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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.