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Issue No. 90 - October 15, 2016

1. UK government overrules local council to allow fracking

Lancashire anti-fracking rally
Last year, Lancashire council rejected two planning applications from the petroleum company Cuadrilla to drill, frack and test shale gas wells at two sites, Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road.

Cuadrilla appealed the decision. On October 6, communities secretary Sajid Javid accepted the appeal for the Preston Road site, overturning the previous rejection by the council.

While Mr. Javid deferred a decision on the Roseacre site, he said he was "minded" to permit the drilling if Cuadrilla would provide evidence of measures to deal with road traffic issues.

This decision permits the exploratory fracking of four wells and follows the approval given for a single well in North Yorkshire earlier this year. As the Telegraph reports, there has been no horizontal hydraulic fracturing to date in the UK. A previous exploratory well drilled by Cuadrilla, which used vertical hydraulic fracturing, was shut down in 2011 after Cuadrilla's attempts to frack the well caused a number of earth tremors.

Local people opposed to fracking have responded angrily to Mr. Javid's decision to overturn the local council's decision.

Campaigner Kate Styles, a lifelong Tory voter, said: "I never thought as a middle-aged woman I’d be fighting the government on anything. They could offer me diamonds and pearls – I’ll never vote Tory again." Julia Stribling, concerned about the convoys of heavy goods vehicles that will pass her home, located 300 m from the drill site, said: "I'm a pensioner. I never thought I'd be protesting...they're just not listening to people. What don't they understand about 'No'?"

Parish councillor Jackie Sylvester, who lives 300 m from the fracking site, said "Democracy is dead as far as we're concerned. They've gone against the will of the people. I think the people of England don't realise that once this starts it's not going to stop and there's going to be hundreds of drills."

The DrillorDrop and Frack-off websites provide thorough and up-to-date information on the state of fracking in the UK as it evolves.

2. Fossil fuel methane emissions found to be 20 - 60% higher than previous estimates

Methane extraction platform
The Guardian reports that according to a comprehensive new analysis of global fossil fuel methane emissions, published in Nature, methane emissions from coal, oil and gas are up to 60% higher than previously estimated.

The researchers compiled the largest database yet of worldwide methane emissions, and found, after discounting natural sources, that emissions from the production of gas, oil and coal were 20 – 60% greater than existing estimates. Fossil fuel production and use were found to contribute about 20 to 25% of global methane emissions.

While methane is a less prevalent greenhouse gas than CO2, it has a much more potent warming effect in the short term (86 times greater than CO2 in the short term). In a commentary on the research, published in Nature and cited in the Guardian, Dr. Grant Allen of the University of Manchester argues that climate change prediction models should be revised to take into account the revised anthropogenic methane emissions.

According to lead author Stefan Schwietzke of the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the short-term potency of methane emissions presents an opportunity to achieve quick reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change: "The good news is that reducing methane emissions now will reduce climate forcing in only a few years – it takes much longer for CO2. And since fossil fuel methane emissions are higher than previously thought, the potential to reduce climate forcing from this specific source is also greater."

See also:

3. Arctic sea ice melting faster than expected, indicating dramatic climate change

Arctic minimum sea ice extent 2016

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than expected, which indicates that dramatic changes are occurring in the climate system.

The agency has called for the establishment of an Arctic observatory to help address the potentially dangerous changes.

Noting that global temperatures were continuing to rise, with 2016 predicted to be the hottest year on record, and that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the world average, the WMO likened the changes in the Arctic to a "canary in a coal mine": a signal of an impending disaster.

According to a press release published on the WMO website, the extent of Arctic sea ice at the peak of the summer melt season now typically covers 40% less area than it did in the late 1970's and early 1980's. At its minimum in September 2016, the sea ice extent was equivalent to the second lowest in the satellite record, according to provisional data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. In March 2016, the maximum Arctic sea ice was the lowest on record, as was northern hemisphere snow cover. The Greenland ice sheet also began to melt exceptionally early in 2016.

According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, "The melting of snow and ice cover is having far reaching environmental consequences and may potentially contribute to changes in circulation patterns in the ocean and atmosphere. The Arctic changes have also been a factor in unusual winter weather patterns in North America and Europe, The thawing of the frozen permafrost in Arctic regions has the potential to release vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These are part of the vicious circles of climate change which are the subject of intense scientific research."

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