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expert reaction to decision on fracking in Lancashire

The government has given the go ahead for horizontal fracking at a site in Lancashire.

All our previous output on this subject can be seen here.


Dr Laurence Stamford, Lecturer in Sustainable Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester, said:

“The decision certainly demonstrates that the government is still looking favourably on shale gas, and Cuadrilla will now be feeling more positive about getting permission for their other site at Roseacre Woods. One big question is how this fits into our carbon targets, and it’s difficult to say.

“On the one hand, the resource in the UK is huge and we can’t really afford to burn it all unless we widely deploy Carbon Capture and Storage as soon as possible. On the other hand, our work and the work of others has shown that shale gas likely has a lower carbon footprint than imported LNG, so if domestic shale simply displaces LNG and doesn’t detract from deployment of renewables then there could be a very small carbon benefit.”


Claudia Flavell-While, Director of Policy at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“There is no escaping the fact that we will need natural gas for decades to come, particularly for the heating of UK homes. There is also a new opportunity to use locally sourced gas as a valuable feedstock for the chemical industry rather than shipping it in from far-flung locations.

“IChemE has consistently argued that the risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively, provided the activity is fully risk assessed and operational best practice is achieved within a robust regulatory framework. Our view has not changed and we welcome the government’s ruling.

“Fracking technology has been used in the oil and gas sector for decades and it is well understood. The UK has 60 years’ experience of regulating the oil and gas industries, offshore and onshore.

“Chemical and process engineers have extensive knowledge of the exploration, production and utilisation of natural gas and a strong commitment to safe and sustainable working.  This decision brings clarity and we can move forward with the public interest at the front of our minds.”


Prof. Mike Stephenson, Director of Science and Technology at the British Geological Survey, said:

“Britain will need a cautious approach to shale gas development if commercial amounts of gas are found. Regulation has to listen to the science and ensure that engineering is up to the job and that spills and leaks don’t occur.

“Overall, shale gas (and natural gas generally) could provide a lower carbon fossil fuel then coal when burnt in power stations, and could provide back up for the intermittency of renewables. But its exploitation must be done to very high levels of environmental assurance.

“The science being done right now will provide regulators and government with the evidence they need to achieve that environmental assurance.”


Prof. Geoffrey Maitland FREng FIChemE FRSC FEI, Past President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

“The decision by Community Secretary Sajid Javid to allow Cuadrilla’s appeal for the Preston Road site in Lancashire will enable four shale gas exploration wells to be drilled next year. This is a significant step for the UK onshore gas industry as it gives the go ahead for a substantial exploration project, much bigger than the one well sanctioned in North Yorkshire earlier this year. Hopefully this will mean that we can now move to demonstration that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas can be executed both safely and in an environmentally acceptable manner as long as proper and well-established engineering procedures are followed. The UK oil and gas regulatory system is recognised as world-leading and will ensure that this takes place. Indeed installation of seismic monitoring arrays and groundwater/gas monitoring wells approved in two other appeals will ensure that any ‘mini-earthquake’ or groundwater contamination incidents, which should not occur if proper engineering design and practices are followed, will be immediately detected and operations shut down. This should reassure the local communities that all steps are being taken to protect them from any adverse consequences of these shale gas production operations, which are being carried out for the benefit of all UK society – to ensure that we have continued security of gas supplies as North Sea gas declines, and we do not become reliant on imports from Norway, Russia, the Middle East and, most bizarrely, shale gas from the US.

“In making this decision the government has clearly been convinced by the evidence from the independent planning examiner’s report and the public enquiry that the safety and environmental concerns about ‘fracking’ can be adequately managed and avoided. It is interesting that the one appeal that was unsuccessful, to drill another four wells at the Roseacre Wood site, has been deferred for further review of highway traffic issues, not drilling and fracturing concerns, and that Mr Javid is minded to enable this to go forward if these can be resolved.

“There are concerns from environmental bodies that this decision and the growth of shale gas in the UK encourage the continued use of fossil fuels. However, the decision should be seen in the context of the government’s long-term plans for CO2 emissions reduction which involve switching from coal to gas in the short to medium term as gas produces 50% less CO2 per MWh of electricity, as part of the transition to more renewable energy and nuclear. Without the use of gas, the lights in the UK will go out at some stage. At some stage also, the CO2 produced from using gas will have to be prevented from reaching the atmosphere by using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which will provide a mechanism for continuing to use gas with minimal release of greenhouse gases until renewables and nuclear have the capacity and unsubsidised affordability to meet all the UK’s energy needs later in this century.

“Another concern is that fracking for shale gas will produce many ‘blots on the landscape’.  In fact the size of the surface footprint of a fracking site during construction (lasting just a few months) is not dissimilar to any building construction site for new offices, multi-storey carparks or supermarkets. Once the wells are on production, the footprint of the wellhead is very small indeed and can be readily camouflaged with trees and vegetation. Much is made of the closeness of these locations to Blackpool – not many people are aware that oil and gas has been produced close to Poole in Dorset (not far from Bournemouth and Sandbanks) from the on-land Wytch Farm site, which is embedded in woodland and not visible until you are in the heart of the site. The oil and gas is in fact produced using horizontal wells, similar to those for fracking, which go several kilometres underneath Poole Harbour. The fact that these have been managed without any concerns for several decades now should provide further reassurance to those concerned about the new developments in Lancashire and elsewhere.

“The local communities near shale gas production sites will certainly face some short-term disruption, mainly due to increased traffic and equipment movement, during the initial drilling and fracturing phases of the developments. For this they will quite rightly receive some compensation, about £100,000 per well currently, which can be used for community amenities and projects that can bring considerable benefit. The challenge now for Cuadrilla and the other shale gas operators is, now that permission to drill exploratory wells has been given, to demonstrate in practice that the operations can be carried out safely and that the environmental concerns of local residents will be largely unfounded. A transparent approach with monitoring data and good engagement with local communities will be essential to provide the necessary reassurance. The time for hypothetical argument and counter-argument is now about to finish – the proof that shale gas can be produced in an environmentally sensitive manner must now be demonstrated.  The proof of the shale gas pudding will be in the eating.”


Prof. Paul Glover, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said:

“Today’s announcement that the government has upheld Cuadrilla’s fracking appeal for one of the two shale gas development sites in Lancashire was to be expected not only on scientific and planning grounds, but bearing in mind the UK’s future energy needs in the light of the Brexit referendum.

“A priority for the country is to discover whether the proposed resources of shale gas that were scoped by the British Geological Survey exist in a form which can be produced economically. Until the drilling and fracking of test wells occur that cannot be known. Advances in technology together with UK environmental regulations should make the process of drilling and fracking for shale gas in the UK safe for its population and the environment.

“However, it is incredibly important to realise that before these exploratory wells are developed, a large proportion of the general population will retain a reasonable fear and distrust of the process, especially in the light of how it has been done in the past in the USA. Such feelings must be respected, and everyone involved has a responsibility to communicate candidly and build trust.”


Prof. Jon Gibbins, Director of the UK CCS Research Centre and Professor of Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture at the University of Sheffield, said:

“Home-produced fossil fuels could offer a double boost for the UK economy, by avoiding the need to pay for imports and by encouraging the development of a carbon capture and storage infrastructure to use them cleanly. As the recent Oxburgh Report showed, the UK has the best opportunities in Europe to turn fossil fuels into low-carbon hydrogen, power, steel, fertiliser and other useful products. Government support for new industries taking fossil carbon out of the ground, using it in a sustainable way, and then returning it to the ground would have the UK leading the world in a new Industrial – and Environmental – Revolution.”


Prof. Jim Watson, Director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), said:

“Whilst today’s decision to uphold Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire County Council is expected, it does not necessarily mean that UK shale gas development will take off in a significant way.

“The economics of shale extraction in the UK are still highly uncertain, and it is not known whether shale production will deliver gas cheaper than that currently used by UK consumers. The costs of UK shale will not be clearer until a significant amount of exploratory drilling takes place.

“But even if shale gas development turns out to be economic, it is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on the energy bills of UK consumers.

“The contribution of UK shale development to our energy security is also hard to determine. At the moment, the UK has relatively high level of gas security and uses gas from a diverse range of domestic and international sources. Contrary to some industry claims, empirical research shows that domestic energy resources (e.g. shale gas) are not necessarily more secure than those from abroad.

“It is essential that the future use of gas is consistent with our climate change targets under the Climate Change Act, whether this gas comes from shale, the North Sea or Norway. As a result, strong environmental regulations are needed to minimise methane emissions associated with the natural gas supply chain – including the supply chain for any UK shale gas production.”


Prof. Quentin Fisher, Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering at the University of Leeds, said:

“I’m very pleased with this decision. It will mean that the industry can get on and assess whether shale gas production is economically viable and determine the amount of producible gas that is contained within shale below the U.K.

“The decision will also allow industry to demonstrate that fracking can be conducted safely with minimal impact on local communities. I realise that some people who live close to the site will feel worried by this decision but I’m 100% sure that its impact will be far less than they have been led to believe by the anti-fracking movement.”


Declared interests

Claudia Flavell-While works for IChemE which represents the chemical engineering profession, many of whom work in oil & gas.

Prof. Maitland: “I worked in oil and gas with oilfield service company Schlumberger for 20 years, 1985-2005. Much of my research into how we use fossil fuels more cleanly and in an environmentally responsible way (through use of CCS and other measures to prevent release of GHGs into the atmosphere) is sponsored by oil and gas companies, principally Shell and Qatar Petroleum.”

Prof. Fisher: “I conduct research for the oil and gas industry but not for the key players involved with shale gas exploration in the UK.”

Prof. Watson: “I’m on the International Advisory Panel of the Sustainable Gas Institute, which is funded by Shell and based at Imperial. This is an unpaid role. I am also a member of the government’s fossil fuel price projections panel. Our research on gas is publicly funded via our grant from the UK research councils.”

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