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expert reaction to govt decision to halt fracking

The UK Government has announced that it is  withdrawing its support for fracking in the UK.

 

Prof Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering, Imperial College London, said:

“I believe this decision and its timing is politically and electorally motivated to make the government look environmentally pro-active, keep the anti-fracking lobby happy and match the line of Labour and the Lib Dems – rather than being responsible and honest about the UK’s future cleaner energy needs and realistic routes for the transition towards zero-carbon emissions.  It is using the evidence from the OGA report selectively to serve its electoral purposes. 

“The report does indeed say that it is not possible currently to predict accurately the magnitude of micro-seismic events resulting from fracking in particular locations, and that current models need further testing against the data from the Preston New Road well PNR2 and other data where available, and require further refinement.  However, this misses the point – the concern should be about the actual impact of seismic events if they occur, even at levels more than 100 times stronger than the government’s current strict 0.5 ML limit, and whether the public should reasonably be concerned about them. 

“The OGA report also describes a detailed study of potential damage to buildings from a range of seismic events.  This finds that seismic events of magnitude 2.5 ML, which they described as ‘likely’ and similar in strength to that which occurred on well PNR2, would be felt for distances of about 2 km from the epicentre, but with no expected impact on buildings or structures. The report does recognise that these relatively low magnitude seismic events are often reported as ‘loud bangs’ or ‘crashes’ and could be a cause for concern some of the local population, but provides the evidence to allay those concerns. 

“Even events ten times stronger (2.5 ML), described as ‘possible’, would result in only 0.2% of buildings sustaining structural damage or moderate non-structural damage. You have to get to seismic events 100 times stronger than the one felt at Preston North Road (2.5 ML) before there was a significant risk of widespread building damage (cracked plasterwork affecting approximately 10% of buildings and more serious structural damage affecting about 5%).

“If it chose, the government could emphasise this evidence to allay public fears about the risks to their property and infrastructure, using it to show that the effects of observed and likely seismic tremors from fracking are likely to cause minimal damage and are no cause for alarm, let alone the extreme statements made by the fracking protesters and anti-fracking lobbyists.  By removing support for fracking in the UK, the government is taking a hypocritical stance, ignoring the fact that we import shale gas from the US to meet our current domestic heating demands, and removing the possibility of future UK gas self-sufficiency enabled by a new multi-billion pound industry that would bring many jobs and prosperity to many economically deprived parts of the UK.  If Brexit is all about taking back control, energy is one of the most critical elements of our critical resources for which we need to be able to control supply and cost, rather than relying on higher cost gas imports over which we have little or no control.”

 

Prof Richard Davies, petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, said:

“The vast resources of shale gas in Northern England are found in Carboniferous rock.  This rock is criss-crossed with faults and it’s been difficult for shale gas companies to avoid causing earthquakes when injecting fluid for fracking operations.  At least 21% of the 8,000 earthquakes recorded in the UK since 1972 that had a magnitude of >1.5 were man-made. 

“Boris’s predecessor Margaret Thatcher brought about an almost total eradication of man-made earthquakes by shutting coal mines as we showed that the decline in the number of earthquakes declined with coal production. The industry has been plagued by relatively small earthquakes. The latest event – 2.9M in magnitude, was only just within what the academics predicted was the maximum (3.1).”

 

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The Westminster government is absolutely correct to place a strongly worded moratorium on new attempts to undertake fracking in UK. It is also correct to require substantial new evidence to change that position – as the problem is inherent to the nature of earthquakes, which cannot be precisely predicted in timing, size, or location.

“One big earthquake could cause damage to thousands of buildings in tens of seconds. And the 23 October report by the National Audit office also made clear that liabilities for clearing up and decommissioning boreholes lie with landowners and local authorities, not with the drillers. And even if gas was discovered, that would not change the UK gas price. A case of all risk and no reward.

“The frackers have been beaten by the nature they wished to exploit – and ignored the evidence from their own boreholes – which showed right from the first borehole in 2011 at Preece Hall in Lancashire, that UK rocks are like a finely balanced sleeping lion – which if poked too hard will bite back.

“Instead of designing new methods of fracking which could circumvent the sleeping lion by tiptoeing around it softly and gently – the frackers sought to continue with brute force. Whilst also shouting loudly that they had a solution. Unfortunately the sleeping lion did not listen, and bit back again, and again.

“In especially sensitive cases, the extra load needed to produce an earthquake can be very small – equivalent to the pressure of just two truck tyres, or 100 metres of water – less than the column of water used in drilling the borehole. Undertaking engineered fracking attempts to inject water underground at pressures up 100 times greater that these natural UK limits. Inevitably, earthquakes result.

“UK regulators have been misled for too long by overzealous gas drillers seeking easy profits from the UK. The drillers have now been beaten by their failure to understand the natural sub-surface environments they sought to exploit. Time and again, fracking companies in the UK have made incorrect interpretations of the geological rock layering and incorrect interpretations of what the earthquake evidence was telling them. Drillers have also hugely over claimed the amount of gas or oil which could be present. And drillers have continually been surprised by the number of geological faults in the UK – which 10 minutes inspecting a geological map could easily reveal.

“In more technical language – what fracking developers have failed to recognise is that the rocks in the UK are mechanically impossible to access without causing earthquakes.  Measurements taken during many years in rocks of northern and southern England show that the rocks are naturally loaded to breaking point. This is because of the UK’s particular geological history, so that comparisons with similar rocks in the USA or Argentina are not relevant.  Adding a small extra disturbance can cause the rocks to break, and the natural stress built up in these rocks during tens of thousands of years, is released instantly as an earthquake.”

 

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

“It is disappointing that the government appears to be surrendering to the ill-informed opinions of groups such as Extinction Rebellion just because it may win votes in marginal seats.  Hydraulic fracturing of shale remains the safest way to extract gas from the subsurface. The OGA report clearly states that seismicity is very site-specific so it is puzzling why a nationwide halt has been imposed.  The recent report by the committee on climate change made is clear that the UK will still be reliant on natural gas beyond 2050 so if this decision is made permanent the UK will be forced to import an ever-increasing amount of natural gas; this will no doubt please people such as Mr Putin. This decision could also have implications for sustainable energy sources such as geothermal, which produces more seismicity than shale gas extraction.”

 

Prof Jon Gluyas, Director of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:

“The government ban on fracking is both politically expedient in the run up to the general election and a neat way of ignoring the now inescapable truth that the projected shale gas potential for the UK is tiny at best. We have though, as a nation, wasted a decade hoping for more gas to heat our homes rather than installing ultra-low carbon geothermal heating like that used in much of Europe.”

 

Prof Peter Styles, Professor Emeritus of Applied and Environmental Geophysics, Keele University, said:

“It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me at this point in time, that UK Government has decided not to proceed with fracking for shale gas because it is clear that the operators, and the OGA to be honest, have failed to obtain society’s permission for it.

“There are three pillars on which projects like this must stand: is it technically feasible, is it economically prudent, and will anyone let you?

“The jury is out on some of these and has passed judgment on others.

“The Bowland Shale exists offshore under Morecambe Bay/Irish Sea just as it does beneath Lancashire and if initial projects had recognised this and carried out investigations there, any induced seismicity  might have been less inflammatory and more knowledge might have been gained and I suggested this as a possibility many times without it ever being given the time of day.

“No-one has made any money out of Shale Gas in the UK to date although  a great deal has been spent and it seems very unlikely that it can be profitable under the strictures which the Traffic Light System (despite  it being a very simplified version of what we suggested to DECC) has rightly placed it under and even with this  TLS in place, events of magnitude 2.9 ML have occurred and the OGA report is correct in stating that it is not possible to rule out greater magnitudes (even though these are small by global standards) despite numerical modelling by some which suggested that the maximum magnitudes would be unlikely to exceed 2 ML . The Earth doesn’t know that you are modelling it and is no under no compunction to obey those conclusions!

“The third and final clincher though, is that the Operators and the OGA and the Government have not been able to obtain Societal Permission for this to go ahead onshore especially in the current political climate which questions the very underpinning of the Fossil Fuel agenda.”

 

Declared interests

Prof Styles was part of the working group commissioned by DECC in 2012

Prof Fisher: “I conduct research and consultancy for the petroleum industry related to conventional reservoirs.  I do not work on shale gas production for the petroleum industry.  I believe my views on this are totally impartial and I have no financial gain to be made from supporting hydraulic fracturing.”

Prof Maitland: “I am Director of the Shell Digital Rocks programme at Imperial, which is fully sponsored by Shell and have previously managed research programmes on Carbon Storage directly funded by fossil fuel companies – principally Shell and Qatar Petroleum.  Although I have done research on the feasibility of underground hydrocarbon processing, none of this has been funded by oil and gas companies.”

Prof Davies:

1. I worked for ExxonMobil 1995-2003

2. The ReFINE (Research Fracking in Europe) research project that I led was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (UK), Total, Shell, Chevron, GDF Suez, Centrica and Ineos.  We no longer have any funders.

3. I now lead a NERC-ESRC project within the Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System (UKUH) programme

Prof Haszeldine: “Stuart Haszeldine has no funding from the unconventional hydrocarbon industries, and has several independent academic publications on UK resources of fossil carbon.  Stuart Haszeldine has had many years of research experience working with oil and gas companies.  He is currently funded by UK research councils NERC and EPSRC to work on carbon capture and geological storage relating to industry emissions, and engineering and storage of carbon recapture from the atmosphere.  He also holds funds to work on massive inter-seasonal storage of hydrogen.  And is sponsored by Scottish Gas Networks, to work on conversion of methane gas networks to deliver hydrogen to domestic and business consumers.”

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