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.
“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.
“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.