorts of best practice to prevent workforce exposure to dangerous chemicals, which you can read about here

If there are dangerous substances emitted at fracking sites, it’s the rig crews that will be most exposed, not the public sweeties. But because COSHH limits close proximity worker exposures so much, public health impacts are an even more remote possibility.

It’s COSHH that means the thousands of engineers living and working on the UK’s offshore platforms for months at a time aren’t all the victims of poor health and cancer. If they can live in those conditions, dears – literally sleeping above the well heads without it being injurious to their health – then there’s no reason to believe that won’t be possible onshore too, where COSHH also applies.

And those compressor stations? We already have these onshore in the UK as part of the existing gas transmission network – and we don’t appear to have appreciable, problematic emissions causing us any harm, do we?

So, no my dears, I do not think we’ll see dangerously high levels of carcinogenic air emissions at UK fracking sites.

Of course, that doesn’t fit the narrative of shale opponents, which is characterised by hysterical claims of terrible health impacts. But you can’t argue with the facts and the facts are that the UK’s regulatory approach means we’re very well protected indeed.

Strangely, many of the people making these wildly exaggerated claims are smokers: deliberately choosing to expose themselves and those around them to harmful chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and toluene (BTEX), Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Radium-226.

Until next time xxx

Ideology, Legislation, Local Impacts, Pollution prevention & control, Well integrity

“Dear Aunty, is Tony Bosworth right to criticise UK environmental laws?”

Put simply, dears, no.

If you take a look at Tony’s LinkedIn profile, here, you’ll find precious little evidence that he’s ever worked in the real world and certainly not in industry.

Which leads one to question whether he’s even qualified to pass comment on the UK’s regulations, let alone attempt to do so with such apparent authority.

Let’s take a look at some of his recent comments in this Fiends of the Earth blog post.

Writing about a recent radio programme, Tony says:

“Much of the attention in the programme was on the key issue of well integrity: will fracking wells be properly constructed and who checks this? This is critical because poorly constructed wells increase the risk of leaks of fracking fluid or of methane gas. Analysis for Friends of the Earth reported that between 7 and 9% of newly-drilled shale gas wells in Pennsylvania have problems leading to a risk of leaks.”

Right away, we have to take what he says with a pinch of salt cherubs, because a ‘risk’ is not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst it’s true to say that badly constructed wells could pose problems, it’s wholly wrong to conclude or give the Impression that they will be badly built and that they will definitely leak.

Weasel words, you might think…

Speaking of which, sweeties, Tony thinks the US shale industry is playing with words when responding to a recent report on well integrity from America:

“And a couple of months ago, the Pennsylvania Department for Environmental Protection published the details of 243 cases of water contamination as a result of oil and gas drilling between 2008 and 2012. The industry was quick to point out that the problem wasn’t fracking (ie the process of pumping water, sand and chemicals down the well at high pressure) but badly-constructed wells. Weasel words you may think: the wells wouldn’t be drilled if they weren’t going to be fracked.”

This is a particularly fatuous statement, for four main reasons: Firstly, 243 cases as a percentage of the thousands of wells drilled in that period is very low. Secondly, Tony doesn’t mention the fact that many of the private water wells impacted would themselves have been so badly built that they offer little protection to the water they supply, and that this would have been a contributory factor. Thirdly, he leaves the impression the leaks weren’t fixable or fixed. And, lastly, the attempt to conflate drilling and fracking is contemptuous – as Tony would know if he had any real, first hand experience, a badly built well targeting conventional oil reservoirs, or to tap geothermal energy, or even just to abstract groundwater, can all pose a risk to the surrounding environment poppets.

He then switches his attention to monitoring:

“Key to deciding if there are problems with gas leaking from wells is monitoring of methane levels before, during and after drilling. The Royal Society told the Government this should happen, but Francis Egan could only say he expected it would be the case.”

Now then, dears, the first thing we should recognise here is that when giving that interview, Francis Egan may have spent an hour or more answering questions, but the programme producer would have edited this down into just a few soundbites, chosen to suit the intended tenor of the piece and not necessarily with due context. I can’t say for certain, darlings, but my guess is that he was referring to the fact that it’s not clear what monitoring the Environment Agency will undertake – but it matters not; read their Environmental Impact Assessment for their proposed Lancashire sites and you’ll see that Cuadrilla proposes all sorts of methane monitoring in soil and groundwater. As is common in most sectors, careful monitoring is performed because it’s best practice, not just because someone is looking over your shoulder.

And speaking of someone looking over their shoulder, Tony goes on to criticise Energy Minister, Matt Hancock, and the lack of site-based, physical inspection by the Health and Safety Executive.

“Mr Hancock’s mask probably slipped further. Asked if the regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, would inspect every fracking well, he attempted some classic ministerial obfuscation saying “there is a process so that the regulator has the opportunity to inspect every well as required”. Despite the Sir Humphreyism, listeners got the point: the answer is no, the regulators won’t inspect every well.”

What Tony doesn’t tell us is why he thinks the HSE must inspect every well itself.

Does a HSE Inspector check that the lifting chains of a crane are still ‘in date’ after their last inspection under LOLER, before every lift? If the chains fail when a heavy lift is being performed, the load could fall and people and property could be harmed. Does a HSE Inspector stand and watch every delivery of petrol to your local forecourt? If it isn’t done properly, and there’s an ignition source present, the whole thing could explode in a fireball. Does a HSE Inspector sample the discharge from your local sewage works into the river behind your house to make sure it’s safe? There’s a chance that untreated sewage and dangerous chemicals could be released, polluting the river for miles. Does a HSE Inspector stand and watch the farmer next door to where you live storing and applying pesticides? These are toxic chemicals, used in large quantities, that could affect the food you eat, the milk you drink, and the air you breathe. Does a HSE Inspector do this in any industry, dears? No, of course not. And there’s no reason to demand it in shale gas exploration either.

“What actually happens is drillers such as Cuadrilla run tests on their wells and send the data to the Health and Safety Executive. The companies are marking their own homework. As Tom Heap put it, “the experience from America is that without independent inspection, at times the companies have been able to get away with stuff that they shouldn’t have been able to and that’s what people want to see can’t happen here”. There’s no reassurance that won’t happen here too” asserts Tony.

But there’s also nothing to indicate that it will, is there Tony my love? I don’t imagine Tony can point to a single example of an existing onshore oil and gas company deliberately “getting away with stuff they shouldn’t have been able to”. That’s not to say that an unscrupulous operator couldn’t, but then you could say that about any industry: should we ban the production of medicines because of the Thalidomide experience? Of course we shouldn’t, dears.

The simple truth of the matter is that Tony and his colleagues are just opposed to fossil fuels on climate grounds, and I have no problem with that at all sweeties. But he and others in his movement know that climate change is just too abstract for most people, and that in order to get the support of communities in areas where fracking might take place so they oppose it, they can only do so by first of all frightening the people in those communities into thinking that their health and lifestyles will be adversely impacted by shale extraction.

That I do object to and I think it’s a poor show to try and paint the UK regulatory system as an dismal failure when, in fact, it’s truly one of the most robust in the world.

Pulling strings and puppeteering are obviously skills of Tony’s, as seen here.

Until next time xxx


Resource use, Water

“Dear Aunty, will fracking for shale gas deplete our drinking water supplies?”

“Dear Aunty, will fracking for shale gas deplete our drinking water supplies?”

Well, sweeties, it’s true that hydraulic fracturing uses a lot of water – a topic I’ve posted on before here – but, seen in the context of other industrial uses of water and pipeline losses, it really isn’t all that great and is very unlikely to limit the availability of drinking water in a place with as much annual rainfall as Britain.

So, exactly how much water does fracking use?

Lancashire shale gas opponent and Occupy activist, Tina Louise Rothery, is fond of making us think that a staggering amount of water will be needed. Here’s what she told a Parliamentary select committee in the House of Lords in December 2013:

“Essentially, you are using four Olympic-size swimming pools per frack, per well. On the Fylde, they would like 800 wells. Each one of those wells will be fracked no less than 30 times, so it is an awful lot of water.”

Let’s examine that claim, shall we dears? An Olympic-sized pool holds 2,500 m3 of water. Tina says that each frack consumes four times that amount, so 10,000 m3, and that each well will be fracked no less than 30 times so that would be 300,000 m3 of water per well. Multiplied up for the 800 wells Tina talks about and that really would add up to a very substantial 240,000,000 m3 of water.

But it’s a wildly inaccurate prediction, predicated either upon a genuine misunderstanding of the facts or a deliberate twisting of those facts to suit Tina’s anti-fracking narrative, cherubs.

You see, dears, when she talks about a well being fracked no less than 30 times, she’s really referring to frac stages. She may be right about the 10,000 m3 of water or four Olympic pools worth, but that’s in total for the entire well and definitely NOT per frac stage, which will actually use between 300 and 800 m3 each instead.

As you can see, the reality is very different and much, much less water intensive. Those 800 wells would then need only 8 million cubic metres of water instead of the grossly exaggerated 240 million cubic metres assessment reached using Tina’s ‘facts’.

Those 8 million cubic metres of water wouldn’t all be used straight away either – drilling and fracturing 800 wells could take over a decade, so it might only be 800,000 m3 a year.

To put that into a meaningful context, pumpkins, this WRAP study compares industrial water use in a variety of sectors: Agriculture uses 165 million m3, manufacturing over 400 million and quite shockingly, accommodation and food services consume 134 million cubic metres of water EVERY YEAR.

That’s right, sweeties: hotels and restaurants use significantly more water per year than the total amount we might see required to extract shale gas on the Fylde coast using Tina’s 800 wells.

Putting aside the fact that fracking for shale gas will use a comparatively small quantity of water relative to other industries, we needn’t worry about our access to reliable supplies of drinking water anyway sweetpeas, because it’s legislated for.

The Water Act 2003 commits water suppliers to ensure that they maintain a supply of drinking water to members of the public as part of drought plans, with supplies to non-domestic users restricted or even halted to ensure homeowners are not impacted.

Now then, seeing as United Utilities are the supplier of water in Lancashire, the heart of shale gas exploration, what do they think? Well, pumpkins, according to their draft Water Resources Management Plan, regional water demand is expected to fall by 14% between 2012 and 2040 even with expected economic growth in the region. In 2012, United Utilities supplied 1,740 million litres of water per day. That’s 1.7 million m3, every single day.

If drilling and fracturing 800 wells takes a decade and uses 800,000 m3 of water per year, that would be the equivalent of 2,191 m3 a day. Or, another way, a tiny 0.13% of current United Utilities’ supply.

So, no dears, fracking for shale gas will not deplete our drinking water supplies, at least not here in the North West of England (it may admittedly be different in areas of the UK that have less rainfall).

As for whether or not Tina’s estimates are based on a misunderstanding or are deliberately exaggerated, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

To help, here’s what she said in her closing remarks to Parliament in December last year:

“We also wanted to point out that our group have spent two years writing to politicians, lobbying our MPs and councillors, not doing the bad stuff; not doing the standing on the roadside or blocking trucks,”

And here she is in Balcombe last summer – so before making this statement in the House of Lords – appearing to be doing the bad stuff.

Until next time xxx