The Big Challenge: Fracking will never be the answer

Fracking well INEOS
Fracking well INEOS

Let’s talk about information. We refer to chemical firm INEOS’s advertising around its fracking proposals. The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering Report 2012 states: “The probability of well failure is low for a single well if it is designed, constructed and abandoned according to best practice… Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up.”

INEOS plan 100 to 120 wells in each 10km block. More wells means more risk.

5 January 2017   Anti-fracking protesters at their camp.  Picture Tony Johnson

5 January 2017 Anti-fracking protesters at their camp. Picture Tony Johnson

The UK’s well examination scheme is not designed for onshore activities and the Royal Society report offered 10 recommendations to improve regulation but only one has been implemented.

Since 2012 the resources of the regulators Environment Agency and the HSE have been cut by about 40 per cent. They will rely heavily on companies self-regulating. The report raises concern that even small leakages of methane will contribute to climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 72 times worse than carbon dioxide over 20 years and still 25 times worse over 100 years.

Recently the Government developed a definition of ‘fracking’ which leaves us at risk. Under this definition, of more than 17,000 gas wells fracked in the US from 2000-2010, 43 per cent would not be defined as fracking under UK rules, according to analysis by Prof Stuart Haszeldine at Edinburgh University.

The independent Committee on Climate Change’s report on Fracking and Climate Change states that fracking risks breaching the UK’s climate change targets, and that onshore petroleum extraction on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets unless three tests are met.

The country does not need it, and British people do not want it

The tests strictly limit emissions, gas consumption and require carbon reductions elsewhere in the UK economy. The forecast scale of development does not look limited, and where will other carbon reductions be imposed?

What about water contamination? In the UK, all fluids used in fracking must be fully disclosed and non-hazardous to drinking water. However, the industry will re-use their contaminated waste water that returns to the surface after fracking. These contaminants are known to be neurotoxic and carcinogenic. Spills of fluids are frequent events in the US and water contamination does occur. Why should it be any different here?

Well integrity and design are critical to safety. Cuadrilla’s test frack in 2011 experienced well failure yet it was not reported for several months. Fracking continued and regulations were disregarded.

Shale gas is not the same as North Sea gas. Fracked gas is more likely to bring radioactive radon gas into domestic environments than conventional sources of natural gas.

Fracking protest, fields alongside Bramleymoor Lane at Marsh Lane

Fracking protest, fields alongside Bramleymoor Lane at Marsh Lane

The UK needs gas but we don’t need to get it from shale gas. We have plentiful supplies of gas which we import from stable regions in the world.

Estimates say it will take 10 to 15 years before UK shale reaches significant production.

This is too late to be a bridging energy supply as we transition to zero and low carbon technologies. Renewables are developing more quickly.

Furthermore, it is not clear if UK shale gas will be used to supply UK energy. INEOS wants ethane from shale gas as feedstock for their plastics manufacturing and the methane for fuel. Commercial companies will sell their gas to the highest bidder. Recently INEOS refused to rule out exporting the gas.

Is a central government acting responsibly when it over-rules local government and imposes shale gas development?

The mooted level of job creation is doubtful. Cuadrilla eventually admitted 11 jobs across two sites would be created in Lancashire. The majority of workers are brought in.

And UK shale gas will not reduce energy prices, according to industry statements.

The country does not need it. British people do not want it. We need to insulate all homes to reduce our energy demand, and install more renewable energy schemes that do not risk the water we drink or the air we breathe.