The farmer and the driller talk fracking

Sarah Houlston and John Dewar

Pictures: Farming UK TV

Sarah Houlston, a farmer whose land is a mile from where Third Energy has permission to frack for shale gas in North Yorkshire, told Farming UK TV last month she was concerned about contamination of her water supply. Yesterday, the company’s John Dewar responded. Here’s a transcript of both interviews.

Sarah Houlston“I truly don’t believe that fracking and agriculture can sit together”

Sarah Houlston spoke against Third Energy’s application at North Yorkshire’s planning committee in May. She began her interview by giving her reaction to the decision to approve.

I was extremely disappointed that the councillors on the planning committee didn’t take into account the concerns of over 80 people that actually gave representations over the two days at Northallerton. So it was very disappointing.

My main fear for us as a farm is the borehole on our farm.

It provides drinking water for the cattle and we do have concerns that with fracking there is a risk to contamination, and we’re not very happy about that because when I’ve looked into the insurance side there would be no cover. The insurance industry would not provide any first party cover if the borehole became contaminated, so any losses would be down to us to take civil action and go to court which would be extremely stressful and also costly.

I think the main dangers are contamination through water, therefore boreholes and possibly river extraction, also surface spills. I do also think there’s problems with emissions, industrialisation of the countryside, really heavy HGV [heavy goods vehicle] movements. I think there’s a lot of possible impacts on agriculture.

As far as I’m aware, I don’t think there’s been any studies about how fracking could impact on agriculture

I think this a great concern. I know if you look across the water to Pennsylvania, in the USA, I know there have been reports there of problems with water, contamination. I do think quite a lot of it has been covered up through gagging orders and it’s only recently that these problems are starting to emerge on social media and in the press.

I really think that the government should be supporting agriculture in the UK more because 62% of UK food production comes from UK farmers and I think they need to be supported

I truly don’t believe that fracking and agriculture can sit together, to be honest. I think that fracking is short-term. I think for it to have any impact it would take years and years for commercial production to make any difference and that production would not go straight into the UK gas framework. That gas would be sold on the European market so fracked gas at Kirby Misperton is not going to go into homes in Ryedale. It’s going to go out on to the open European market.

And I think that the government slashing renewables [subsidies] was a great mistake.  How on earth can they keep to their climate change commitments when they’re slashing any renewable help and basically putting millions of pounds to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

This isn’t just about Kirby Misperton. This isn’t just about one well.

It’s about hundreds and hundreds of wells. There are five energy companies over a large area of Yorkshire that have petroleum exploration licences and they got those licences under the remit that they will exploit that land as much as they can. So initially for people further out than Kirby Misperton the first thing will be seismic surveys and that will mean a knock on the door from a company, such as Tesla, who want access to land to do their seismic surveys and that is a precursor for then a planning application to frack.

So I think farmers have to think long and hard before letting people on the land to do these seismic surveys.

Link to interview

John Dewar“There’s more chance of winning the lottery than there is of any contamination”

John Dewar, Third Energy’s Operations Director, began by saying how he would address the concerns of farmers.

I would say that they don’t need to have any concerns would be the first thing. And if they wanted to be completely assured they can come and talk to me. I would say that’s a better source of information than reading letters in the press or going to anti-fracking coffee mornings for instance. But if they want to meet the professionals, if they to hear how the industry is regulated, if they want to understand what it is we’re doing I can absolutely convince them that there is no chance of contamination to their water supplies.

First of all, I’d like to understand what their issues are.

I don’t think you can go to America and say that a farmer in Oklahoma had an issue when they have a different set of regulations to what we have in the UK. The well could have been designed differently, they could have used different procedures, they could have used different additives. One can’t make judgements until we have more facts. But what I can tell farmers is what we’re doing, what our regulations are and how we would do the job not only safely but very environmentally conscientiously as well.

There is no possibility, and why, first of all let’s start with the design of the well. We separate any potential aquifers with a casing string below and above it and that isolates the aquifer from all future work. Secondly as we drill down, we’re putting in more casing strings with more cement and thereby creating additional isolation barriers. When we actually design the well, complete it and do a hydraulic stimulation of it the chances of any contaminant coming from the reservoir into the aquifer is extremely low.

I estimate there’s more chance of winning the lottery than there is of any contamination and even if there was everything we use has been approved by the Environment Agency as being non-contaminant to groundwater. The well that we’re planning there is zero chance, not close, not even small, just zero chance of contamination to local farmers’ water supply.

In response to a question about that US techniques are different to those used in the UK, John Dewar said:

More than just the techniques, the entire regulation, the depth of formation, the geology, the barriers that they have. A lot of the problems that they’ve had in America can be legacy issues because they’ve been drilling wells and hydraulically stimulating wells for much longer than we have here. And of course the industry moves forward, safety improves, procedures get better, technology improves.

I think that it’s totally wrong and misguided to use figures or use instances from somewhere else and apply them to the UK.

Let’s look at the UK, let’s look at what we’re doing here, and then make a judgement.

I would say let’s look at it scientifically, not look at a study, or a paper or a report that there’s been an increase in this or that, because there could be other reasons for it. When you analyse it scientifically and you look at the source, you look at the receptor, and you look at the possible pathway, when you do that, you can actually show people that there’s no health risk. Because after all, what it is that we’re using, is pump trucks, tanks, we’re pumping for a little while, and the sand is sand, the water is water, and the additives have all been approved by the Environment Agency. So suddenly to start dreaming up things of cancer and everything else is a fallacy of misguided people.

We’ve had approval and let’s understand what that means.

That means that the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive in Aberdeen, that means the government, DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change], OGA [Oil and Gas Authority] and also an awful lot of statutory consultees have all looked at what we’re doing, including Public Health England and many others and they’ve all said, based on what we’re planning to do, and the way we’re planning to do it, it’s completely safe. And I completely agree with that. If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t be doing it. So that’s another major guiding principle of the company. If it’s not safe we don’t do something. We make it safe. And I think that everyone should be assured that Third Energy has a track record of being here over 20 years with a very good safety and environmental record.

You can phone Third Energy, you can email Third Energy, you can contact me directly.

We have a standing open invitation to all members of the public to come and see us if they have genuine concerns. And we will do our very best to explain to them the principles, explain to them the procedures and assure them that they have no concerns. And believe me, there is no reason for any farmer to have any concerns about contamination of his water supply.

Link to interview

14 replies »

  1. John Dewar

    I don’t believe you. The environment agency regs are now rewritten to serve you, and we already know that given the ongoing death of Zane case, doctors can ”lose data collections” other agencies can contradict evidence found, and reports provided can be switched, or kicked into the long grass to serve corporate greed.

    We also know that anything frackers could have been found responsible for has been subverted to a new bandits charter by the EA, as the ”p” ( formerly ‘protection” )gets taken out of it, and ”accidental spills” and flood damage is engineered to become the norm which the EA say it can’t make you accountable for.

    As for the potections you try to deceive us are built around wells, Ingraffea, a better informed globally respected expert than you, says ALL wells degrade after 20 years. You have no evidence to the contrary, therefore are responsible for rolling out a WMD on the Yorkshire water table for generations after generation to come.

    Spa water takes millions of years to filter through to spring outlets, and yet over 20 years you are delivering poisons and pollution into the table with absolutely NO knowledge of how that will impact upon spring and minerals content for millennia to come. Nor do you care as long as you can frack for noxious energy which could be gained in a more environmentally friendly way. WHY????

    • Why several cement barriers? It’s a clear admission that individual layers fail. Add to that the increased seismic activity and you’ve got a ticking toxic timebomb.
      John Dewar is either a liar or a fool. Either way the outcome is catastrophic.

  2. The biggest polluter in the UK is farming. More money for farming? One of the biggest problems with the EU is that 40% of its budget goes to CAP – farming subsidy. One of the biggest sources of methane emissions is livestock.

    • I never understand this fatuous argument about methane emissions from livestock. Livestock are essential unless everyone is willing to become vegan and there’s no way of stopping cattle doing what comes naturally. The point is that the methane produced by fracking would be in addition to that already produced, at a time when every sane person knows methane emissions must be reduced. Developing a new fracking industry here, at this time, is a retrograde step driven by pure greed when the investment should be in future, clean technologies.

      • So you are happy to import gas from overseas to avoid fugitive methane emissions in the UK (i.e. leave the fugitive emissions overseas)? But keep our agricultural methane emissions (at huge CAP subsidy cost) when we could do exactly the same thing with food and import our dairy and meat -NZ lamb, Argentinian / South African / Australian Beef, EU dairy / Thai chickens etc. In fact now we are out of the EU we may be able to get a lot of food products cheaper as they will be EU tarrif free althoug the sinking pound will go against this. Not good for our farmers but at least our home grown farming emissions will drop and our land and water courses will be less polluted.

        I expect total cycle fugitive emissions from imported LNG end up being higher than producing gas directly in the UK – especially if the origin of the LNG is shale (US) and / or Khuff sour gas or HPHT gas. IF this is what you are really worried about.

        If shale gas is produced in the UK this is not “in addition to” this is instead of. So emissions remain the same unless demand increases.

        Also note that the UK£ has dropped significantly in value. This makes imported gas much more expensive.

  3. According to this article, John Dewar says that there’s more chance of winning the lottery than there is of any contamination. In Yorkshire alone, where Sarah Houlston’s farm is, there have been 350 lottery millionaires created. So the question now is how much more likely is it to win the lottery than for contamination to happen? Even if contamination is only 10% as likely that would mean 35 instances of contamination. How many instances would be acceptable to John Dewar, Third Energy and the UK government?


      • I am commenting in general – but surface spills and well casing failure are risks to aquifers and boreholes rather than the actual fracturing of the rocks – providing there is sufficient depth between the aquifer and the fractures.

  4. I wonder why John Dewar uses US statistics when he thinks it suits his cause – if they are irrelevant – as do UKOOG. They were all very happy to tell NYCC how many millions of wells had been ‘safely’ fracked in the US. But here he says you can’t use the US evidence because they are not comparable for the reasons he states.

    And if the US is so bad why have many Btitish engineers been trained in the US (some who now have significant roles in the UK OGA) and why have Ineos and Cuadrilla bought in US expertise? And what is the current BAT based on – US?

    And is it an American company carrying out Third Energy’s fracking?

    And did John Dewar travel to the US to find out about fracking from US experts?

    And even when Kevin Hollinrake was visiting last September there was a significant violation and water contamination incident that occurred in Potter County, so it isn’t as though all the problems in the US are historic either – is it?

    Cherry picking facts does not instil confidence – which is just a part of the huge problem this industry has in its struggle to be accepted by the public.

    We are still waiting to see an example where the unconventional gas industry has operated without causing any problems – odd that not one country seems to be able to get it right and has not managed to operate without significant public opposition and the opposition increases the longer the industry operates. And yet we are supposed to blindly put our faith in the likes of Third Energy?

    • John Dewar, his fellow frackers and the Government are constantly telling us that Britain has far better science and safety standards than the US. Gold standard in fact. And yet only today the US Juno satellite, which was launched five years ago, has been successfully put in orbit around Jupiter. Are Mr Dewar and his friends seriously saying that we are better at technology than the Americans? Or is he claiming that the authorities in America just don’t care about safety. This is odd in the most litigious country in the world.

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