- Latest government fracking announcement
- Sparse on details, but plenty of hype
- Wild claims regarding vast amounts of gas
- Technical or economic aspects not addressed
- Would require 10,000 of wells to be drilled
- Industrialising vast area of countryside
- Unspecified bribes for communities
- No compensation enough for this though
- Can look to US and Australia to see impacts
- Communities getting organised to resist
Today’s fracking dog and pony show from the government provides an interesting study in how it is possible to create something out of nothing, (if you don’t live in the real world, that is). Some vague (and highly inflated) figures on how much shale gas there might be under one part of the county, combined with some even vaguer talk about tax breaks for corporations and bribes for threatened communities, have been sprinkled with a liberal dollop of media hype and served up as distraction from even more public sector cuts. Unfortunately in the real world where we actually have to live, limitless cheap energy cannot be just conjured into existence, and there are always social or environmental consequences.
The substance behind these ‘new’ shale resource estimates is pretty thin. The British Geological Survey report does not address whether this supposed gas is technically recoverable and certainly not whether any of it would be economically viable to extract, though given the rate at which shale gas companies in the US are hemorrhaging money at present, perhaps they can be forgiven for thinking the latter isn’t relevant. Beyond that, these estimates are based on extrapolating the results of core samples from a handful of wells, across a huge area of central England. A major lesson of shale gas in the US is that there a few sweet spots where wells are quite productive but outside those areas the picture is very different.
Of course, no thought is being given to what the consequences of extracting Shale Gas are, for communities, or the environment. Contaminated water, air pollution, huge amounts of toxic and radioactive waste, silica dust, and carbon emissions are not mentioned. Assuming that 10 percent of the 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas quoted could actually be extracted, over 130,000 shale gas wells would need to be drilled. Given that only 50,000 thousand shale gas wells have been drilled in the whole of the US so far, at considerable cost to the inhabitants of a country 40 times the size with a much lower population density, the insanity of what is envisaged is all too clear. Behind the well numbers lurks a much wider industrial menace including pipelines, compressor stations and processing plants.
The picture is no more substantial when it comes to the economics, the community benefits and tax breaks. All the treasury statement really says is that details will be published at some point in the future. Various numbers are being bandied around, £100,000’s ‘worth’ of community benefits per pad in the exploration phase and 1 percent of revenue later. However ‘revenue’, ‘community’ and ‘benefits’ are nowhere defined, and these potential bribes pale into insignificance compared to the costs that communities will face (and have faced in the US and Australia). The take-home message is clear: energy companies are to be given our resources to loot (on which they will not even have to pay much tax), while the communities they trash are left to carry the can.
To understand what is really going on, one only has look at the jump in the share prices of fracking companies like IGas and Dart Energy. Shale Gas is a massive bubble no different from the securitised mortgage debt bubble of recent memory. Like any bubble it feeds off hype and fracking companies are busy trying to feed it, and need all the help from their friends in government that they can get. That said, just because fracking is a bubble doesn’t mean that it can’t do a vast amount of damage as it plays out. We can only hope that concerted action by local communities can bring fracking companies down to earth, as has recently happened in New South Wales.
See below for a more detailed breakdown of the what is wrong with the direction we are heading in:
- Unconventional gas is a toxic (and radioactive) nightmare, which contaminates the water and air and produces huge amounts of waste. Wherever this has happened in the US, Canada and Australia, people are getting sick.
- In the US methane and other chemicals have been shown to be contaminating water supplies near gas wells (see Study: Water wells near fracking gas sites show high level of methane)
- The ozone levels where drilling is happening in Wyoming and Utah can be worse than central Los Angeles (seeLike Wyoming, Utah finds high wintertime ozone pollution near oil, gas wells)
- Doctors are cataloguing severe health impacts in Pennsylvania and Queensland and cancer rates are rising in Barnett Shale, Texas (see Symptomatology of a gas field: An independent health survey in the Tara rural residential estates and environs and Breast cancer rate climbs up)
- The amounts of gas being touted would require drilling 10,000s of wells (plus associated pipelines, compressor stations and processing plants) industrialising thousands of square miles of countryside
- Unconventional wells must drilled at a regular spacing (up to 8 per square mile) over large areas, coating the landscape (see Wells, Wells And More Fracking Wells)
- Largest conventional on-shore gas field in UK had 8 wells, would need hundreds of unconventional wells to get same amount of gas (see Wells, Wells And More Fracking Wells)
- Only a couple of thousand wells have been drilled on-shore in the last century, now looking at drilling thousands per year (see Wells, Wells And More Fracking Wells)
- We cannot afford to burn more than small fraction of conventional fossil fuel reserves without triggering catastrophic climate change, all unconventional fossil fuels need to stay in the ground
- Unconventional gas has been shown to be more carbon intensive than coal, when methane emissions are taking into account (see Methane leaks erode green credentials of natural gas)
- The concept of substitution at today’s prices in ridiculous, new fossil fuel sources just add to the amount that is burned (see Shale Gas expansion could jeopardise climate commitments)
- The emissions from exploiting all unconventional fossil fuels (including underground coal gasification) could literally fry the planet (see Is underground coal gasification a sensible option?)
- In reality unconventional gas could only ever produce small amounts of very expensive gas for a short time, sensible measures are needed to reduce wasteful and unsustainable energy consumption not putting off doing anything for a few more years
- Only a small fraction of unconventional gas can ever be extraction (typically 8-15%) (see Pore Structure And Gas Recovery In Barnett Shale)
- Production from unconventional wells declines very fast (up to 80% per year) (see Evaluating production potential of mature US oil, gas shale plays)
- All fossil fuels are finite and we have already burned all easy get ones (see Extreme Energy: The Road to Nowhere and Energy, Climate and Cuts: A Fork in the Road)
- People across Britain are outraged by this threat to their communities and determined to fight the governments plans tooth and nail, they are not impressed with the attempts to bribe them to acquiesce to this destruction
- This is just another example of profits for a few, at the expense of everyone else (1% percent of “revenue” to the community, tax breaks for the corporations)
- Across the globe communities are getting organised to resist this invasion wherever they are threatened (seeCommunity Resistance takes on The Coal Seam Gas Industry and the state in New South Wales)
- The experiences of communities in the US and Australia shows that no compensation could make up for the harm done (see The New Oil Landscape: The fracking frenzy in North Dakota has boosted the U.S. fuel supply—but at what cost?)