Legal

Judgement reserved in High Court challenge over fracking in North Yorkshire

royal-courts-of-justice

A judge at the High Court in London has reserved judgement in a legal challenge brought by two campaign groups to the approval of fracking in North Yorkshire.

Mrs Justice Lang said she had set aside tomorrow to write her judgement in the case brought by Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale. The ruling is expected within days.

The campaign groups argued that North Yorkshire County Council had acted illegally in granting planning permission to Third Energy to frack and produce shale gas at Kirby Misperton.

They said in making the decision, councillors failed to consider its contribution to climate change and failed to provide financial security against any long-term damage.

Climate change

On the climate change argument, their barrister, David Wolfe QC, said the council should have taken into account greenhouse gas emissions from burning gas from the fracked well to produce electricity at the nearby Knapton Generating Station.

He said this information should, under planning regulations, have been included in the environmental impact assessment that accompanied Third Energy’s planning application.

This morning, the barrister for Third Energy, Nathalie Lieven QC, countered these arguments. She said:

  • Any greenhouse gas emissions produced at Knapton were not part of the application for the fracked well, known as KM8
  • There were no need for any physical works at the power station resulting from the application
  • There would be no increase in capacity at Knapton if gas from KM8 was sent to the plant and no increase in the quantity of gas burned
  • The amount of gas burned at Knapton was capped by an environmental permit
  • The impact of emissions at Knapton was unknown because it was not yet known whether gas would be produced from the KM8 well

Ms Lieven added that if the council wanted to consider the emissions from Knapton it would have included it in its scoping opinion. This set out what it expected Third Energy to include in the application and took account of recommendations from consultees, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England.

She said neither the Environment Agency nor Natural England, key statutory consultees with a remit for tackling climate change, had requested that the data be included in the application.

Judge Lang asked:

“Is there anything from them [Environment Agency or Natural England] about relying on this form of energy?”

Ms Lieven replied:

“The principle of exploration and development of UK shale gas resources is strongly supported in national policy so it would be unusual for them [Natural England and the Environment Agency] to say something as direct as that about energy policy”.

She added that a ministerial statement made by the then Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, in 2015, promoting shale gas, “would have been a very important consideration for members”.

Responding to Ms Lieven, Dr Wolfe, for Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale, said:

  • The regulations required councils to consider any indirect or cumulative impacts and this should have included greenhouse gas emissions at Knapton
  • The council had not explained why it had considered the impact of other wells in the area but not emissions from Knapton
  • There was not a cap on emissions at Knapton. It was part of an emissions trading regime and if the operator wanted to burn more gas it could buy extra allocation
  • Consultees such as Natural England and the Environment Agency did not drive the process of deciding what should be included in the application
  • The presence of the other regulators did not “carve out” this area and prevent the council from considering issues in their remit

Long-term environmental protection

The second argument of the campaign groups was that the council failed to protect the area from any long-term problems.

On this Dr Wolfe argued that councillors had been misled by an officers’ report. This said the council could not require Third Energy to pay a bond to cover the costs of any long-term problems.

Ms Lieven rejected this argument, saying the council had included a condition on the planning permission that required Third Energy to pay for the costs of any restoration and a five-year aftercare programme.

Judge Lang asked

“What would happen if a company is not in business?”

Ms Lieven replied:

“You have to consider the risk. There is extensive monitoring and checking.

“You cannot have a big pollution problem if there is monitoring all the way through. We can never say never. But likelihood is very small.”

She said other regulatory regimes required companies to be financially secure and prevented the surrender of environmental permits until regulators were sure there was no risk.

“The [risk of the] type of failure Dr Wolfe and his clients are concerned about is infinitesimal.”

Ms Lieven added

“It would have been inappropriate for North Yorkshire to require a bond from my client when there is a regulatory regime dealing with the same issues. It would be wrong in law to replicate them.”

In his response, Dr Wolfe said the wording of the officers’ report “turned members off from thinking about a legacy bond and made them think they had to fall back on other regimes.

“They should have been told ‘It is not a good idea’ but it was up to them to decide and take the risk if they wanted to.”

Dr Wolfe added

“Here we have a specific concern and there is nothing, as a matter of law, that precludes the council from dealing with it.”

What happens next?

Judge Lang said she would send her draft judgement to the parties in the case for their comments before publishing the judgement.

Council defends decision to approve North Yorkshire fracking plans (22/11/2016)

High Court fracking challenge told council “underestimated” climate impact of Third Energy plans (22/11/2016)


This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

115 replies »

    • This is about ALL our Christmasses.
      Our children’s, grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s Christmasses.

    • Oh Mr M – and just yesterday you were claiming “What a sad and pathetic argument.” — it seems the Judge has looked at it in more depth and takes it a bit more seriously than you do. Now there’s a surprise eh?

          • Sorry, John. I’m just not as quick as you! Here’s the question again since you can’t look a little lower in the thread:

            “Question for Ruth or anyone else who may have a good understanding of the circumstances around this case: Were this well not stimulated, would Knapton continue to operate with gas from elsewhere? If the answer to this question is “yes”, then because a large portion of the UK’s gas is imported, wouldn’t this plant be relying at least in part on gas that is more environmentally damaging than the km8 well gas? We know that transporting gas long distances is going to leave a carbon footprint, and introduce more fugitive emissions. Is this reality being considered by the judge? Thank you

            • Hi Hballpeen.
              The High Court heard that the Knapton Generation Station took gas only from Third Energy’s wells in the Ryedale gas field. So if gas were not produced from KM8, the Kirby Misperton stimulated well, the generating station would depend entirely on the other wells in the gas field. My understanding is that the generating station does not have pipeline connections to other sources of gas outside the Ryedale field.
              I hope this is helpful.
              If Third Energy is reading this thread and I have misunderstood, please contribute and correct any errors.
              Best wishes. Ruth

            • Oh Peeny – you really need to read what I actually say before posting comments about what you wish I’d said. I’ve explained this to you before.

            • Thanks for this link haballpeeny. Interesting – no wonder our North Sea is struggling to remain competitive. It seems that US shale costs are dropping dramatically – quicker than renewables costs over here – unless of course the renewables companies are increasing their profits from the subsidies and inflate prices locked in and inflation protected for years.

              • Fracking has been a success story of unbelievable magnitude in the US. Not only has it helped so many people who are economically disadvantaged, but it has helped all of us breathe cleaner air and suffer fewer maladies. The economic side of the success story is equally impressive (though perhaps less important!). The amount of wealth creation, job creation, GDP growth, manufacturing revitalization, has been stunning. I just saw a story yesterday that mentioned that in November the US went from a net gas importer to an exporter.

                Fracking has been a win-win for Americans.

                • This article will prove highly edifying for John Hobson and Phil, both of whom subscribe to the “that’s their problem” school of thought concerning those who suffer from fuel poverty and are unable to bear the burden of additional renewable power. But the rest of the mafia should also take heed. The article is entitled, “How the Left Came to Reject Cheap Energy For the Poor.”

                  http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/voices/michael-shellenberger-and-ted-nordhaus//the-great-progressive-reversal/

                  I include a quote:

                  “But if developed-world progressives, comfortably ensconced in their own modernity, today reject the old progressive vision of cheap, abundant, grid electricity for everyone, progressive modernizers in the developing world are under no such illusion. Whether socialists, state capitalists, or, mostly, some combination of the two, developing world leaders like Brazil’s Lula da Silva understand that cheap grid electricity is good for people and good for the environment. That modern energy and fertilizers increase crop yields and allow forests to grow back. That energy poverty causes more harm to the poor than global warming. They view cheap energy as a public good and a human right, and they are well on their way to providing electricity to every one of their citizens.”

                • As usual Peeny you set up a straw man to knock it down. It goes something like “You don’t care about those in fuel poverty and I do so you must be horrid and I must be right”.

                  However, in fact the issue is that whilst fuel poverty is real and is a disgrace in our society, UK shale gas extraction is simply not going to solve the problem. It’s not hard to grasp why, and everyone else acknowledges this except you.

                  It is people like you who latch on to this issue and try to misuse it for your own purposes who need to take a long hard look at themselves. It’s quite shameful really.

                • I disagree, John. Shale gas extraction has been a massive success in America and has resulted in the reduction of fuel poverty here and across the globe. Creating more sources of inexpensive shale gas in other parts of the world will absolutely further the cause. In the UK, extracting shale gas in significant quantities can widen differentials and make energy less expensive for consumers.

                  Your “plan” to solve the UK’s looming energy crisis is to make energy more expensive for consumers by subsidizing more expensive renewable energy. This is a very bitter pill for those who are less fortunate than you to swallow.

                  As you know, there is a hole in energy generation that is looming in the UK as more coal generation is phased out. Filling that hole with renewables will result in more suffering and greater mortality rates for those who live in poverty. Filling it with imported gas will be both more environmentally harmful and more expensive than domestic onshore gas.

                  These are the facts. You are part of the problem, not the solution.

                • No Peeny – these are NOT the facts at all

                  you say ” In the UK, extracting shale gas in significant quantities can widen differentials and make energy less expensive for consumers” but Cuadrilla’s PR message is that “We’ve done an analysis and it’s [the influence on prices] a very small…at the most it’s a very small percentage…basically insignificant.”

                  See – you say “significant” they say “insignificant” – You are making it up as you go along – that makes you the problem

                • I disagree, John. A small percentage can make a meaningful and significant difference to those who live in fuel poverty. And a small percentage lower is much better than an increase in prices which would occur under your plan.

                  The difference between a small percentage decrease in price and meaningful increase in price, can be quite large and very meaningful to those who struggle to afford energy.

                  I wish you would show a little more sensitivity to those who cannot afford your expensive renewable projects.

                • Ha ha, you both make me laugh, its the Frick and Frack show skating on the thinnest ice! Its the inversion and absurdity brothers alive and drilling again Love the irony and the self deprecation, you ought to the the next presenters of I’m An Idiot, Get Me Out Of Here! Keep it up, I have to go now the ambulance has arrived because I split my sides.

                • Funnier and funnier, inversion and absurdity both at the same time, you cant even address the right Phil, keep on skating on that thin ice, soon be over.
                  Ahh yes ze famous peeny undefinable and cloud cuckoo land version of F.A.C.T.S.
                  let me see now,
                  Fracking Agents Clone Troll Stupidity? Fraudulent Account Climate Tipping Severity? Fantastical Account Creating Terminal Saccarine? Financially Askew Counter Trending Sagacity? Fire Alarm Collapsing Terrestrial Structure? Future Agricultural Collapse (due to)
                  Terrible Scar? Falsities Attributed Consistently Totally Shambolic….. I could go on, but hey! thanks peeny, i did enjoy that romp down literary lane!

                • This Texas state senator seems to think fracking is going well, John. Maybe you know more about the economy and environment in Texas than the Senator?

                  “We’ve experienced a tumultuous year as a nation and more than an ample share of uncertainty around the globe. Even in these challenging times, we have many reasons to give thanks in Texas, tipping our hats to the oil and natural gas industry and the resources under our feet for a good bit of our good fortune here.
                  As recently as 2005, when I served East Texas in our state Senate, our country imported nearly 65 percent of the oil we consumed each day. Since then, safe and responsible fracking and horizontal drilling have allowed us to cut dependence on foreign oil by more than half, and our nation is more secure because of it. Fracking is a time-tested process that lasts about three to five days and creates tiny cracks in deep, shale rock to free trapped oil and natural gas.
                  Most Popular
                  1 Mother charged in drunken driving crash that killed her…
                  2 Sharp readers noticed something very wrong in the Matthew…
                  3 AT&T’s new $35 streaming TV package is the key to ditching…
                  The technology that revolutionized oil and natural gas development was perfected in Texas, starting nearly 70 years ago. Today, most of the oil and natural gas in Texas — including the recently confirmed 20 billion barrels of oil in the West Texas Wolfcamp formation — would be unreachable without fracking. Thanks to this innovation, our state is the No. 1 oil and natural gas producer in the nation, making the U.S. a pre-eminent energy power.
                  We’re putting all that oil and natural gas to good use while protecting the environment. Regulations are working to protect the Texas environment while delivering abundant natural gas to keep electricity affordable. Because of fracking, the average household saved $800 in energy costs last year. Without fracking, electricity prices would increase significantly, hurting low- and fixed-income Texans the most.”

                  http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Fracking-continues-boosting-Texas-economy-10642846.php

                • Do make your mind up Peeny – it’s either “some companies went out of business? How unusual, huh? Yeah, that’s never happened before! LOL” or it’s the best thing ever to hit the US economy. LOL (Hint – it’s not the latter)

                • You can’t really fathom this can you, John? Our economy is so large that companies go out of business every day. Each year thousands go out of business. That’s capitalism, my comrade! Does it mean that the US economy is unhealthy? Nope. Not at all.

                  The energy sector is cyclical. The weaker players are regularly culled when commodity prices drop. Yet since the industry’s existence, this has never spelled doom. I’m not sure why you think this time is different, nor have you supplied any evidence to support your claim! ;O)

                • Peeny old thing – it’s pointless arguing with somebody like you who has no interest in reality and who doesn’t understand what is happening over here. Have a nice day 🙂

                • I suspect what you deal with are FRACTS Frankly Ridiculous Attitude Creating Terminal Sonority. I do enjoy these little conversations, so thanks for that.

    • Question for Ruth or anyone else who may have a good understanding of the circumstances around this case: Were this well not stimulated, would Knapton continue to operate with gas from elsewhere? If the answer to this question is “yes”, then because a large portion of the UK’s gas is imported, wouldn’t this plant be relying at least in part on gas that is more environmentally damaging than the km8 well gas? We know that transporting gas long distances is going to leave a carbon footprint, and introduce more fugitive emissions. Is this reality being considered by the judge? Thank you

      • As we are behind with meeting our 2020 renewable energy targets support must be given to renewable projects.

        Each new renewable energy development reduces our gas imports.

        It is clear we could maximise our renewable capabilities (therefore meeting our legally binding targets)

        It is clear we could exceed those targets.

        So why is this not happening?

        “Renewable Energy is now competitive with conventional power sources if it is allowed to navigate a planning system increasingly tilted against it”

        http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/749e3099-1c81-497f-bf1f-c9c89c2b1936

        • It is patently false to claim that renewable sources are competitive with conventional sources, unless you are allowed to remove subsidies and expense for backup power from the equation.

          You could pursue renewables more aggressively as you suggest, John, but you would have to be willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands who live in fuel poverty.

          “Endlessly ignored by those promoting renewables and/or those directly invested in the business itself, higher cost electricity (and energy) is horrible for our health. That’s because, since electricity is so indispensable, meaning that it “cannot not be used,” higher cost power drastically erodes our disposable income, which is the very basis of our health – while also disproportionately hurting the poor most. As a percentage of income, poor families pay 5-9 times more for electricity than rich families do.”

          “But, the truth is much different. Europe is a “green energy” basket case with surging prices, fleeing industry, falling economic and population growth, growing dependence on Russian energy, and rising “fuel poverty,” where even the Middle Class often can’t afford the most basic energy services. “Soaring energy costs make Europeans poor.”

          To illustrate, Denmark and Germany are the proud wind capitals of Europe, but they also have the highest home electricity prices on Earth, 42 and 40 cents per kWh, respectively, against just 12.5 cents in the U.S. Germany has embarked on a $1.4 trillion energy transition (“Energiewende”) that has resulted in recent Der Spiegel headlines like: “Germany’s Energy Poverty: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good.” ”

          http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/12/27/europes-energy-and-electricity-policies-are-a-bad-model/#795e9e4860e6

          • Peeny’s emotive hype about Germany etc is nonsense. Ignore. They’re a far stronger economy and the strategy of a renewable surcharge is beginning to pay off… they’ve started to ramp that down now. I was there recently and could see that they’re getting more and more adapted to renewables. They’ve still the legacy issue of one of the world’s largest lignite (dirty coal) open pits but with a clean coal energy strategy in place to deal with that, and its unions, the near term future.

            • Yes, Phil. This strategy works well for you. If you disagree with the facts, it is best to ignore them. Paying attention to them would cause you to change your position, and that obviously cannot happen!

              When Spiegel runs a story with the headline “How Electricity Became a Luxury Good” and the country hasn’t even cut its GHG output despite massive investment in renewables – this is clearly not a success. And don’t fool yourself – the consequences are very real for those who live in or close to fuel poverty, Phil.

              Renewable costs have decreased but they are still uneconomic and impractical at large scale. Onshore wind is relatively low cost, but when you add costs for expensive backup power, and new transmission and distribution infrastructure (since the power is often needed where wind is not abundant) it is not at all competitive.

              Germany is clearly struggling with Energiewende. They have been successful in spending a lot of money and deploying a lot of renewable generating capacity, this is true. But at what cost? They have some of the most expensive electricity prices in the world, and they haven’t made a dent in their emissions. The grid has stability issues, and the country has become much more dependent on coal to survive.

              The only reason that Germany is weathering the storm in relatively good shape is because they have an artificially deflated currency in the Euro. They’re able to benefit from the relative weakness of their euro trading partners. In effect, places like Greece and Italy are indirectly underwriting Germany’s expensive renewable gamble.

              • You’re right Peeny, but I’m not wrong. It’s complex. Instability in the system is coming from an over supply, at times, of renewable energy and the next challenge to work on is the balancing of intermittency with baseload. A costly experiment yes but the big spending has got them to a point that not a bad place to be, using all their own energy and with more renewable power now than they know how to handle, albeit intermittent.

                High prices for consumers yes but with more thermally efficient homes generally (that UK/US) their costs are not that different – and they’re a relatively affluent nation. This I’m sure would apply to Denmark too. And with both German and Danish working indefatigably towards new engineering solutions (with world leading expert energy companies like Siemens and Dong) I reckon they’ll get to carbon neutral within 20 years for power gen.
                England wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to that in twenty years if relying on Shale gas, or if it did it would probably go up in a methane fireball!

          • It is easy to see what has happened in Germany. Big subsidies to put long term secure energy in place. Now they are reducing the subsidies. The renewable industry can now afford to take substantial cuts. A few years down the line, consumer prices will fall and Germany will have source free energy forever.

            Wind prices have dropped by as much as 50% in only a few years.

            http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/11/15/offshore-wind-power-vattenfall-denmark-record/

            The majority of the German population support the renewable programme

            Despite years of rising prices, a stable majority of the populace remains in favour of the Energiewende. This may be in part due to the fact that electricity consumed only 2.5 percent of households’ disposable income in 2013, up from 1.78 percent in 1998 and back to mid-1980s levels, before the liberalisation of the power market in 1998 lowered prices. German household electricity bills consume a smaller share of disposable income than the European average.

            Look how much disposable income we spend on energy

            http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=18471

            Looks like the Germans have it sorted. We have a lot to learn

        • No problem hball

          The draft law is due to come into force at the start of 2017. I have some anti fracking calendars spare so you can keep track of time.

          Now moving swiftly on

          With the German government sticking to its target for an increase in the share of renewable sources to 40-45% of total electricity production by 2025, it will have to put the brakes on growth to avoid overshooting.

          Clever Germans have pulled out all the stops to initiate permanent demand destruction of fossil fuels from renewables

          As you see from my previous comments the majority of the population agreed with the heavy subsidies.

          As you see from my previous comments their bills were still only 2.5% of households disposable income.

          Of course there will be losers. But as you can see they brought most of it on themselves

          The country’s biggest utility, E.ON, has seen its share price fall by three-quarters from the peak and its income from conventional power generation (fossil fuels and nuclear) fall by more than a third since 2010. At the second-largest utility, RWE, recurrent net income has also fallen by a third since 2010. As the company’s chief financial officer laments, “Conventional power generation, quite frankly, as a business unit, is fighting for its economic survival.”

          The companies would have been in trouble anyway, whatever happened to renewables. During the 2000s, European utilities overinvested in generating capacity from fossil fuels, boosting it by 16% in Europe as a whole and by more in some countries (up 91% in Spain, for example). The market for electricity did not grow by nearly that amount, even in good times; then the financial crisis hit demand. According to the International Energy Agency, total energy demand in Europe will decline by 2% between 2010 and 2015.

          Looks like Germany will show us all up and your fossil fuel friends will have to seek alternative employment.

          You should take a trip to Germany and try turning on something electrical. Feel that source free power.

          Renewable energy won’t bite you.

          Think commercial UK fracking, think unicorn

          • I’m glad that you feel happy about the startling levels of fuel poverty and suffering in Germany, John. But I think that many in Germany who are not as fortunate as you, feel differently about Energiewende and renewables.

            From an article on the subject:

            “17% of all German Households now in Energy Poverty

            If anyone thinks Germany’s move to renewable energies has been a success, you may want to take a few minutes and read what center-left news weekly Der Spiegel has just written.

            Overall Germany’s energy revolution has made the country’s energy unaffordable, unreliable and has ruined its own idyllic landscape, and ravaged rainforests abroad as well.

            Spiegel focusses on the costs in its article titled: Cost explosion with electricity, oil, gas: energy poverty in Germany is increasing drastically. The online flagship news weekly writes:

            Rising energy costs are becoming a problem for more and more citizens in Germany. Just from 2008 to 20111 the share of energy-poor households in the Federal Republic jumped from 13.8 to 17 percent.”

            Energy poverty is defined by the number of households that must pay more than 10% of their net income on energy. All told 6.9 million German households (every 6th household) finds itself in energy poverty, Spiegel writes.

            – See more at: http://notrickszone.com/2014/02/24/17-of-all-german-households-now-in-energy-poverty-spiegel-writes-of-an-an-energy-cost-explosion/#sthash.yK5oYAf1.dpuf

            Of course this article was written a couple years ago, and electricity bills have increased quite a bit since then.

            But as long as it helps you achieve your Green Utopia, John, let the people suffer right? At least GHG emissions have come down a ton, right? Ooooooooh. No, actually, that’s not right is it, John?

            • You’re such a drama queen peeny. How energy gets taxed and how elderly/poor etc get winter fuel subsidies – these are political matters. The fact is that Germany has achieved over 30% of it’s energy from renewables (and rising), why don’t you think that’s a great achievement? They’ll have to tackle their coal dependency somehow, I expect they will before too long… there will probably be some big union issues involved.

              • Phil, it is a big achievement – they spent a lot of money to get to that result. It is a victory of sort, but it is a hollow victory because it has been so expensive, and has led to an increase in CO2 emissions. Those who live in fuel poverty have suffered, and it is not just a political decision, Phil, because that decision must be made in the context of the country’s economic constraints. The reason that electricity rates keep going up is that renewables are very expensive – that is a reality that those who suffer from fuel poverty must deal with. It may be no big deal to you, but I assure you that it is to them.

                You understand that the increase in coal usage is due to the greater dependence on renewables and the cutback in nuclear, right? I’m not sure that they can wave a magic wand and make coal dependence disappear – it has to do with more than just unions, Phil. They need power.

                • Turns out that large infrastructure projects stalled due to the problems of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) which has no clear path ahead due to the lack of agreement on where captured CO2 can be stored. However the IGCC – Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle technology employed, for the power-gen, is being used for more coal-power investigations.

                  Other rapid progress is being made however in the form of versatile CHP (Combine Heat & Power) plant which can be designed for generation at any scale and the buzz now is about decentralized power generation and distribution with versatile networks – national/local and micro grids. CHP can be designed to handle a wide range of fuels and is therefore a strong contender (I’d say a front-runner) in pointing a way ahead, particularly in combination with smart networks handling a variety of renewable sources and with CHP ‘nodes’ for baseload. CHP can transition from coal/gas/biomass to hydrogen or fuel cell technologies over time. Thinking is moving away from massive power stations and third world countries can leapfrog that old kind of infrastructure to adopt these new approaches. This site carries news on these trands (3 links):
                  http://www.decentralized-energy.com/index.html
                  http://www.decentralized-energy.com/articles/2016/10/europe-s-utilities-take-a-decentralized-view.html
                  http://www.decentralized-energy.com/articles/2016/08/leap-frog-to-a-decentralized-future.html

    • Not the case in the UK. Wells have to be abandoned to a plan based on the OGUK guidelines for the suspension and abandonment of wells. The plan will have to be approved by DECC, or whatever they are replaced by, and will usually mean the removal of most of the steel from down hole. As the casing is pulled the well is sealed with 500ft (two of) cement plugs for each permeable zone. The operator cannot just walk away.

  1. Clearly the operator can walk away five years after well abandonment.
    If the integrity of an abandoned well fails before the five-year period is up, it is the responsibility of the operator.
    When the integrity of an abandoned well older than five years fails, which is inevitable at some point in the future, ten, fifteen, twenty years, whose responsibility is it to fix the well?

    • “When the integrity of an abandoned well older than five years fails, which is inevitable at some point in the future, ten, fifteen, twenty years,”

      Where did you read this rubbish? Think about what you are saying. Are all the wells onshore UK / offshore that have been abandoned leaking?

      If they are, don’t you think somebody might have noticed? Don’t you think all the anti industry groups, Greenpeace, FOE, WWF would have brought each and everyone of them to our attention?

      • You’re not comparing like with like Paul. There are many thousands of capped fracking and other wells in the States that have been drilled and sealed, often with reckless abandon (comparatively speaking). There’s nothing here that matches their history of punching holes in the ground.

        Come the fracking roll-out in the UK, and the speed with which the wells will get drilled and fracked, do you honestly think they’re all going to get A star care and attention to best practices? It rarely happens in the US. There are rookie welders and rough neck laborers everywhere – they joke about some of the accidents they have (except when someone is killed) … you can even here them joking about things going wrong on some of the amateur videos that they post online – warning: not for the feint hearted. OK it should be better here but I wouldn’t raise hopes too high, say, with an outfit like INEOS in the driving seat. Jim Ratcliff’s Grangemouth plant has a poor H&S record.

        Cement failures around fracked wells is (proportionally) much higher that for conventional btw, especially when re-fracked after a few years (the failure rate leaps up then).

        • “You’re not comparing like with like Philip” (USvsUK). I would like to see the well construction of the wells which support your claim (I’m sure you must have read this somewhere and can refer me to a paper or such) that “Cement failures around fracked wells is (proportionally) much higher that for conventional btw, especially when re-fracked after a few years (the failure rate leaps up then).”

          If the wells are constructed correctly in the first place there is no reason why fracking them will result in an increase in cement failures. I don’t know of any wells that have been fracked that I have been involved in that had cement failures. You are much more likely to get cement failures in wells drilled with a poor casing design or wells drilled into depleted reservoirs or wells drilled in low fracture gradients as found in deep water wells – and of course these can generally be rectified and no hydrocarbons get out of the well.

          • Paul…. I’ll look through the studies/videos tomorrow if time. Whether cement itself fails or whether it hasn’t bonded perfectly to all points between shaft and geology for the fist 1000 feet I couldn’t say (is that also called cement failure?) but the contamination issues mostly point in that direction. I suspect the latter. There are American and German investigations back that up (from recollection).

            Dr Ingraffea and the Howarth and Duke university studies were the first to point these weaknesses out but there are more recent studies around.

            Also see my response further down.

          • Here’s a big study by the Germans – amazing that my guesstimate of 0.3% integrity failure was actually what they had found – i.e. for 300 wells you can almost guarantee that there will be at least one significant leak. In the UK they’re talking about more intensive clustering a) because the shale seams are thicker and b) to reduce the sprawl effect. But that means statistically higher chance of leaks in any one area and of course more intensive trucking, storage etc. http://dialog-erdgasundfrac.de/sites/dialog-erdgasundfrac.de/files/Ex_HydrofrackingRiskAssessment_120611.pdf

            • Thanks for the link – I will have a look later. But from what you are saying the 0.3% integrity failure does contradict Lock the Gates and the comment:

              “When the integrity of an abandoned well older than five years fails, which is inevitable at some point in the future, ten, fifteen, twenty years,”

              Integrity failure normally means that a component within the well has failed / leaked – however nearly always this is contained within the well. A leak from a packer to the annulus above is an integrity failure but no hydrocarbons escape the well due to the production casing and wellhead above. Integrity failures do not mean uncontrolled hydrocarbon emissions outside the well. But I will see what the Germa report says.

              • I’d just scanned it quickly. I’ll have another look. I think that was a best case scenario – as good as you could expect with best practice. NB . Then you need to compound that statistic with other risks – surface spills and accidents, blowouts, hitting methane pockets during drilling etc.

          • Of course Preese Hall well design and testing will have been the goldest of gold

            After the events at Preese Hall Cuadrilla requested from the HSE guidance on when a cement bond log was required and who was responsible for the interpretation of the Logs.

            No cement bond logs were run on one of the casings and one identified ‘questionable’ cement bonds

            After causing 50 seismic events from just 6 small fracks ( this size now not even classed as fracking) these sort of conversations between Cuadrilla and HSE does not instil much confidence in their ability to carry out larger projects.

            • Cement bond logs are not as cut and dry as people like to think. They can show poor cement where there is a good seal / barrier and good cement where there is not. Interpretation is difficult and often wrong. The best method to assess the success of a cementing operation is the way the job goes while it is being executed. The operation can be simulated before hand. If the operation goes roughly in line with the simulation and pump pressures, volumes, no losses, and mud returns are as planned the cement job will be good. Followed by a good pressure test and or inflow test. Personally I thought they were misleading, great if they looked good and told you the story you wanted to here, if they didn’t look great and you tried a remedial squeeze you ended up pumping nothing away as the cement in place was good enough. You are better off spending the money on centralisers and taking the time conditioning the drilling fluid before the cement operation. Schlumberger and others who sell these logs may have a different opinion but then they would – they are in the business of making money from these logs. There are many wells that have not had cement bond logs run in them. I recall that there is an “expert” in the Flyde, Mr Hill – is he ex-Schlumberger? If so, he can probably elaborate on the various cement evaluation tools that Schlumberger like the oil companies to run.

          • The report that Dr Ingraffea uses is a Schlumberger paper written with the intention of selling their latest, as was, type of cement, Flexstone. Some papers refer to it as “self healing”.

      • No-one has surveyed all 2193 onshore conventional wells in the UK, but of the 102 surveyed, 30% were found to be leaking methane. If we were to scale up this tiny survey, we could infer that some 660 abandoned onshore wells are now leaking methane and require remedial treatment.

        Of course it could be more than 660, depending on the age and condition of the well.
        You shout ‘rubbish’, but I have thought about what I am saying.
        The age of these wells increases the likelihood of corrosion and cement failure, and thus, leaking methane.
        I don’t know if environmental groups have brought these leaking onshore conventional wells to our attention. I haven’t looked. This research was made by scientists.

        There is currently no periodic monitoring of any of the abandoned onshore wells in the UK.
        There desparately needs to be periodic monitoring of all existing abandoned, aging conventional wells, whether or not fracking goes ahead. And therein lies another problem. Scientific research shows that in America, shale gas wells are more likely to leak than conventional onshore wells.

          • If REFINE we have discussed this before. We talked abouts cows farting? From the REFINE report:

            “The study has detected elevated concentrations of soil gas methane above decommissioned (abandoned) oil and gas wells. The study showed that for 31 of the 102 wells (30%) the soil gas CH4 was significantly (P > 95%) higher than that for their respective control sites with the maximum observed being 147% greater than the control. In contrast, 39 out of 102 wells showed significantly lower soil gas CH4 than their respective controls indicating that soils on some decommissioned sites would act as a net CH4 sink. The modelled fluxes from the well sites suggest a mean fugitive emission of 364 ± 677 kg CO2eq/well/year where the uncertainty is given as the standard deviation in the mean – given the distribution there is a 27% chance that any well would be a net sink of CH4. The estimated fugitive emissions from decommissioned wells are less than that for the agricultural activities that would take place on the reconstituted land.”

            and

            “For dairy breeding herd the CH4 emissions factor (enteric and manure sources) is 128 kg CH4/head/year (2944 kg CO2eq/head/year) while for a breeding ewe the value is 8.9 kg CH4/head/year (205 kg CO2eq/head/year). For lowland agriculture in the UK typical grazing rates are 3 cows or 21 sheep per hectare. If the decommissioning of the wells considered in this study had brought 1 ha of land back into livestock production then the increase in herd size would considerably dominate over the emissions from the decommissioned well in that field.”

            One cow produces more methane in a year than the four worst performing abandoned wells put together? Is this what you are all worried about?

            And more of the wells (39%) exhibited that they are methane sinks! Net balance of total wells is negative methane therefore we can reduce our methane emissions problem by drilling and abandoning more wells???

            This report basically concludes that none of the abandoned wells checked are emitting methane.

            • Somethings leaking methane badly.

              Oh look, what a surprise

              The United States alone could be responsible for between 30-60% of the global growth in human-caused atmospheric methane emissions since 2002 because of a 30% spike in methane emissions across the country, the study says.

              The research shows that emissions increased the most in the middle of the country, but the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources. However, the increase occurred at the same time as America’s shale oil and gas boom, which has been associated with large amounts of methane leaking from oil and gas wells and pipelines nationwide.

              39 to 52 million metric tons annually which coincidentally rose during the fracking boom.

              https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/17/us-likely-culprit-of-global-spike-in-methane-emissions-over-last-decade

              A possible reason is that billions of cows started ‘fright farting’ from the arrival of the industry.

              Another much less likely reason is that the entire shale industry leaks like a sieve.

              As we use the ‘why would we let it leak. That’s our money we would be wasting’ argument

              We must assume the US chooses (because we have said it doesn’t have to be) to let money float away into the wild blue yonder

              or…..

              Try as you like but you can’t stop leaks.

              These are very serious numbers with very serious consequences.

              What are we doing even thinking about this industry

              • John, this Harvard study reported in the Guardian has been cogently debunked by ‘Energy In Depth ” ( and yes, it is funded by US oil and. Gas.) .
                If you go to their web site you can searchtool for EID’s article. Also you will find later reports by NOAA and London University , both of which
                conclude that this methane spike is predominantly due to global biogenic methane ( wetlands , rice growing agriculture etc.) and US gas emissions are of no significance.
                It is the sad case that such ” pro gas ” news is not covered by mainstream media—- it’s not scary enough !
                If you look further you will find other articles that convincingly debunk the many health scares that you read in the media.
                I urge you to take the time to look at EID articles– they are a wealth of information that you would never know otherwise

                Barry

                • Haven’t had time. But Energy in Depth are a pretty thinly disguised PR arm of O&G. This biogenic red herring is often used as an evasion.

                  Gas drilling disturbs biogenic (shallower) and thermogenic methane. While targeting the latter the companies then argue that the former has nothing to do with them.

                  I’ll have a look but i’m straight away guessing that they’ll be avoiding satellite and other airborne monitoring data which maps methane emissions clearly to the wells and related systems. A new EU satellite is being launched soon with a much higher res sensor for doing this… should be pretty definitive.

                  Surface methane from plants and animals develops in symbiosis with methane absorbing bacteria … it doesn’t necessarily balance but you don’t tend to get these huge gushing releases that you get around wells (that can move swiftly to the upper atmosphere). I’ve seen videos from well inspections where water troughs around outer casings have been bubbling violently – with methane – like a jacuzzi.

        • Are you referring to the ReFINE study here? If so, you’re misrepresenting its findings (although I’m not accusing you of deliberate distortion).

          It’s true that ReFINE researchers did identify methane fluxes in fields containing decommissioned wells that were higher than neighbouring control fields, but they didn’t do any isotopic analysis of the identified methane, and so it’s quite possible that they detected biogenic methane that’s naturally present in soils at shallow depths, disturbed by drilling of the earlier well, and not thermogenic methane found at greater depths in oil and gas reservoirs, and the quantity of methane they found was negligible in any case. So you can’t simply scale-up their findings without first knowing more about the source of the gas (biogenic from outside the well v thermogenic from within the well).

          The other problem with extrapolating from the ReFINE research to shale gas concerns the way the target formation itself behaves. People often refer to the fact that shale gas wells have a steep decline curve and don’t produce for as long as “conventional” wells…that’s a function of the geology, and amongst other things, it means that at the end of a shale well’s life, it really is going to stop giving-up any more gas. So if it’s totally depleted, and properly sealed in accordance with UK regulations and recognised good practice, what can possibly leak out of it?

  2. DECC … the clue is in the title. Never before has Energy and Climate Change been linked in a departmental title like this. You would hope they will take the Climate Change remit seriously. How much you can get leverage on this at the local level I’m not sure.

    It’s the methane emissions from shale fields through to the storage and distribution grid, from the moment of drilling onward, that’s the issue – i.e. CH4 and various noxious byproducts entering the atmosphere directly. CO2 from the burning of the methane is also a greenhouse gas issue, but secondary in my view. The temperature forcing of methane is far stronger and more immediate.

    I’m not sure if FoE & FFR are using the strongest argument in concentrating on the CO2 byproduct downstream at the power-plant end.

    • Right, and there’s the double whammy of other environmental impacts … where a risk factor is deemed ‘low’ (ie ‘safe’) maybe a fraction of 1% , let’s say 0.3%, it doesn’t take much of a statistician to work out that for each 100 wells you’re up to 30% risk of serious impacts (casing failure, blowout, groundwater contamination etc). There are plenty of reports of all of these things happening.

      • Philip, please, this is simply not true.

        Borrowing some lines from my response to a similar claim above:

        Think about what you are saying. Are all the wells onshore UK / offshore that have been abandoned leaking? (in your case 30%)

        If they are, don’t you think somebody might have noticed? Don’t you think all the anti industry groups, Greenpeace, FOE, WWF would have brought each and everyone of them to our attention?

        Are people in Lincs, Lancs, Hamps, Dorset, East Sussex, N. Yorks having to drink contaminated water? Where are all the blow outs? Hatfield Moor and Singleton are the only two onshore UK that I recall, offshore UK – the Arco Ocean Odyssey and the more recent Total Elgin gas incident.

        Please let us know where all the other serious life threatening climate dooming incidents took place?

        • Paul – I’m comparing UK and US situations, talking specifically about intensively fracked areas in the US … not only am I thinking about what I’m saying but I’m thinking about what I’ve seen recorded and talked about and I’m also thinking about the people who may end up in close proximity to an industry about to be kick started on these shores (once it gets beyond test drilling) – being promoted by people who lie about the reality, conceal the risks and bribe politicians. It’ backed by a big powerful industry that has been getting away with these things for too long.

          There are hundreds of video recordings of the things I mention online and I have a lifetime of experience in working with documentary footage – from amateur to high end professional – and I can assure you that it is very clear to me where evidence is honest or fake. Have you looked through the video links I’ve posted already? There are hundreds more. I get the impression though that the pro frackers don’t want to see a mirror held up to reflect that reality. It’s a dirty industry.

          I have almost nothing against conventional wells, if they’ve met good standards of completion. But do you want people in those Lincs, Lancs, Hamps, Dorset etc to end up with contaminated drinking water? … then keep backing fracking, or even take a passive approach to this new generation of high volume fracking (that you are unfamiliar with) and stand by while it presses ahead.

          • The point of mentioning the UK’s exisiting abandoned conventional onshore wells and the (frankly inadqequate) research showing that overall 30% leaked methane and 40% of younger wells (over 8 years old) leaked, was to highlight the absence of an abandoned well monitoring system in the UK. Tying an operator into a five-year post-abandonment resonsibility is of no use if a well 8+ years into the future still likely to develop problems after the operator has discharged their legal responsibility. If any leakage problems 5+years after abandonment are no longer responsibility of the operator, whose responsibility is it? The remediation responsibility then rests with the (local, national) taxypayer.

            Failure rates for onshore unconventional wells in the Marcellus shale formation over their entire lifetime including abandonment (40%) were uncovered by Cornell University scientists this year, with 6% of active unconventional shale gas wells showed integrity problems. I live in a area (PEDL 165) were an operator is looking to drill 4,000 wells. This 4 out of 10 well fail risk becomes 1,600 well failures. A national ‘up to 1bn shale wealth fund’ and a local sweetener ‘bung’ is rendered meaningless when all the hidden local costs of remediating abandoned wells are factored in.

            • The wells are not leaking methane. The measurements clearly show that there is no well integrity failures at any of the wells checked by Refine. The amounts measured are miniscule. The conclusions are flawed. If the wells were leaking / integrity failed the methane amounts detected would have been exponentially higher. There is one well onshore UK that I am aware of that did leak methane post abandonment – in a school. The Council were made aware of it, the new licence holder fixed the leak. Otherwise I have not heard of any abandoned wells onshore UK with integrity failure which are leaking oil or gas – have you?

        • Just a joke Philip – don’t lose your sense of humour over this. Ecotricity is a bit of a joke in my circle though – I have used OVO for many years for my gas and electricity, not the cheapest but competitive, reliable and great customer servive – and not Big 6. But this month I have switched back to Big 6 because the OVO prices are no longer competitive (my new Big 6 is 22% cheaper over a year for my consumption than OVO). KT noted on this BB that she was with Ecotricity so I thought I would check with them before finalising a new deal – they were around 50% higher than my Big 6 deal. Whilst I don’t particularly like Big 6, why would I want to spend an additional £750 a year just to pretend my electricity comes from wind turbines and my gas comes from biomass in the Netherlands? When it all gets mixed together and it comes out of the same pipe / cable whoever I use.

          • And Philip P – did you read my comment about renawbles subsidies responding to your cliam that they have been removed?

            Renewables subsidies have not been removed in the UK – the big ones have been renamed and fixed at much higher prices than they previously got:

            Click to access fit_factsheet_july_16_-_final.pdf

            https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/electricity-market-reform-contracts-for-difference

            FITS are still FITS and the RO scheme has been replaced by CFDs (even higher returns than the RO scheme) for new projects.

            For CFDs look at table 1 in the attached:

            Click to access Final_Document_-_Investing_in_renewable_technologies_-_CfD_contract_terms_and_strike_prices_UPDATED_6_DEC.pdf

            If £305/Mwhr for wave and tidal is not a subsidy then what is? Current market price for electricity is £40/Mwhr. Even my domestic bill is only £100/Mwhr.

            How much more of our money would you like to give them?

            How much does shale gas receive in subsidies?

            • Yes , thanks for the links. Fills in some gaps for me, but can you help me understand the last one … its nearly four years old (still current?). The terms look generous on the part of the government but reading between the lines it looks like the they can decide on who gets support. Have you listened to that File on 4 “Changing Tides’ BBC radio doc? There’s a detailed discussion of government subsidies after the very interesting ITM company case from around 24:00. Looks like Westminster has pulled the rug from under the most serious renewables projects, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07z45x2

              We don’t use Ecotricity for similar reasons btw. Knowing how much you have to pay for their power and that Dale Vince has got himself on the rich list and installed himself in the local fort (as a home) – although no reason to mistrust – I just don’t feel sure about that whole business. I’m open to being convinced though, if persuasive arguments exist. As you say, who knows where the gas comes from once its in the pipes.

              • Philip, yes I think the 2013 document is current – for round 1. These projects are only now being constructed.I see Ecotricity has a CFD contract for Heckington Fen – £95/Mwhr – not bad if you can get it? All helps pay for the “local fort”.

                A new document for CFD round 2 has just been published this month for the next lot of renewables CFDs in 2021 – 2022 – Page 10 has the new strike prices – don’t forget the market price of electricity is £40/Mwhr (they use £41/Mwhr in their example). So for offshore wind the subsidy (they call it support) is £105 – £41 = £64/Mwhr.).

                And also the £40/Mwhr includes all the current renewables subsidies – if we just ran with current gas / coal / nuclear the wholesale price would be much lower

                Click to access CONTRACT_FOR_DIFFERENCE_STRIKE_PRICE_METHODOLOGY_final.pdf

                A quote from the document :

                “1.20.
                On the open market, the wholesale revenue that the Generator could expect to receive is less than their costs, meaning that in the absence of Government support it is unlikely that offshore wind developers would choose to invest in new generating facilities
                as the high costs they face mean that it is not possible to make a return on their investment.”

                Expensive business meeting targets……..

                Another document you might want to read is the following:

                Click to access BEIS_Electricity_Generation_Cost_Report.pdf

                This shows new gas becoming more expensive than some renewables in several years time after a levelising process. But the renewables costs are for actual generation over the year with specific LFs but do not include costs of back up for when they are not working). It also has lots of interesting information on loaf factors, tax rates etc.

                • Paul you have forgotten to mention to Phil about the cost of gas. It must have slipped your mind?

                  £66…….But that is more than the £41 market price. Surely the UK tax payer is not subsidising the gas industry?

                  So for combined cycle gas the subsidy (some call it support) is £66 – £41 = £25Mwhr.).

                  compared to onshore wind

                  £63

                  So for onshore wind the subsidy (let’s call it support) is £63- £41= £22Mw hr £3 less than the best gas option

                  So for large scale solar the subsidy (l will call it support) is £67- £41= £26Mw hr £1 dearer than the best gas option

                  https://cleantechnica.com/2016/11/10/uk-renewable-levelised-costs-continue-drop/

                • John, take out the carbon costs from new gas and take out the subsidy from wind for new build – then what do you get?

                  The only reason the current costs are around £40 / Mwhr are gas / coal / nuclear. Even you must agree that the £40 is that high due to the much higher current renewables costs averaging the price up to £40?

                  Apples with apples – gas 24/7 on demand when you want it / base load.

                  Wind – only when it is windy – not on demand – not base load subsidised.

                  Solar – surprisingly only during the day when it is sunny.

                  Gas is a no brainer if you want cheap, reliable electricity. If you want expensive, unreliable but think you can save the planet electricity forget gas and go with renewables. Make sure everyone gets a generator and a tank of diesel.

  3. I’m very confused about the use of the term “subsidy”. I’m involve, as an investor, with a small hydro power scheme. We get subsidy through tax breaks and we get paid much more than the market value for every unit of electricity we produce, that is paid for by “overcharging” all electricity users. The tax breaks for shale are good but all the government is doing is taking less than it might, some is better than nothing. Is somebody on here going to tell me that over the last 50 years the country has paid the operators in the North Sea to produce? Or would they accept that oil and gas has put billions into UK tax revenues?

    • David – I expect your hydro scheme earns FITs for each kwhr of electricity it produces, a fee for any electricity which goes into the grid, and any sales revenue and 30% EIS tax relief for investors?

      FITs are added to our bills, as will the grid purchase of the electricity.

      There is a hydro on the River Lune which gets about 20p / Kwhr in FITS plus whatever it sells the electricity for (8p or so). Wholesale price is 4p/kwhr.

      They also got a huge grant of several hundred thousand pounds for capital expenditure when it was built.

      As you have pointed out, shale gas gets only a tax break vs offshore oil and gas, but I think it is still higher than renewables company pay in tax.

  4. It’s educational to listen to the House of Lords Economic Commitee questioning the heads of the National Grid and Ofgem this week about the price of energy (available on the Parliament website). I got the impression that they left just as bewildered as they came in, and that’s some of the finest brains around. No wonder the average person can’t make sense of it all.

    By the way one snippet from the NG guy amazed me. The amount of energy in the Uk gas system is three times the amount of energy in the electricity grid, and on a very cold day it’s five times the amount. I guess that tells you what a task it’s going to be to replace gas heating with electricity even with much better insulated homes.

    • ‘what a task it’s going to be to replace gas heating with electricity even with much better insulated homes’

      I don’t see a problem

      Renewable electricity generation in Germany increased to 194 billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2015, representing 31% of the country’s gross electricity generation. The renewables electricity growth in 2015 was the largest in both percentage and absolute terms (19% and 32 billion kWh, respectively) in at least a decade.

      I guess that tells you that the technology for the electrification of home heating is available now and proven.

      Granted grid systems would need altering.

      We know the cost is high but the German majority want it. That’s democracy.

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