Fracking go ahead is not a coherent energy policy

Jacob Rees Mogg announced to the Commons today: ”I am glad to be able to announce that the moratorium on the extraction of shale gas is being lifted.”

This is a bizarre announcement driven by ideology that has no basis in science or economics.

It has long been apparent that Liz Truss lacks environmental credentials and ambitions. She doesn’t even have Margaret Thatcher’s grasp of global warming (who was the only prime minister in my lifetime to have a science degree). This a government that is not scientifically literate. It is parliament that is not scientifically literate with just 17% of MPs having science, engineering, technology and medicine higher education (STEM) qualifications. That compares to 46% of higher education students qualifying in 2019.

Rees Mogg said today that fracking will help with the energy crisis. He seems to think that getting shale gas is no more difficult that turning on a tap. The blunt reality is there not enough gas to make fracking viable in the UK and what there is, is difficult to extract. And that can’t be done overnight and the founder of Cuadrilla Resources, which had wells halted in Lancashire, says no sensible investors would risk embarking on large fracking projects in the UK.

We are in dangerous times on the climate emergency. Quick fixes for economic, and worse, political reasons, will simply dump problems on future generations. It is dangerous times for the Conservatives, especially Red Wall constituencies. According the Times, she is not even going to COP27. There could not be a clearer statement that Liz Truss’s government had abandoned the climate agenda whatever the environmental and political costs.

There has been much talk about fracking only being approved with local support but also reports that Liz Truss will take planning permission out of local hands and transfer decisions to the planning inspectorate.

Lib Dem MPs are opposing the lifting of the moratorium on fracking. In the Commons today, Wera Hobhouse said:

It is outrageous that Conservative ministers are prepared to impose dangerous drilling on communities. People are understandably frightened that fracking could be devastating for their local countryside and hopes for tackling climate change. Their voices must be heard. To cause such destruction for drilling which even the chancellor admits won’t bring down energy prices shows this government has lost the plot.

Helen Morgan:

Residents in the northern part of my constituency are rightly concerned about the impact of tremors on their often older buildings, and they are worried about the impact of the extraction of coal bed methane through fracking on their rural way of life. Will the Secretary of State explain in detail—he has not so far—exactly the mechanism through which communities will be able to refuse consent for coal bed extraction and shale gas fracking? Compensation is not consent.

Rees-Mogg responded that “compensation and consent become two sides of the same coin.” He said people will be able to negotiate the level of compensation and it will be a matter for the companies to ensure widespread consent by offering a compensation package that is attractive.

Wera Hobhouse said:

The present Chancellor said only a few months ago that “No amount of shale gas” extracted across rural England would lower energy prices, and indeed, that private companies would not sell their shale gas to UK customers at a cost lower than the market price. Ruining our countryside—in Sussex, East Surrey and around Bath—is not the answer. Why in his first week in office has the Secretary of the State ended the moratorium on fracking but not lifted the de facto moratorium on onshore wind?

Daisy Cooper said:

Does the Secretary of State recognise that he has now put his Government in the absurd position of wanting to impose fracking on communities that do not want it, while not allowing onshore wind turbines in communities that do want them? Onshore wind turbines are cheap and quick to erect, and normally bring about cheaper energy bills for local communities. Will the Secretary of State finally—without reference to offshore wind and everything else he is doing—please answer the question directly: will he lift the ban on onshore wind?

In a media release today, Wera Hobhouse said:

The government’s own experts have refused to say fracking is safe. That they choose to plough on regardless shows a callous disregard for our communities and countryside. From Surrey to Somerset, the government are treating people in rural areas like guinea pigs.

The Conservatives obsession with fracking lays bare that they don’t actually think that Climate change is happening and are not willing to take the urgent action needed. They are delaying climate action at every corner. The mask has finally slipped and is revealing Liz Truss and Jacob Reece Mogg as climate change deniers. It is bizarre that this has become their priority, rather than renewables: the cheapest and most popular form of energy.

If people suffer polluted water and dangerous earthquakes, this decision will prove unforgivable.

A YouGov poll from the end of May shows that 44% of Conservative voters are in favour of fracking, compared to 13 % of Labour and 23% of Lib Dems.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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14 Comments

  • A few comments

    1. If hydraulic-fracturing is uneconomical according to Caudrilla, there’s no need for a ban and anti-frackers don’t need to worry

    2. The (tiny) seismic effects of hydraulic-fracturing are lower than a lot of common and widely deployed industrial and extraction processes

    3. Gas prices have strong regional variation, with gas from hydraulic-fracturing in the UK highly unlikely to feed into international markets, meaning lower prices in the UK. What developing local gas production in the UK does do is build up the UK’s energy security defence, something that became very exposed recently. It is very worrying to see the exact same arguments being churned out again (“we mustn’t increase extraction and production of fossil fuels”, which actually means we must buy from abroad, often from abusive countries) that got us in this energy crisis mess in the first place. Technologically we haven’t reached a place to transition to 100% non-nuclear renewable, so we are dependent on fossil fuels for the time being. Forcing down local and regional fossil fuel extraction is exactly why Europe was so weakened in its position with Russia (enough for Putin to think he could invade another country), and exactly why we are about to witness an emboldened Azerbaijan (who just signed a gas deal with Europe) commit genocide on the last remaining Armenians within its territory (currently operating as a breakaway republic). Just wishing for renewables to work now thinking we can be dependent on them – when we can’t – is reckless, damaging and costs (a lot) of lives.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Sep '22 - 6:48am

    @James Pugh
    Comment 1 – perhaps the wrong anti-fracking battle is being fought – i.e. we ought to be more concerned about pollution and economic issues than seismicity….?

    Comment 3 “Technologically we haven’t reached a place to transition to 100% non-nuclear renewable, so we are dependent on fossil fuels for the time being” – seems an excuse for delaying transition to renewables and ignoring altogether possibilities for using less energy in the first place.

  • Chris Moore 23rd Sep '22 - 7:59am

    Ed Davey was the minister who signed off Hinckley C in 2012. It comes on stream in 2026, I believe. We need to commission more nuclear power plants.

    Neither fracking nor new nuclear power plants, nor new renewables can help with the current crisis, given long lead times from project approval to operations beginning.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Sep '22 - 9:38am

    We need to show Putin that we can live without his oil and gas so, in the immediate future, we need to get our energy from every available source, whether that includes fracking is another matter, and to make sure our own people are warm and safe this winter and beyond?

  • >Rees-Mogg responded that “compensation and consent become two sides of the same coin.” He said people will be able to negotiate the level of compensation

    Well I look forward to seeing how JRM responds when people adopt his Brexit negotiation stance: I want my cake and eat it, otherwise no deal.

  • @Nonconformistradical

    All methods of energy extraction, transportation and production produce harms (this includes solar and wind, which disrupts wildlife and have issues of disposal of problematic components after the lifespan of a panel or turbine; of course these harms are probably less, but harms they are). If the gas isn’t produced here, we import it from elsewhere dumping the harm there (so a version of NIMBYism). In the case of being dependent on Russia (that invades and annexes other countries’ territory), Azerbaijan (which is poised to commit a genocide on the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh) or Qatar (which incessantly meddles in and destructively destabilises countries around the world), we also then fund and enable their abhorrant domestic and foreign policies. It’s been reckless, selfish, destabilising, and hugely damaging to prevent to extraction of local gas reserves in the name of “environmentalism”, when there isn’t the existence of alternative non-nuclear renewable energy technology, meaning we become dependent on foreign supplies, export our problems and enable human suffering on an enormous scale.

    The storage technology to translate solar and wind into a round the clock stable supply doesn’t exist. The technology for enduring and economically viable tidal energy harnessing doesn’t exist (tidal energy is currently BY FAR the most expensive energy to produce because of this limitation, though in theory tidal energy is the silver bullet). There are insufficient sites for hydroelectricity production (and anyway, new hydroelectric dams would be protested against and blocked by so-called environmentalists). And nuclear takes too long.

  • James Pugh 22nd Sep ’22 – 9:37pm:
    2. The (tiny) seismic effects of hydraulic-fracturing are lower than a lot of common and widely deployed industrial and extraction processes.

    Indeed. The University of Liverpool were commissioned to research this and they found that the 0.5ML (Magnitude Local – formerly Richter scale) limit imposed by Davey back in 2012 is equivalent to the ground vibration caused by sitting on an office chair. UK construction and quarrying sites have a limit of 4.0ML. It’s a logarithmic scale so that’s 3,162 times as much energy. The 4.0ML limit also applies to the drilling for geothermal energy at United Downs, near Redruth in Cornwall.

    ‘Seismic Context Measurements for Induced Seismicity’ [November 2018]:
    http://datacat.liverpool.ac.uk/609/2/Seismic%20Context%20Measurements.pdf

    School of Environmental Sciences & Institute of Risk and Uncertainty University of Liverpool

    A technical report for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

    ‘Final report – Shale gas extraction’ [June 2012]:
    https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/shale-gas-extraction/report/

    The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington FRS, asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to review the scientific and engineering evidence and consider whether the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas could be managed effectively in the UK. […]

    […] Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of smaller magnitude than the UK’s largest natural seismic events and those induced by coal mining.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Sep '22 - 2:08pm

    The london array windfarm covers 100 km2 and has a nameplate capacity of 600MW. Usual availability would be 30% or so so that’s a useful capacity of 0.2GW available.
    To replace our typical usage of 15GW of gas generation would therefore require an area some 75 times as big : 7,500 km2. It would be about 1/3 the area of Wales – although I guess you would put it in the sea for preference. It would need som 13,000 turbines.

  • James Pugh 22nd Sep ’22 – 9:37pm:
    3. Gas prices have strong regional variation, with gas from hydraulic-fracturing in the UK highly unlikely to feed into international markets, meaning lower prices in the UK.

    Indeed. Currently, UK gas is trading at $32/MMBTU — over four times more than the US price of $7.1/MMBTU. The Dutch TTF European benchmark is at a 69% premium to the UK at $54/MMBTU.

    ‘UK NBP NATURAL GAS (USD/MMBTU)’:
    https://www.tradingview.com/symbols/NYMEX-NBP1!/

    ‘DUTCH TTF NATURAL GAS (USD/MMBTU) (ICIS HEREN)’:
    https://www.tradingview.com/symbols/NYMEX-TTE1!/

    ‘HENRY HUB NATURAL GAS FUTURES’:
    https://www.tradingview.com/symbols/NYMEX-NG2!/

    MMBTU = Million British Thermal Units.

    NBP = National Balancing Point, a virtual location in the UK pipeline network where supply and demand balance at the quoted price.

    TTF = Title Transfer Facility, a Dutch trading platform which sets the benchmark price for gas in continental Europe.

    Henry Hub = Distribution hub in Louisiana which is the pricing point for US natural gas.

    In any case, oil and gas under the UK belongs to the Crown. The government can set whatever terms it sees fit for licences. It could, for example, require a trance of gas from each well to be sold at less than market price. This could incentivise maximising extraction and drive innovation in techniques.

  • Roland 23rd Sep ’22 – 11:05am:
    Well I look forward to seeing how JRM responds when people adopt his Brexit negotiation stance: I want my cake and eat it, otherwise no deal.

    Wytch Farm in Dorset provides a model of how fracking can be conducted in the UK. It’s Europes largest onshore oil field and lies underneath an environmentally sensitive area and some of the most expensive houses in Britain. Residents don’t seem to want any cake…

    ‘U.K. home owners support fracking near their multi-million-dollar properties’ [September 2013]:
    https://financialpost.com/commodities/energy/u-k-home-owners-support-fracking-near-their-multi-million-dollar-properties

    Property developer Julie Wilde says the fracking of an oil field under her beach-side villa on England’s south coast has done nothing to hurt the value of the 9 million-pound home.

    Oil exploration hasn’t affected the area “one little bit,” Wilde said […]. “It’s a really, really nice place to live. It’s almost like being on holiday all the time.” […]

    The combination of horizontal drilling and fracturing has allowed for the cost effective development of Wytch Farm, including getting oil from under Sandbanks in Dorset, the Royal Society said in a study published last year. […]

    “The U.K. needs to be self-sufficient in its energy,” said Adrian Dunford, a principal at Tailor Made estate agency at Sandbanks, where one waterfront house lists for 7.25 million pounds. “There’s always been oil production here. There is no negativity to what’s going on.”

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Sep '22 - 3:16pm

    @Jeff
    Wytch Farm is a conventional oilfield where liquid oil and gas have been trapped underground below impermeable rocks. The oil and gas are accessed by drilling boreholes and since the oil and gas are under pressure they rise to the surface so can be collected easily. Over time as the pressure reduces further extraction may require pumping of steam and other gases into the system to force out the remaining oil and gas (and hence the idea of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and pumping it into defunct oilfields.

    This is very different from the process for extracting shale gas – where the gas has not collected up below impermeable rocks but is dispersed in pores throughout a layer of sedimentary shale rock. Shale gas doesn’t flow of its own accord, unlike conventional oil and gas. It has to be forced out from the pores in the shale by injecting fluids into the rock to break it apart.

    Some stuff on the British Geologial Survey website you might wish to read:-
    https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/planning_factsheets/mpf_oil_gas.pdf

    https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/planning_factsheets/mpf_alternative_fossil_fuels.pdf

  • <Nonconformistradical 25th Sep ’22 – 3:16pm:
    Wytch Farm is a conventional oilfield where liquid oil and gas have been trapped underground below impermeable rocks.

    Yes, it’s mostly oil, but many of the wells have been stimulated by hydraulic fracturing (as mentioned in the article cited above). Wytch Farm demonstrates two things: Firstly, long-reach directional drilling enables many wells to be drilled from the same pad which can be sited unobtrusively. Wytch Farm was a pioneer of horizontal drilling and set the then world record at over 10km. Secondly, hydraulic fracturing can be safely performed without polluting the environment or water table. Although at a lower pressure, Wytch Farm uses similar chemicals and proppants as used for shale gas fracking.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Sep '22 - 8:02am

    @Jeff
    “Although at a lower pressure”
    Exactly.

    Having said that I do wonder if the most appropriate argument over fracking for shale gas is being fought. Given the variations in geology across the British Isles (as compared with the large areas of the US where shale gas fracking has been taking place) I do wonder if, assuming no safety issues, sufficient shale gas could be extracted here for the process to be economically viable.

  • @Jeff – “The U.K. needs to be self-sufficient in its energy,” said Adrian Dunford
    Wytch Farm does seem to remind us just how far the general public will go to avoid thinking or informing themselves and deluding themselves into believing the impossible. For the UK to be self-sufficient in its energy (for more than a few months) it has to massively reduce its consumption of energy; in the first instance fossil fuels, in the second nuclear – we import uranium…

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