The head of an oil and gas company with drilling licences in Kent has bucked industry trends and agreed to put the case for fracking in a public debate.
Gerwyn Williams, the chairman of Coastal Oil and Gas, is joining a panel discussing the issue at a major event in Canterbury later this month. He is among the very few oil industry executives who so far have been prepared to debate fracking publicly in the UK.
We understand the organisers of the debate at Canterbury Christ Church University have been trying to find pro-shale speakers. But so far they have failed to entice either government ministers, MPs, members of the All Party Parliamentary Group of Unconventional Gas and Oil, or representatives of the industry’s UK Onshore Operators’ Group. A series of debates earlier this year, organised by Talk Fracking, also failed to attract supporters of shale as panel members.
East Kent frack-free zone call
Mr Williams, however, may have a good reason to want put his case in the Kent. Last month, the county’s branch of CPRE, called on the energy minister, Matthew Hancock, to declare a frack-free zone in east Kent, arguing that drilling put the chalk aquifer at “serious risk”.
East Kent is the very area where Mr Williams’s company holds petroleum exploration and development licences. Coastal Oil and Gas has planning permission to drill an exploratory well at Woodnesborough, near Sandwich. It also applied last year for permission to drill at Shepherdswell, Guston and Tilmanstone but withdrew the applications a few months later. At the time, CPRE Kent said this showed how little research the company had done one the hydrogeological conditions of the area.
In its frack-free zone call, CPRE Kent said gas and oil deposits were no more than 600-700m below the aquifer, the chalk of the North Downs. The group said there was a risk that geological faults could allow gases and fracking fluids to leaking to the chalk and contaminate water. CPRE Kent report
Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent Vice President, said: “Water resources in Kent are already seriously stressed – there is a danger that if fracking went ahead we could damage the aquifer that provides most of the county’s water. Plus, we fear that water supply boreholes could be damaged causing pollution which would threaten public health as well as harm environmental quality, agriculture and wetland habitats.”
“Almost no chance of anything going wrong”
Last weekend, Mr Williams sought to rebut CPRE Kent’s arguments. He told Kent on Sunday that the group was “very ill-informed” about geology. He said there was no Namurian shale in the county, which was why Coastal Oil and Gas had given back some of its licences in Kent.
Mr Williams said “There has been a huge amount of drilling across Kent over decades, and none of those boreholes have led to any kind of environmental issue or water contamination in the area, so why should any borehole drilled now, with much better technology available, cause a problem for water supplies?”
CPRE Kent warned that contamination of the groundwater was often irreversible and questioned whether current regulations could prevent problems.
But Mr Williams said: “There’s almost no chance of anything going wrong, because it is so well regulated by a myriad of different agencies and regulations had to be “flawlessly adhered” to. CPRE Kent were, in his words, “off their heads if they think that with all that regulation, anything is likely to go wrong.”
Mr Williams is joined on the pro-shale side of the argument by Nick Riley, a geologist and director of the consultancy Carboniferous Ltd.
Other panellists include:
- Mike Hill, a chartered electrical engineer and a director of a small engineering consultancy specialising in process automation of oil and gas rig equipment, who is critical of current fracking regulations
- Ian Driver, a Green Party Councillor on Thanet District Council and a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South
- David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the University of Glasgow, and a critic of fracking in the heavily-faulted region of the Weald
- Paul Stevens, a Distinguished Fellow at Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs), who is often critical of the economics of fracking in the UK
- Julie Wassmer, a freelance writer, author and environmental campaigner, opposed to shale gas drilling
The chair of the debate is Janet Haddock-Fraser, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences and Professor of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility.
The debate is organised by the Sociology Department of Canterbury Christ Church University. It is at Augustine House in Canterbury, CT1 2YA, on Wednesday 19th November 2014, 7.30-9.30pm. The event is free. To book tickets