Thursday, 23 October 2014

The arguments against Fracking simplified.

This is a guest post by Matt Bryan a local anti- fracking campaigner who took part in a recent debate at the Chester Debating Society on the subject. This was his speech which we consider to be an excellent summary of a complex subject and which we reproduce with Matt's permission:

Good evening, and thank you to Chester Debating Society for inviting me to propose the motion Fracking should be in banned in the UK.

This evening I aim to persuade you that  Fracking should indeed be banned in the UK.  Let me first explain first what is Fracking?

Modern high-volume Hydraulic fracturing, or slickwater fracking, is a NEW technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure mixture of sand, water and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically and then by drilling horizontally.

So why are we considering fracking in the UK?  The Government established the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil  in December 2012, to develop and promote the shale gas industry in the UK. Around half of the UK has been opened up and176 Petroleum Exploration Development Licenses granted. A new round of onshore licensing was commissioned in 2014 leading to this dash for gas

Quantifiable evidence exists which clearly shows harmful environmental impacts, including water contamination, air, noise and light pollution, industrialisation of the countryside and earthquakes.  It is damaging to human and animal health, worsens climate change, uses massive volumes of water, increases HGV road traffic and reduces property values.  It will not reduce the price of gas or provide local jobs, it isnt the answer to our energy security and would be disingenuous to call it a cleaner fuel as methane is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and parts of Australia, Canada and the USA have suspended or banned fracking so why has our Government, despite knowing the risks, rail-roaded it through against the wishes of the public in a complete infringement of our democratic rights. No country in the world has proved fracking can be done safely so why do we still seem to be embracing it?

One of the main concerns about the process is water contamination, not surprising given that the British Geological survey shows how many of the shale gas reserves lay under our aquifers.  There are several ways in which contamination can and does happen - through well failure, accidents, leaks or spills, either from fracking fluid or from the gas itself.   Fracking fluid contains a cocktail of proven hazardous chemicals, and the waste water returned to the surface is a combination of both the water, chemicals, heavy metals and what the European Union classify as radioactive waste. There will be huge volumes of waste water which will need to be treated.  There are currently no specialist water treatment plants who could safely deal with full scale production in the UK and would be too prohibitively expensive and complicated to remove many of the contaminants.  It might be worth noting that while 40-60% of the fracking fluid is brought back up to the surface the rest remains underground.

Fracking companies insist that the risk of water contamination is low, but no level of risk is acceptable.  Water is our most precious commodity, far more precious than gas and we cannot afford to get it wrong.  You cannot UN-contaminate an aquifer.   We can survive without gas, but we cannot survive without water.  Gas companies continually deny that fracking has caused water contamination, but this is simply not true there are numerous studies which have shown it has. Fracking company Cuadrilla has been hauled up by the Advertising Standards Authority for making this false claim.  Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time, released details of 248 cases in which companies were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking wells.

Industry accepted figures on well failure stand at 7% of them failing immediately and Schlumberger, the world's biggest fracking company, cites failure rates of 60 percent over a 30-year span. All wells will leak eventually.  Industry reports on well failure show that it is impossible to prevent it happening.   Doesnt this mean that some water contamination is not just possible, but in fact inevitable?

Then there is air, noise and light pollution.  During operations drills and compressor stations operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with floodlighting required at night.  Compressors are the equivalent in noise production to jumbo jets taking off continuously and there will be around 50 HGV visits per site per day. Emissions from drilling pads, compressors stations, HGVs and other related equipment can lead to a gas field haze with high levels of ozone and airborne toxic chemicals.

Gas companies cannot keep denying that fracking affects human and animal health there is overwhelming evidence from the US and Australia that it does. As this unconventional extraction method has pushed into more densely populated areas of the States, numerous studies such as the one by Bamberger and Oswald, have begun to show that living near a well is extremely detrimental to human and animal health.  Clusters of ill health have been found around fracking sites including chronic, acute and even fatal conditions from nosebleeds, neurological disorders and breathing problems. Breast Cancer UK have called for an immediate moratorium. Given that the UK is considerably more densely populated than either the US or Australia, the health impacts will surely be far more pronounced.  Wont this put undue pressure on our already struggling National Health Service? These were views echoed by a report made by the British Medical Journal. In parts of Australia they have declared that drilling should not be undertaken within a mile of a property, but in England this would be virtually impossible if full-scale production were to take place.

Unlike conventional gas exploration, fracking shale requires a huge number of wells to make it commercially viable and would see the British countryside littered with thousands of rigs, supported by connecting pipelines, compressors and service roads. If the energy companies undertaking unconventional gas extraction are accurate and truthful in their claims to investors and they delivered the quantities of gas they promise it would mean that the UK would be covered in around 25,000 rigs. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld a claim against Cuadrilla for its misleading suggestion that there were no material differences between fracking in one of its conventional wells and fracking for shale gas.

Shale gas production is known to be very water intensive. Estimates for the volume of water required from start to finish of the fracking operation vary significantly due to lack of reliable data and differences in depth and geology of shale plays. According to the recent Tyndall Centre report the entire multi-stage fracturing operation for a single well requires around 2.5 million 8 million gallons of water this would include 1000 - 2500 tonnes of chemicals per well, per frack. According to the Environment  there are considerable pressures on water resources throughout England and Wales.

Earthquakes There are vast amounts of evidence that fracking and industry related injection wells cause earthquakes. In fact the first frack in the UK, which took place in Lancashire in 2011, caused two earthquakes magnitude 2.4.  According to Scientific American there have been over 230 fracking induced earthquakes measuring over 3 on the Richter scale in Ohio this year alone and 2500 since 2008. According to the British Geological Survey Britain has a more complex and fractured geology, unlike any of the shale plays in the USA. Professor Mike Stephenson of the BGS said that to minimise earthquake risk, it is really very, very importantwhen you decide that you want to hydraulically fracture to make sure there are no faults in the area. Blackpool- home to the UKs only fracked shale gas well - is known to be faulted. 

Is shale gas the answer to our energy security or supply?  This is highly unlikely.  Risk of uncertainty in the international gas markets driven by the shale boom, as highlighted with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies assessment that there are limited prospects for shale gas in the UK or Europe, call into question arguments that shale gas can enhance UK security of supply.  Even if it could it would only be a short term solution and we wouldnt reach full-scale production for 15 years long after the point at which we will need to have found a solution to our energy crisis. 

Promotion of the shale gas industry I believe, detracts from what we should be doing in terms of energy conservation and renewables.  Surely that is the real answer to our energy security.  And since we can only use less than ½ of all known fossil fuels whilst still retaining a liveable planet, we need to be reducing our dependence on gas not fuelling our dependence to it, diverting our attention instead to improving renewable technology for a long-term sustainable solution.

Lower energy price claims have been refuted by every major financial institution in the world. There are estimates that finding and development costs in Europe are in the region of 23 times higher than the US. The UK has a population density which is eight times that of the US and limited land availability, which combined with the differences described above, indicate that domestic shale gas is unlikely to be able to compete with imports in the future.

It is claimed that the industry will bring with it local jobs, but this is highly unlikely. The Oxford Institute for Energy Study points out that there is currently close to no fracking expertise nor manufacturing capacity in Europe...meaning that they will need to rely on international service providers.  In other words, any shale gas production in the UK would rely on importing both labour and equipment from overseas, probably the US, given its position as market leader.   Any local jobs would be unskilled and temporary. In fact it is likely that the industry would be the cause of jobs losses in sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the brewing industry.  This is in stark contrast with the potential economic and job creation benefits, which low-carbon technologies such as marine renewables could bring to the UK as highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its Building a Low Carbon Economy report.

The Government acknowledges that there have been problems with fracking in the US and Australia but insist that it wont be like that here because we have gold standard regulations.  However a report by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health found both the European Union and the United Nations Environment Programme have concluded that fracking may result in unavoidable environmental and health impacts even if the gas is extracted properly, and more so if done inadequately. They suggest that even if risk can be reduced theoretically, in practice many accidents from leaky or malfunctioning equipment and bad practices occur regularly.

When profit is at stake corners will always be cut and rules flouted. However, not only can this industry not be sufficiently regulated, but having myself listened to presentations by representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, I can assure you that our regulatory system is not even close to gold standard and goes nowhere near protecting our communities.  It is my belief that Fracking cannot be carried out safely and Cuadrilla have been in trouble again with the Advertising Standards Authority for falsely claiming that they use proven safe technologies.  There is no such thing as proven safe fracking technology.

The EU study found cumulative overall risk to the environment and health from releases to air and from traffic associated with fracking operations to be high. The UK is already facing potential legal proceedings from the EU as a result of its failure to improve air quality as at least 29,000 UK deaths are caused by air pollution each year. Fracking is likely to exacerbate this problem.

If we are able to extract all the shale UK reserves, and this remains doubtful, Gas companies and their share holders would stand to do well, as would the Government initially through tax revenue, but at what cost?  Is money more important than our environment, our water, our air and our health?

So my view is that Fracking should without question be banned in the UK.  I look forward to listening to the opposition debate and will be happy to answer any questions after her submission.


In conclusion, I have established through referenced research, the following points:

Our dash for gas will increase and bind us to our reliance on fossil fuels and will redirect our attention and investment from alternative energy sources.

House prices would fall as a result of production in the area

Seismic activity would increase

Well failure is an industry accepted eventuality and will lead to water contamination

The UK is simply too densely population for this industry to operate safely

Water supply for the industry is a major issue and aquifer contamination and climate change issues will leave us more open to water shortages and drought.

Fracking is an industry that is fuelled by powerful corporate interests influencing political agenda

Massive industrialisation of our countryside would be. Increased HGV traffic, noise, light and air pollution would be of major concern

Associated risks to residents, workers and livestock pose a huge threat to health and well being. Burdens to the NHS have been noted.

Job promises have been grossly exaggerated and would probably lead to job losses in other areas. Job creation in the low-carbon sector outweigh the fossil fuel sector.

These are the reasons why I propose that fracking should not be allowed in the UK

Anyone more interested in finding our more please visit or simply type fracking into google.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this debate tonight.

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