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Fracking companies use the law to strong-arm local authorities and landowners

As a report in the Blackpool Gazette showed a drone photograph of Cuadrilla’s well pad near Blackpool under inches of water this week, which could lead to fields and watercourses being contaminated with fracking chemicals and drilling muds, there is news of planned incursions elsewhere.

Ineos, Britain’s biggest fracking company, wants to survey sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

Clumber Park estate (below) in Nottinghamshire, is now owned by the National Trust which opposes fracking. As the trust has refused to allow Ineos to carry out tests for shale gas on this land, the company is to use legal powers under the Mines Act 1966. It has now applied to the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for access to conduct seismic surveys on the 3,800-acre estate in order to gauge the best sites for drilling.

Ineos is also seeking to bypass local councils by using powers created in 2015 to fast-track plans to drill for shale gas in the Midlands without their planning approval. These enable companies to request intervention from ministers to get permission for delayed infrastructure projects deemed to be of national importance. Councils that ’unreasonably delay planning decisions’ can be overruled by Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, via the planning inspectorate.

Ineos plans to apply formally to Mr Javid within days for intervention on two delayed projects in Derbyshire and near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

As David Powell (NEF) asks “How long can the government push clean and dirty energy at the same time?” He ends with a comment:

“If the Government bows to INEOS’s bolshie demands, it wouldn’t just be an affront to the very concept of democracy. It would also be proof – in a decarbonising, climate-changing world, even as it talks big on a ‘clean’ industrial strategy – that it retains a very misguided sense of which horse to back”.

 

 

 

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Will shale gas undermine progress on tackling climate change?

SGR

In 2011, mechanical engineer Martin Quick wrote an article reviewing one aspect of the shale gas issue – fugitive gas emissions from fracking. It was published in the SGR journal and its findings are consistent with later studies.

He critically examined the rapidly expanding shale gas industry, in particular its claimed role in helping to reduce carbon emissions, noting that that shale gas has its downside, not least the significant levels of methane leakage that occur during extraction. This could critically undermine the claim that it is a low-carbon fuel.

While the problem of local water pollution has received a lot of attention, Quick focusses on methane leakage into the atmosphere. The nature of the extraction process means that it is difficult to prevent such leakage, so there could be serious implications for climate change:

“Methane has a global warming potential (GWP) of about 25 times that of CO2, assessed on the basis of the cumulative effect on the climate system over a 100-year timeframe.1 CO2 stays in the atmosphere 2 throughout this timescale, but methane has a much shorter ‘life’ – thus its warming effect is much greater in the short term than that of CO2.

“Methane also leaks from conventional gas and coal extraction and there is considerable uncertainly associated with estimates of all methane leakages. Robert Howarth and colleagues at Cornell University2 have compiled ranges for the percentage of gas leaking into the atmosphere through extraction, transport and distribution. These are 3.6%—7.9% for shale gas and 1.7%— 6% for conventional gas.

“Assuming that, in the longer term, best practice measures minimise gas escapes, and taking Howarth’s lower values in assessing climate change implications, methane leakage from shale gas production is about twice that from conventional gas. We can use these figures to compare the total greenhouse gas emissions (adjusting for different GWPs) for shale gas, conventional gas and coal.3 This calculation reveals that the total greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas are about 70% of that of coal, compared with the figure of 50% generally claimed for conventional gas.4 ”

An interesting passage on the role of carbon capture and storage follows – go to the article here: http://www.sgr.org.uk/sites/sgr.org.uk/files/SGRNL40_shalegas.pdf

Implications for future energy policy

“The indications are that huge quantities of shale gas could be available globally. However, analysis suggests that methane leakage from shale gas between extraction and combustion is significant enough almost to negate the claimed advantages of shale gas using Carbon Capture and Storage and could even make the climate change impact of shale gas comparable with that of coal.

“The oil and gas industry is currently lobbying heavily to greatly expand the exploitation of shale gas in many places around the world, including the UK. While using relatively small amounts of gas could assist in (for example) improving energy security, major reliance on shale gas would be counterproductive, especially as it could squeeze out further development of renewable energy technologies”.

References

1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Fourth Assessment Report (Working Group I). http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/contents.html

2. Howarth R, Santoro R, Ingraffea A (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change, vol. 106 (4), pp.679-690.

3. Ideally we would take account of the energy used in gas transport operations, but for simplicity we assume a relatively local gas source. For coal, an average of the emissions values for deep and surface mined coal is taken.

4. Derived using figures from Howarth et al (2011) – see note 2.

5. As note 4.

SGR Newsletter • Autumn 2011 • Issue 40

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Or worse – will the impact of shale gas become a ‘tipping point’?

argyll environmentalIn the Financial Times, Chris Loaring of Argyll Environmental, Brighton, wrote about the suspicions of many scientists that the rapid exploration of unconventional gas deposits, such as shale and coal bed methane, might well lead to methane releases large enough to tip the planet into an “alternative climate system”.

He explains that, though shale gas is being heralded as the cleanest form of fossil fuels, its extraction and use produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, a greenhouse gas which is 33 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Most of these methane losses come from leakage during drilling, flowback of the fracking fluid, compression of the gas and during pipeline transport.

Findings disputed by industry

NATURE journalist Jeff Tollefson reports that results of initial research launched in February 2012 indicated that methane leakage rates from wells in Denver, Colorado were about 4% of total gas production.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences says that further research on the heavily fracked natural gasfields in the Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado and the Uinta Basin of Utah indicates that the leakage rates may actually be as high as 9%.

Chris Loaring ends: “It is contingent upon the government to use scientific evidence to develop a better understanding of the possible climate implications of fracking before pushing ahead with the dash for gas. As with all things, with increasing involvement and participation comes necessity or increased guidance controls and structures.

“We hope that the government’s rigorous approach to the fiscal side of fracking will be matched by its approach on the environmental side also”.