30th July 2014
Francis Egan, chief executive of the drilling company, Cuadrilla, went on the radio yesterday to answer questions from listeners about fracking.
Mr Egan rarely gives interviews or answers questions from journalists. So we’ve transcribed his answers to the points raised by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme.
Among the key points he made are:
- Fracking has a negligible risk to groundwater
- Fracking creates less than one per cent of methane emissions to the atmosphere
- Cuadrilla will pay for repairs if its operations cause cracks in houses
- A fracking site could operate for decades and be unseen and unheard
- Cuadrilla plans to use just one chemical in its Lancashire fracking operations
- There is more support than opposition to fracking in north west England
- Most UK groundwater contains naturally-occurring methane
- There are no subsidies for UK fracking operations
The water that comes out is taken to approved treatment plants, of which there are a number in the UK. It’s not new. They treat water from the North Sea because water from conventional reservoirs has the same characteristics. They treat it and then it can be returned to the environment.
Risk to groundwater
We have completed detailed environmental impact assessments for our proposed exploration sites in the Lancashire. In fact, they were completed by an independent consultant, Arup, who are world-renowned. And they have concluded that there is negligible risk [of contamination of water]. I think what people need to appreciate in the UK, apart from all the measures that we take to protect the ground water, is that water supply in the UK is largely from reservoirs. But even that which does come from groundwater goes through a treatment plant. So you don’t get water out of the ground into your tap.
Most of the ground water in the UK already has methane in it. About 90 something per cent of the UK domestic users get their supply from utilities. Even in Balcombe, the groundwater there has high levels of naturally occurring methane.
Like any industrial customer, we would be behind any domestic users, if there was a shortage, which certainly in the north west there is none our use of water for a single well is probably about less than a half of a per cent of what United Utilities supply in a day.
Fracking and climate change
In the UK right now, renewables accounts, excluding nuclear, for probably 4 or 5 % of our energy use. Gas is used by probably everyone on this programme to heat their houses or cook their food or both. 80% of houses in the UK use gas for heating. So It is not going to be possible to replace that with renewables in anything less than decades. If we could generate all our electricity tomorrow with renewables we would still be using three-quarters of the gas we are using today because we use most of it for heating our houses and businesses and cooking. The best thing we could do for climate change purposes would be to replace coal with gas, which is what the US has done.
Fugitive methane emissions from fracking
We would estimate less than one per cent of emissions [to the atmosphere are from fracking] and we can control those emissions in the UK.
The largest source of emissions from shale gas from US experience has been from the practice of storing flow back water in open pits and then the methane degasses from that water all the time and goes directly into the atmosphere. That practice is (1) not carried out and (2) not allowed in the UK. By eliminating that alone, I think you eliminate about 90% of emissions associated with shale gas.
The other sources are those that are common already in our transportation system, which are leaking valves or compressor stations, which are really down to good maintenance.
Subsidies for fracking
There has not been a penny in subsidy to shale gas in the UK. All the money that has been spent so far is investors’ money and the government has not put one cent into it. They have announced potential tax breaks for production but as nobody is in production – and that is just a reduction in tax – we would still pay in excess of 50% in tax, going up probably to 62% plus, probably the highest corporate tax rate in the UK. So there is no subsidy for exploring or developing shale gas in the UK. This is all investors’ money. And these are UK companies. Certainly Cuadrilla and IGas are UK companies looking to exploit that.
Damage to property from fracking
If we cause cracking we will pay for it. If we caused it, we will obviously want to see that we have caused it. And that is, I think, perfectly reasonable. Then we will have to rectify it. But that risk is tiny. Cuadrilla is a small company. It is actually a small UK company. If we have caused it, we will respond to it.
Impact on roads
Transport infrastructure is very important and a key part of the environmental impact assessment, which for the two sites we are proposing is publicly available from Lancashire County Council. If there is investment needed – and generally the council decides that is part of the planning condition – then the companies pay for it.
Public opposition to fracking
The public opinion surveys actually demonstration that more people are supportive than against it. The BBC’s own survey in north west shows there are more people supportive of it than are against it.
The 14th Licence round
No company will tell you what it is going to bid on because it’s in competition with other companies. I won’t answer where we are going to bid. And frankly, I couldn’t today, because the round was only announced yesterday and we’ve hardly had a chance to look at what’s on offer, much less to decide where we’re going to bid. But we will look at what’s on offer and whatever planning guidance conditions are put in we’ll abide by, clearly.
Disturbing wild birds in Lancashire
A typical shale gas site is about the size of two football pitches. It is about 5 acres. We create a feeding area for birds to offset that [driving birds off feeding areas]. There is no indication of a reduction in bird numbers, quite the opposite in fact, from our activities.
Financially the biggest beneficiary will be UK plc. The tax rate is to be up to 75%. The jobs will be created in the UK. Cuadrilla is a UK company. It pays tax in the UK. 90 something per cent of our employees are UK citizens.
Chemicals in fracking fluid
We are putting one chemical, non toxic, non-hazardous to groundwater [into the ground]. It has to be approved by the Environment Agency, who have already said they will not approve any chemical additives unless they are non-hazardous to groundwater. It is polyacrylamide. It is a friction-reducer. It is typically also found in contact lens solution, for example. It is the one and only chemical we are proposing for our jobs in Lancashire.
Visual impacts of a fracking site
It is nothing compared to a wind turbine. You will not hear it and you will not see it once it is in operation. And it can be in operation for decades after going into production.
Fracking in the UK
If we are serious about actually doing something about climate change, rather than talking about it, then we need to produce our own gas. Because we will be using gas in this country for decades to come we are not going to stop heating our homes and although the Green Party thinks we can reduce energy demand by 60% I don’t believe there is a plan to actually do that. So we either import gas from Russia, Qatar, north Africa where the environmental standards are far lower than here and at greater cost to the climate, or we try to do it in our own country with our own people