Canterbury fracking debate

Seven people with an interest and expertise in fracking debated the question Should fracking be allowed in Britain? in front of an audience of around 200 people at Canterbury Christ Church University. Each of the panelists spoke for about seven minutes and then answered questions from the audience.

We’ve extracted the key arguments from the panelists’ presentations. You can also follow links to a transcript of the full version. The panelists are in the order that they spoke at the event.

Canterbury debate

Gerwyn Williams
Chair of UK Onshore Gas Group, which holds PEDL licences in south Wales, Somerset and Kent. Chair of an investment company raising money to extract unconventional hydrocarbons. Coastal Oil and Gas, one Mr Williams’ companies, applied for planning permission last year for wells in Kent but later withdrew the applications.

Fracking has been going on onshore in the UK for the last 60 years. There has been some 2,000 plus wells drilled onshore and about 10% of those have been fracked so in the last 60 years about 200 onshore wells have been fracked without any problems. No-one has ever heard in the last 55 years about fracking. It has been going on quite comfortably.

The title [of the debate] is a bit misleading because fracking is not only associated with shale gas. You have to ask yourselves are we trying to stop fracking or are we trying to stop shale gas.

We have drilled six wells so far. We have drilled five exploration wells and one production well. We’ve never had an objector on site. Sometimes we’ve never even bothered to put security outside. That has all changed in recent years since Balcombe came round in the summer a few years ago. The whole industry has changed. And I think it has changed for the worst.

Full transcript

Julie Wassmer
Freelance writer and author, member of the campaign groups East Kent Against Fracking and Mothers Against Fracking.  She also sits on the Environment Committee of Kent’s Campaign for Protection of Rural England.

Why do we oppose fracking? Precisely because of the knowables: the facts that are so often shamelessly skewed and distorted by the government and the industry to support the government’s overriding commitment to shale.

The government insists that what’s required is a proper debate to inform ill-informed campaigners like myself and many others. But the simple fact is that they neither initiate that debate nor do they participate in it when it is provided like tonight. Where is the Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock or anyone from the All Party Parliamentary Group on shale? The sad fact is that when invited to attend public debates, they are never anywhere to be found. Ask yourselves why.

The fact is if you live near a fracking site expect your property to lose its value. Expect noxious fumes, air pollution, water contamination, heavy truck movements and subsidence. And as to waste water, the billions of gallons that emerge from these wells which require treatment for radioactive materials and salinity, Dr Jim Marshall, of Water UK, said this year: “We have no facilities to deal with this”. The risk is unquantifiable. In the words of the UN toxins expert, Dr Marianne Lloyd-Smith: “You can regulate fracking to make it safer but you cannot make it safe.”

Full transcript

Professor Paul Stevens
Distinguished Fellow at Chatham House, former oil consultant and professor of Petroleum Policy and Economics at the University of Dundee. He has written extensively on the petroleum industry, and energy economics. In March 2009 he was presented with the OPEC Award in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of oil and energy research.

I am not in favour of fracking and I am not against fracking. It depends how it is done.

I would not take a lot of notice of negative stories coming out of the US. I think in the UK we could do it a lot better.

Yes there were three earthquakes in Blackpool but to call them earthquakes is a bit of a misuse of language. They were 1.1, 1.2 on the Richter Scale, which is logarithmic. About a dozen people noticed, which gave rise to questions about what they were doing at the time that the earth moved.

The reason [fugitive methane] is a big problem is because we simply don’t know what the levels are. There are a lot of claims out there. There is not enough work going on. More work needs to be done to establish what they might be.

At the end of the process, shale gas is methane and if you burn it, it is a hydrocarbon and you are going to get CO2 and if you are concerned about climate change (and if you are not you should be) then obviously this raises a number of issues.

Don’t expect to have a shale gas revolution any time soon in the UK. You are looking at 15-20 years at the very least. The sort of characteristic that helped in the US: property rights, competitive service industry, access to pipelines, access to cheap credit, for the most part is simply not present in the UK. So in terms of having some dramatic change in a shale gas revolution, it ain’t going to happen here soon.

Full transcript

Ian Driver
Green Party Councillor for Thanet District Council, prospective parliamentary candidate for Thanet South, campaigner against fracking, including plans for exploratory drilling in the former East Kent colliery area.

I am totally opposed to fracking, no ifs, no buts, no maybes. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen in this country because of the enormous potential damage that fracking can cause to people’s lives, property and to the environment and the damage that it is going to do global warming and climate change, which we should all be concerned about.

The millions of pounds that the government is wasting on supporting and developing the fracking industry – the tax payers money that is being used to enable this industry to develop roots – that money would be better spent on supporting non-polluting, renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar and tidal energy. It would be much better spent on community owned and micro-generation energy capacity in this country.

Our political institutions from the local town hall right through to the House of Commons and the House of Lords are in the grip of the frackers. They are being paid. They are being influenced. They are being bankrolled in order to take away all of those objections, all of those difficulties that a decent, honest government could put in their way because we are not sure about how safe the industry is.

Full transcript

Dr Nick Riley MBE
Director of Carboniferous, formerly at the British Geological Survey, with experience of large infrastructure projects and in oil and gas

Shale gas is no magic bullet, nor are renewables, nor is nuclear, nor is importing. We need a diverse mix of various energy technologies.

The bare facts are from America that no one has yet proved that a frack has contaminated groundwater and that is from the very latest, peer-reviewed papers, both in shales that have faults running through them, in the Marcellus, and also from standard shale gas formations like the Barnett. And that is using the latest techniques.

Fracking has been going on for a long, long time in this country. It is going on right now and it will go on in the future. So really the debate’s closed on that.

A lot of the scaremongering, and it is scaremongering, is confusing the public. What we need to do in this country now is to see whether we can even produce gas from our shales. We are not even at the stage that we know whether we can do that. So at least allow the exploration to go ahead. I know many of you may be worried that shale gas could be developed here or shale oil. But we actually don’t know whether it can. It may be that people drill an exploration well here and nothing will come up.

We have to have exploration wells and we have to have frack tests. It is a wonderful opportunity for this country and I would hate it to be lost because of misinformation from certain campaigners.

Full transcript

Professor David Smythe
Emeritus Professor of Geology, University of Glasgow, who has been researching fracking in the US and Europe for the past four years

I believe that there is a high chance, because of the complex geology in Europe of contamination of ground resources [from fracking].

The faulting that we see in the Weald or in Lancashire or in the Midland Valley in Scotland is about a thousand times greater than we see in the North American shale basins. In North America it [faulting] is not a problem, whereas here in Europe it is an important problem.

[Faulting] is something that the Royal Society report of mid 2012 just failed to address. The Royal Society, in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Engineering, was hell bent on discussing the problems of earthquake triggering. I do accept that the risk of triggering earthquakes from fracking is a sideshow. It is not that important. The real risk from fracking is long term contamination of groundwater aquifers near the surface or even possibly affecting surface water itself.

Civilised countries, including France, where I live, and Germany, either have a moratorium on fracking or a complete ban. What they decided was that the risks of contamination are just too awful to consider.

My conclusion is that the environmental risks of fracking in the complex geological basins in Europe and, in particular Britain, are too great to be worth the risk. And like France we should just have a complete ban on fracking, full stop.

Full transcript

Michael Hill
Engineer with 20 years in oil in gas. He is cited in the Royal Society 2012 report on shale gas and helped develop the 10 recommendations that the Royal Society produced. He is currently an expert adviser to the EU Commission on shale gas. His area of expertise is regulation of shale gas and has written a number of papers on the subject, most recently in The Lancet in June 2014.

I wrote a paper about the Royal Society review [on shale gas extraction] two years on and in that paper I concluded that only one out of 10 of those recommendations had actually been implemented. I presented it at an Institution of Engineering Technology conference with the president sat there to Professor Paul Younger, one of those report authors, and he accepted that 90% had been ignored.

Original hydraulic fracturing began in Kansas in 1947. It used pressures of around 200 psi [pounds per square inch], a thousand gallons of water, very high recoverability rates of about 75%, no chemicals at all, one well per pad. High volume hydraulic fracturing uses pressures up to 20,000 psi, 6m gallons of water, recovery rates very low, typically around 5% (95% of the gas remains in the ground after fracking), up to around 600+ chemicals, in lateral sections (horizontal wells) with up to 40 per pad. So it is a bit like comparing the local corner shop to Walmart. Both sell food, both are in the retail trade but the impact on the local community is a little different.

Is it [fracking] regulated? No it is not regulated and it is not inspected. The present regime is nowhere near sufficient to mitigate the very severe risks from fracking to the public health and the environment. The US at the state level does have some very good regulations coming in. We don’t, we’re not regulated.

The regulators do not have the time and the money, in the case of the Health and Safety Executive, and the people in the case of the Environment Agency with the right experience to regulate this industry. Hence the one, and only, well to be fracked in the UK suffered a double failure. It was damaged over a large interval and had a well integrity failure.

Contents of flowback fluid: lead at 1,438 times the safe level for drinking water, cadmium at 150 times, arsenic at 20 times, chromium 636 times, aluminium 197 times and radioactive sludge at 90 times the maximum safe level. That’s what the CEO of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, calls non-hazardous. I’d like to see him drink it.

Whatever your view, I would say, how many additional birth defects is fracking worth? If we’re going to get an extra 1% or 2% or even 5% of gas out of the ground how many birth defects is it worth. You have to decide because fracking causes birth defects and serious birth defects where the infants die before the age of five. If you say none, you’ve just banned fracking.

Full transcript

Link to video of the event

13 replies »

  1. I didn’t Riley saying anything informative. I noticed far more of that from Michael Hill. In fact at one point in response to the CPRE questioner Riley was making a comment about chalk in the Weald Basin. As far as I’m aware, the chalk is on the North and South Downs.

    • Hello Jonathan. the technical question from the CPRE question (from a retired EA hydrogeologist) was interrupted by the rudeness of the prospective Green Party candidate who at that point left the panel and the room. So you may have been distracted by that – he certainly distracted me. The CPRE question was actually relating to the Chalk in Kent. I pointed him in the direction of the BGS Weald Report- you should read it as it has a lot to say about aquifers including the Chalk . I also stated that the EA has a produced a map showing where on the Chalk drilling would not be allowed. Mr Hill comes over very well to an uninformed audience – but many of the claims and assertions he makes do not stand up to careful scrutiny. As I pointed out on the night his claims about about Preese Hall 1 (which at one point he called Weeton – there is a Weeton well near Harrogate drilled by RTZ) having 2 well integrity failures are wrong. Also his allegations about shale gas wells being used for radioactiive waste disposal are wrong. He has been making that claim for some time, and the BGS refuted it in May 2012 – Mr Hill keep repeating this meme none the less. His claim about 600 chemicals being injected into UK shale wells is bizarre – show me the evidence Mr Hill! I have made many comments on the blog at Mr Hill has made 1 and Prof Smythe has not made any.

      BGS Weald Report is at
      EA Groundwater protection zone maps are at

      • Interesting – this morning the Canterbury Times edited their headline to ‘Fracking in Kent is unsafe’ says fracking expert”
        So are Mr Hills claims about being an EU/EC Advisor usafe or even unfounded. Is he a fracking expert?

        I would change the headline further – away from one that scaremongers and is one sided

  2. You write: “Michael Hill, Engineer with 20 years in oil in gas. He is cited in the Royal Society 2012 report on shale gas and helped develop the 10 recommendations that the Royal Society produced. He is currently an expert adviser to the EU Commission on shale gas. His area of expertise is regulation of shale gas and has written a number of papers on the subject, most recently in The Lancet in June 2014.”

    All wrong. Mike is an electrical engineer. He might have 20 years experience in wire line logging, but he knows very little about gas drilling and fracking. He admits himself that he only start researching on fracking a few years ago. As for the RS, he submitted a paper which they acknowledge but nowhere in their report do they say where they used his submission. The acknowledgement is the same as that you get from the Queen when you write to her – it means nothing and it doesn’t mean that she’s read your letter. As for expert adviser to the EU, nope totally and utterly wrong. Again he has just submitted some of his opinion to the commission as one of many community voices as shown by his appearance in this video. As for papers, again wrong. He might have written something on paper, but it would be a stretch to call them “papers” as in peer reviewed or scientific. His submission to the Lancet was a letter, just like those that appear in local newspapers typically written in green ink.

  3. In fact it transpires that Mike Hill is not in fact a Chartered Engineer, of even a member of IET, as he again so frequently claims. He may have been in the past but is not now. His full title now is… Mike Hill BSc. The story changed from ‘EU special adviser’ and then to activist, then to expert. Newspapers should check their facts. This will shortly be the subject of an IPSO complaint against the Canterbury Times as they refuse to issue a clarification. (It is a member of IPSO)

  4. What a load of fracking nonsense in the above comments from the usual suspects who have nothing better to do that trail (or ‘troll’) Comments sections like this – or usually on Twitter – seemingly scouring the tweets to trot out their usual nonsense. Riley may be noting the number of ‘ comments’ left by Mike Hill and Prof David Smythe but he is unwise to compute this as anything of significance other than the fact that the latter work tirelessly, and very effectively, to fight the lies and disingenuous statements of our pro fracking government and the industry that is dead in the aater before it has had a chance to frack again since Cuadrilla’s omishambles of a fracking operation in 2011. I would suggest, gentlemen, that you get yourselves a life. You really don’t acquit yourselves very well in public debate – even up against ‘uninformed’ campaigners like me, do you? Readers of this section should watch the filmed debate and Mr Riley’s performance next day on BBC Radio Kent against me – perhaps you hadn’t had your first coffee of the day, Nick? And if so, is that why you asked for a ‘rematch’ with me? Truly pathetic for a man of your ‘qualifications’. Tsk Tsk. Give it up and stop embarrassing yourselves. You’re sinking lower the price of Igas shares. Julie x

    • “Before it became clear to us what had happened, he was already too far out. We could do nothing. We only saw how the undertow was dragging him faster and faster away from the shore. Saw his futile and exhausting struggle to touch the bottom beneath his feet. It was only blind instinct which drove him to try and save his life: in his mind he had cut himself off from reality. When in spite of this, a flash of knowledge as to his situation forced itself upon him, he told himself that the rest of us were even worse off. And when we still took the whole matter so lightly–! He would certainly still be clutching this conviction at the last moment when the gurgling whirlpool sucked him down. It had always been this way. Dependent like a child upon admiring affection, he had always taken uncritical friendship fore granted, even with those who were indifferent, or actually hostile. He had always acted upon this assumption, yet, in an unconscious effort to create friendships which perhaps did not exist, not without a certain compliance towards the interests of others, and, at the same time, a fear of a collision with reality which might rend asunder his web of illusions. When things he had said were quoted against him, he denied having ever said them. And when this denial was called by its right name, he interpreted this as his critic’s lack of mental balance; as time went on. psychosis became an ever commoner word on his lips. Just what was it we felt when, for the first time, we realised that he had gone too far out ever to be able to get back?” Dag Hammarskjöld

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s