Fracking Week in Westminster – w/e 6th November 2015


In this Fracking Week in Westminster:

  • Questions from Jim Cunningham and Lord Young on the role of shale gas in UK energy
  • Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds accuse the government of confusion on fracking in National Parks
  • Ben Howlett calls for protection from fracking for Bath’s spa water

Thanks to TheyWorkForYou for the transcripts

2nd November 2015

Written answers

Jim CunninghamQuestion by Jim Cunningham, (Labour, Coventry South)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what recent assessment her Department has made of the role of fracking in meeting the future energy needs of the UK; and if she will make a statement.

Reply by Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom AndreaLeadsom
The Written Ministerial Statement by my rt. hon. Friends, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on 16 September 2015 (Official Report, Column 34-38WS), sets out the Government’s view that there is a national need to explore and develop our shale gas and oil resources in a safe, sustainable and timely way, to help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower carbon emissions.

A successful shale industry could help create jobs and grow local economies. Investment in shale could reach £33billion and support up to 64,000 jobs in oil, gas, construction, engineering and chemical sectors. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored.

4th November 2015

Opposition day

LisaNandyPoint of order by Lisa Nandy, shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change
The House will be aware that last week a statutory instrument was passed upstairs in Committee that would allow surface-level drilling in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty for the purposes of what is commonly known as fracking. It is yet to be taken on the Floor of the House, but today the Government issued a consultation on this very subject on their departmental website, which at the very least causes considerable confusion, but at worst may supersede the statutory instrument itself. Have you received any indication from a member of the Treasury Bench or a Government Minister that they intend to make a statement on the subject to the House.

Reply by the speaker, John BercowJohn Bercow
I am bound to say to the hon. Lady that I have received no such indication. To date, nothing disorderly has occurred and, as I understand it, the relevant regulation has not been passed. Whether the issue of the consultation paper is to the taste of the hon. Lady or others is a matter for her, but with regard to propriety and order, nothing improper or disorderly has occurred.

I must answer factually that, as of now, I have received no such indication, although what might be thought to be a request for such a statement will have been heard on the Treasury Bench.

Third Reading of the Energy Bill Energy Bill in the House of Lords

Lord Young Norwood GreenExtract of speech by Lord Young of Norwood Green
I would welcome some comment from the Minister that we understand the importance of developing this part [shale gas fracking] of our energy policy. If we take into account the recent situation at Redcar, we know that the cost of energy is an important factor in our ability to produce things such as steel, and for other vital industries. I welcome a ministerial response on that.

5th November 2015

Environment questions

Jonathan ReynoldsQuestion by Jonathan Reynolds, shadow transport minister (Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde)
This Government are all over the place on the issue of fracking in national parks and protected areas. Having vowed to ban it in January, they last week proposed to allow it, and now they say that they want to ban surface drilling inside those areas again. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether fracking will be allowed under national parks and protected areas, and what effect that will have on noise, light and air pollution?

Reply by Elizabeth Truss, Environment SecretaryElixabethTruss
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the extra protection that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has put in place. Let us be clear that under the Environment Agency we have the best possible protection for the environment, to ensure that any fracking is done in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

Business of the House

BenHowlettQuestion by Ben Howlett (Conservative, Bath)
As we heard earlier, last week the Delegated Legislation Committee voted through the fracking provisions. Although there are protections for UNESCO world heritage sites, such as that in my constituency of Bath, the spa water that feeds into the spas sits outside the protected zone. My constituents are genuinely concerned about that. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate is desperately needed on that issue?

Reply by Chris Grayling, Leader of the House of CommonsChris Grayling
That matter will clearly come before the House, and provisions for fracking include tight rules on the level at which it can take place. Through the Health and Safety Executive, we have probably the finest regulators of safety in the energy industry and workplace anywhere in the world. My hon. Friend should be confident that they will ensure that any fracking that takes place will be done with the utmost technological care.

6th November 2015

Written questions

Question by Jim Cunningham
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, how many sites are approved for fracking in England and Wales; what the location is of each such site; and if she will make a statement.

Reply by Andrea Leadsom
Licensing and consent of onshore oil and gas activities in England is now a matter for the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences are not specific to shale gas. They grant exclusive rights to extract hydrocarbons, including shale gas but also other hydrocarbons, within a particular onshore area. A separate consent from the OGA is required before any drilling or hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can take place, as well as planning permission, environmental permits and review of the well design by the Health and Safety Executive. The OGA does not have any undetermined consent applications.

Updated 9/11/15 to include question by Jim Cunningham asked on 6th November, details of which were released on 9/11/15

4 replies »

  1. Hi Ruth. I’m not sure quite how to put this. You seem a fan of reporting what people say rather than really drilling down into what would be a good idea or whether someone’s claims really stack up against the overall research in a subject or the consensus in that subject. In the Lancs DCC meeting one councillor stated he would support Cuadrilla if there was a limit of 400m placed on the fracking. My ears lit up at that point as I wondered where he had pulled that figure from. I know the geology in that region and there is nothing that would make the 400m figure special (in fact it would be a terrible figure to opt for given that it is in the middle of the Sherwood Sandstone). In reality any imagined flat depth horizon is pretty meaningless. The way you keep saying that there is confusion about the figure with 1000m or 1200m picked for different classifications of site is missing the reality that both figures are meaningless and both are acceptable. I agree that there is a meaningless confusion in the question of where the numbers come from, but articles seem to be implying that it is a confusion with any bearing on the safety.
    I haven’t, yet, seen your writing take any geology into account when assessing various groups claims. I appreciate that you’re not a geologist, and that if you contacted most geologists they will tell you that it can be done safely and so might not go in the direction you are trying to write or appeal to your audience, but it is always good to keep the regional geology in your mind when asking whether regulations mean much. The shale can be at 2500m, with multiple geological formations between that and the base of an aquifer. The formations between, their properties, and their thickness’s are all worth baring in mind.
    Sadly most lay people’s version tends to only consider the separation distance between a shale horizon and the base of the aquifer, so we see people arguing that there is ‘only’ 1200m between the two etc, without any thought for what lies inbetween. That is an amateurish way to view the subsurface, but you can see it creeping into these regulations. If you’re going to have any depth restriction values at all then the real world value would be the base of the regional seal rock. The silly thing is that while politicians argue about whether 1000m or 1200m should be the ‘correct’ value the oil and gas companies themselves will be staying well below that because they will want to fracture within the ‘best’ shale layers. So whenever you have heard that the shale starts at X depth and lay people start thinking that that is the actual depth fracking will occur at its worth remembering that that value is almost certainly the top of the shale formation and the actual depths will be much deeper into it, i.e. when we hear that there is 1200m between the aquifer and the shale rock that means 1200 from the base of the aquifer to the top of the shale. There can be another 300m, 400m, 600m, or 1500m etc added on before you get to the good shale horizons (which occur in beds). Actually, commonly, the aquifer itself is zoned, so even though that is the base of the aquifer it doesn’t mean that that is the base of the rock that is used as the aquifer – it can be just the base of the geological formation. If the base of the regional seal rock is at 1500m and the fracking is at 2800m and the average fracture length is 200m, but with a risk of faults leading to fractures of 350m then it is pretty obvious that they will not reach the regional seal rock and that figures of 1000m or 1200m are both just numbers existing to please someone in a department, back bench, NGO etc. Furthermore even if the base of the seal formation was at 1200m and fracking at 2800m there can be multiple rocks inbetween that are far far harder than the soft shales, meaning that fractures would not propagate into them anyway, but the energy would intersect the bedding plane and result in perpendicular fractures along its base – confining fracture propagation at that depth.
    Microseismicity should be used so that this can all be watched in real time and the surface pumps turned off as soon as something unexpected is seem.

    • Fortunately lay people can read. Please read Professor Davies formerly of Durham University. He recommended a minimum safe vertical distance or separation between high volume high pressure hydraulic fracturing and an aquifer of 1,200 metres. The current regulations would not satisfy Professor Davies’ recommendation of a vertical separation between fracking and an aquifer and fracking of 1,200 metres.

    • Thanks for that Garry

      However, I would say that even the depth et al is a red herring? It is the fact there isn’t a proper map of what’s going on underground vertically or horizontally at deeper levels to clarify risks involved.

      Geologists know very little about how waterways connect, or how deep residing toxic pollutants get lined up at those depths, and have no knowledge at all about still to be investigated ”unknowns” lying at great depth and cross thread.

      In Kenya, Africa, Greenland, Turkey, Canada etc huge deep lying aquifers and ancient water reserves are now known to exist. Geologists are not experts, but still learning about underground mapping and makeup, so putting ”royal” in front of their organisation just makes them look exceptionally foolish, rather than superclever.

      This is why we cannot have any drills damaging the environment. Water is an essential life sustaining force and should never be tampered with in this manner. Philadelphia found this out to its cost, experiencing that boundaries for underground zones are impossible to devise or map, and therefore a ban on the activity was put in force by the state in 2013–and is now suffering from the most polluted water in its history.

      My MP talks cavalierly about protected groundwater source areas being accommodated in 2015 hastily scribbled Act. Then he talks of how this Act protects water for drinking or domestic purposes! The Act and my MP completely ignore the fact that vegetation, grazing land, agricultural land and boreholes, wells, springs, waterfalls and other ground and underground waterways connect often by a thread, flow often undetected, and therefore there is no such thing as ”safe fracking limits”

      He foolishly parrots the lie that drinking water is not normally found below 400 metres!!! Goodness all those potholers and Cavers need to take care then! He also is blind to the fact that sludgewater and upward migration of highly hazardous fluid materials after fracking contaminates at that ”’safe 400 metre” level five to ten years after frackers have packed up and left and gone bankrupt leaving a big clean up for everyone else to pay for.

      He also talks of a ban on fracking in zones through which ground water used to supply drinkwater travels for 50 days before reaching abstraction point. As if 50 days 100 days is some magic number or mantra that safeguards water when fracking takes place. So what about those zones where it isn’t supplying drink water but animal aquatic and livestock and grazing land? What about those zones which feed water 55 days or 51 days? This is a ridiculous statement to make, as well as showing how cavalier the government is with protecting the environment and how unfit for purpose those running it are and those advising them too.

      Water not used for drinking is abstracted for animal wash, spa feed, swimming pool fill, swimming outdoors and a whole range of other activities, so imagining this silly little restriction solves the problem of hazardous frack pollution ruining our water supplies is risible.

      Not only that I know of people who are working to repair in mines/caves potholes in Derby whose death from cancer is a pattern of concern.. The mines and potholes they were repairing are inside zones considered safe for fracking by the 2015 Act. So as well as cancer, and hiked spike in upturn of outbreaks of it in those connected to potholing and similar outdoor activities, these people can also expect to encounter biocidal material in the waters they tread underground.

      Blindly focussing purely upon figures without factoring in a wider range of related issues is something scientists do in a lab, and we all see what happened after the irresponsible BSE scientists killed cows in their thousands, with NOT ONE mad criminally insane scientist being charged with a criminal offence, so we should not allow someone with a spread sheet and calculator to miscalculate the effects of widespread fracking pollution.

      Further more, nothing at all is being said about the disposal of the toxic sludge. NOTHING. Look at all applications and you will see nothing at all mentioned about who is licensed to dispose of it, where it will be deposited, and how it will be transported, and how will people near transport, and storage sties be informed they now live nearby a clearly toxic site? There isn’t anything at all in any Act I have seen that gives guidelines on what should be adhered to in fracking disposal of sludge, therefore are we to assume they will be allowed to pour it back into the ground they have fracked leaving a fracking hazard for generations to come? Nobody is looking at the end product that costs massive amounts to process. because the government and their fracker backers are only looking with pound sign in their eyes.

      If anyone wants to look at figures, the amounts needed to clean up will by far outweigh the amounts of profit only a few will benefit from, therefore this activity is a soulless mindless, thoughtless and immoral pursuit serving only a few bank accounts.

      We shouldn’t allow parliament to prostitute the needs of the nation to the greedy immoral profiteering demands of frackers. And though my MP imagines saying local communities must and will be involved in planning decisions, this is a complete Walter Mitty statement to distract from the fact that local authorities are ever being denied the authority with which to decide how local and regional ESSENTIAL services can be used. this is a violation of local democracy. So lets stop talking figures and look at the important factors instead.

  2. I am not a geologist, but one the reason for the high cost of British coal, was down to the UK’s geology. The coal seams at varies levels due to faults, as were their size. Hence the law, that the minimum depth of a seam, a coal-miner was allowed to work was 14 inches. Therefore, if the shale rock formations are anything like our coal-seams, it would not make ‘fracking’ viable.
    The London School of Economics and Granthem Research Institute have just published a presentation on the prospects of shale gas in the UK: http://www.endsreport.com/article/50451/. Which states shale gas would only have a marginal impact, on our dependence on imported gas. And puts CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) of fossil fuels and nuclear as our main energy sources. CCS, is still commercially, not proven and new nuclear, takes too long to build and is fr too expensive. As well as not being carbon neutral, as it supporters make out.

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