Fracking

Fownhope, has been identified as a potential site for Fracking. You can read the story as it appeared in the Hereford Times here.  
Inevitably this has given rise to considerable local opposition but there is also a ground swell of opinion which suggests that even if it was safe - which we don't think it is - or likely to solve any of our energy problems - which we don't think it will - it still isn't financially viable anyway. It may be that this will be the argument which ultimately stops fracking being an issue in Herefordshire, but this is no reason to be complacent. There are still clear issues of concern. Two CRAG members have written responses to the news and they're reproduced below. Firstly, some thoughts from Chris Spencer -

Fracking in Fownhope

The news that Fownhope may be a suitable location for fracking prompts these reflections.

The U.K. has set itself legally binding (1) carbon emission reduction targets (at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline by 2050). To achieve this target we need to be working hard to achieve greater energy efficiency, less energy wastage, and to move progressively towards a low carbon energy economy. Perpetuating our dependence on fossil fuels by setting up the infrastructure for the extraction of new sources of fossil fuels, such as the deep shales from which gas has to be “fracked”, is moving entirely in the wrong direction.

Large scale investment in shale gas extraction will displace investment in low carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, wave and tidal. The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee (2011) concluded that “shale gas has the potential to shift the balance in the energy markets that the Department has tried to create away from low carbon electricity generation”.

Most of us would subscribe to the ethical principle that “the polluter pays”. However, without a realistic global price for the right to discharge carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the exploitation of shale gas on a global scale is likely to add to, rather than substitute for, the burning of conventional fossil fuels such as coal. This cannot be reconciled with the climate change commitments of the Copenhagen Accord (2009).

There are many blueprints (2) for a transition away from a fossil fuel based economy.  The U.K should be committing ourselves to one of these, thus giving investors the confidence that our energy policy has a clear direction and showing that we mean to live up to our international obligations.

1  Climate Change Act 2008

2  e.g. McKinsey Carbon Productivity Challenge. June 2008.Downloadable from internet.

Glossary

Fracking. Hydraulic Fracturing. Involves drilling vertically for hundreds of metres , then turning the drill head through 90o to continue horizontally for hundreds of metres in the layer of shale containing the gas. A mixture of high pressure water, sand and various chemicals are used to fracture the rock and extract the gas. Most of this liquid returns to the surface.

Unconventional fossil fuels. E.g. tar sands, shale gas and shale oil, methane hydrates on sea bed. As opposed to conventional fossil fuels such as the oil, natural gas and coal we have come to depend upon.

Further information and attribution

Useful information on what is known about the environmental impacts of fracking, both in the local environment and globally can be found in this report: http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/communication/news-archive/2011/shale-gas-expansion-would-jeopardise-climate-commitments

Some of the above is drawn from this.

 


And now from Frank Hemming -

Regarding gas prices, there is little evidence gas will be cheaper for us in Britain as a result of fracking for gas. Low prices of gas in the US are due to a temporary glut in a local market. US producers intend to export gas via Liquified Natural Gas terminals, particularly to China. Their prices, which are already rising, will then rise much further. Oil is traded on a world market, with prices over $100 a barrel. Fracking for oil in the US has not brought down world oil prices.

Fracked shale gas fields decline quickly. Arthur Berman, a sceptical Houston geologist, says: “Unconventional gas has at least twice as fast a decline rate as conventional resources. About 85 per cent of the value of shale wells in the Barnett (US shale field) will be produced in the first 10 years.” Rapid decline of shale fields which are fracked leads to a process of continuous drilling, with severe damage to roads due to intense use by heavy lorries.

Press reports of vast supplies can be misleading. As an example Arthur Berman estimates that out of 1329Tcf  (trillion cubic feet) most likely gas in place for the Bowland Shale (North West England), 42Tcf would be commercially producible, which would hardly change the energy future of the UK, yet would take about 30,000 wells to fully develop.  

Fracking on a large scale is new. Although the industry will say that fracking techniques have been used for 60 years, what's new is the volume of fluids used. 50 to 100 times more according to Louis Allstadt, a retired vice president of Mobil oil company, and campaigner against fracking in New York State. Louis also reports cases where methane has crept up to the surface into aquifers and into the atmosphere. (Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term.) After wells are plugged gas can migrate to the surface through rock fissures. At least one study has shown that 100% of plugs in abandoned wells fail within 100 years, many sooner. This release of methane together with “fugitive” releases might more than cancel out the advantage of burning gas compared to burning coal, even though gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal for equivalent heat output.

Britain ceased to be an exporter of gas and oil by 2005, and according to Tim Morgan even if energy demand does continue to fall, we could be in a supply squeeze by the winter of 2014-15. He also states that there are media rumours that plans already exist to cut back on gas supplies to industry in order to prevent shortfalls in the home. Although fracking for gas wouldn’t change this picture it would at least give the impression that something was being done.

We need to get used to using less fossil fuel as fossil fuels become less available. Shale gas is a short term fix which does nothing to lessen fossil fuel dependency and is likely to divert resources away from energy conservation and renewables. Meanwhile Energinet of Denmark are planning to use surplus electricity from renewables to generate gas via electrolysis of water. 
  
There is a lot of information on fracking on the resilience.org website.
Other sources easily found with an internet search are:
The Financial Times (some articles freely available)
Tim Morgan
Art Berman
Louis Allstadt
Also some useful information on Caplor's Renewable Energy Blog

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