Researchers debate ideas for £8m study on fracking impacts

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Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool, 27 September 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Researchers meeting in Birmingham this week are to discuss a major study which aims to update evidence on the impact of fracking.

The £8m programme, the largest investment in unconventional hydrocarbons research by one of the funders, will provide evidence to inform government policy.

A town hall-style meeting on Wednesday (4 October 2017) will examine the challenges for the research and opportunities for collaboration.

The programme, funded by the Natural Environment and Economic and Social Research Councils, aims to update the independent scientific evidence base on fracking. The work will, the funders say, provide “understanding of the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of unconventional hydrocarbon development”.

Last month, researchers across the UK were invited to bid for the money. Projects are expected to begin in the summer of 2018 and run until at least 2022.

Part of the research programme is expected to use a new underground research facility, confirmed last week to be based at Ince Marshes in north Cheshire.

“Late in the day”

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Building a sound barrier at Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton fracking site in North Yorkshire, 27 September 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

There has been no high volume hydraulic fracturing in the UK since 2011.

But Cuadrilla has said it expects to use the process early next year on two wells at its site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. Third Energy is waiting for approval of its hydraulic fracturing plan for a well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. Shale gas exploration is also expected to get underway in the East Midlands, where IGas has permission for three wells and INEOS has three sites going through the planning system.

Opponents of fracking in Lancashire have complained that the research has come too late.

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, told the Blackpool Gazette:

“It seems rather late in the day to be throwing research money into environmental and socio-economic impacts of unconventional gas exploration.

“Surely this research should have been implemented prior to handing out PEDL licenses across the UK? Community health and drinking water integrity is a monumental factor in fracking, yet it has been virtually ignored by Public Health England and the government, as they choose to rely on industry-funded and outdated research for facts.”

“Significant investment”

The research programme will look at:

  • Current state of shale gas development and how it is evolving
  • Shale resource potential, distribution, composition and properties, including safety issues of fracking and geological faults
  • Impact of fracking on overlying rocks
  • Emissions of contaminants to rocks and atmosphere and their likely impacts
  • Socio-economic impacts, looking at energy security, competitiveness, sustainability, public perception and policy

The Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) is putting £6m into the programme. £2m is from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Ned Garnett, Associate Director of Research at NERC, described the programme as a “significant investment”.

 “From an NERC standpoint, we haven’t done anything on this scale before.

“In terms of the science budget, I believe it is the biggest investment NERC has made in research on unconventional hydrocarbons and shale gas.”

He said it could link to the £31m investment in the UK Geoenergy Observatory, also known as UKGEOS, part of which will be at Ince Marshes.

Dr Garnett said UKGEOS gave researchers the opportunity to do what he called “excellent science of societal importance”.

Asked why NERC hadn’t commissioned earlier studies on fracking, before it got underway, he said:

 “We didn’t have UKGEOS two, three, four, five years ago so that does provide us with an opportunity to make very deep observations associated with this.

“Yes, more research could have been done on this earlier but I think we have the opportunity now to have a really significant advancement in terms of our scientific understanding because we will have the infrastructure to do it.”

The programme will fund up to 10 research proposals from UK universities and research institutions. The studies will be independent but researchers could partner with businesses or campaign groups, Dr Garnett said.

“If they want to partner with someone who is actually undertaking hydraulic fracturing they can do that. But the evidence that they come up with has to be independent of any third party or business organisation.

“Particularly on the social side, if they want to, they can partner with campaigning organisations. It is very much for the applicants but the funding that we produce goes to institutions, it wouldn’t go direct to business or campaign organisations.”

“Good decisions need good evidence”

Dr Garnett said:

“The key thing is providing the independent evidence that government needs so that they can make the right policy decisions.

“We are independent of government but we see our role clearly as providing evidence to inform decision-makers. If you want to make good decisions you need good evidence. And that’s what we want to do – provide that evidence.”

“Put exploration on hold”

Frack Free South Yorkshire said:

“We welcomed this initiative and the unsaid acceptance that the reports on shale gas by The Royal Society and by Public Health England are out of date and incomplete.

“The sensible course of action now is to put a hold on all exploration and appraisal shale gas wells until this research is completed and the results and recommendations are published and peer assessed sometime after 2022.”

  • DrillOrDrop’s request to attend Wednesday’s meeting in Birmingham was declined. Presentations have been made public and are available to view here

Fracking monitoring at UKGEOS

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Ince Marshes, Cheshire. Photo: NERC

The UKGEOS facility in Cheshire will look at how shale gas behaves underground, the British Geological Survey (BGS) said last week (press release).

The BGS said UKGEOS would not commission shale gas fracking. But if companies used the technique in the area, UKGEOS would monitor the effects.

Professor John Ludden, Executive Director of the BGS, said:

“North Cheshire is under an onshore oil and gas licence, with operators actively exploring the area. The UK Geoenergy Observatories will build on Cheshire’s standing as an energy hub and strengthen this corridor of scientific activity, which stretches from the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the east, through the Daresbury Laboratory, to our research site, which would draw in some of the best scientists and engineers in the world.

“We need the subsurface environment to develop a mix of low-carbon energy technologies at the required scale – whether that’s for carbon storage, energy storage, geothermal energy, hydrogen production or lower-carbon energy sources. It is vital that we build the best-possible geological evidence base to be able to optimise the process without an adverse impact on the environment.”

But Chester MP, Chris Matheson, told the Chester Chronicle last week:

“The people of Chester and surrounding area have made it clear that we don’t want fracking and this latest development is not welcome.

“Academic studies about the optimum form of fracking cannot take into account the commercial pressures that fracking companies will face to minimise their costs and maximise their profits.”

Upton councillor, Matt Bryan, an anti-fracking campaigner, told the paper:

“This is a classic example of diverting investment and our brightest minds away from the long-term solution which is renewable energy production.”

Weaver Vale MP, Mike Amesbury, feared UKGEOS would “pave the way for fracking” on the edge of his constituency.

80 boreholes

UKGEOS will drill 80 observation boreholes of various depths across a 28km2 of the Ince Marshes,

The boreholes are designed to enable researchers to study geology in what is described as unprecedented detail, including seismic activity and how fluids and gases flow through rocks.

The BGS said data collected from the research at UKGEOS would be made available to local communities, as well as academics, government, regulators and industry.

  • Community meetings about UKGEOS are planned for Wednesday 11 October at Elton Village Hall (10am-2pm) and Thornton Church Hall (6pm-8pm). Further sessions are planned throughout the autumn for Chester, Dunham, Frodsham, Hapsford, Helsby and Ince.



40 replies »

  1. This on the eve of reports that Scotland is set to permanently ban fracking. And that is after the Scottish government conducting three years of research. Is this what has prompted this “research”? This industry is not wanted, is unnecessary and this last ditch attempt is just throwing good money after bad. Too little, too late. Why wasn’t this research, carried out before the Conservative government bounced England into fracking? What happened to the precautionary principle, it is one debacle after another.

    • The SNP are under huge pressure to ban it, tbh the geology in Scotland wasn’t looking too favourable. Ineos only agreed to ship into Grangemouth for 10 years so that will be interesting to see what Jim does. The SNP are made up of pretty dim people hence why there are no new ideas coming out to grow the economy, education is tanking and vast areas are needing huge sums of wealthy to regenerate. The north is favouring slightly better with wealthy english retiring there and tourism doing well but the central belt is on its ****.

    • 8 million over four years, what a waste.

      In times of austerity here is a suggestion. One month, ten delegates @ £3000 per delegate.
      Instructions to delegates:
      Read through current literature, peer supported research on fracking world wide and environmental impacts (the truth, not the abridged and doctored by the industry versions).
      Using the calculations of base fuel needs less reserves already available without burning up the planet; accounting for the Paris Climate Change Agreement on fossil fuel emissions, less the increasing energy from clean source technology and the answer is….

      Nope we don’t need it. There, done the hard bit for you

      Enjoy your month of free tea and cupcakes; now let’s use the £7, 970,000 for saving lives.

      • Here’s a thought: researchers in the US have already spent tens if not hundreds of millions studying actual operations and looking at actual empirical data, and they’ve concluded that the negative impacts from fracking are manageable. They’ve also noted that the positive impact from fracking in terms of economic benefits and reduction in emissions are profoundly greater than the costs of fracking. So, no need for your little 8 million gbp study to pay some people to sit at their desks reading American research. The work has already been done.

          • Indeed, and the report recommended that fracking proceed under a traffic light system. Fracking can induce small earthquakes. Dozens of earthquakes on this scale or larger have been felt since, all over the UK. When a truck passes by or a train rumbles through, the seismic impact is comparable.

            • Indeed, and the report states that Cuadrilla ask for the seismic threshold to be set at 2.6 magnitude.

              After triggering a 2.3 magnitude earthquake why do you suppose they ask to be allowed to make even larger events?

              I can answer that for you. It’s common sense.

              Cuadrilla know they need to trigger larger events to get the gas out…..or they just like seeing the numbers 2 and 6 next to each other which is the unlikely reason of the two scenarios.

              The 0.5 magnitude threshold set by the BGS is just to try and appease the public for now. The truth lies in the lines which contain the words ‘for the next few operations’ and ‘can be adjusted over time’

              Glaringly obvious, gets BGS off the hook, and never mentioned by pro frackers.

              The report makes numerous references to how little is known of the fault systems and characteristics of the Bowland shale.

              A serious concern after the technical failings of Preese Hall during minor fracking treatments.

              Lubricating faults and causing deep geological movements is clearly not the same as the rumble of a truck.

              A bit of root cause analysis and common sense,

  2. Excellent, this should put a dampner on the majority of the dross spouted by the antis that are basing their preaching on pre 2013 information.

    • It seems that everyone is pretty dim if they don’t share your view GottaBKidding, which obviously has to be a nonsense. I find your comments about the Scottish deeply insulting.
      Given the RS/RA report is from 2012 and the PHE report 2014, that both industry and government rely so heavily upon, one could argue these are also outdated, yet fracking is still being forced upon communities against their wishes. It is interesting that the UK will be facing a general election by 2022, if not before, and all opposition parties intend to ban fracking. So this research on fracking may well not inform any government policy.
      The banning of fracking in Scotland is a huge blow to the industry. It is right that a democratically elected government should make a decision that is in the best interests of their country and not the interests of large corporations, so I hope that Jim can do very little about anything. Mr Ratcliffe knows the risks associated with fracking, knows that it is publicly opposed and knows that all opposition parties intend to ban it. It is his choice if he chooses to invest speculatively. Indeed, the opposition parties could not have been clearer in their statements on fracking, so investors can be quite clear on their decisions.
      With a permanent ban in Scotland and so much opposition surrounding this industry, those that oppose fracking in England will, I am sure, feel reinvigorated by the Scottish decision.

  3. Germany have done expensive studies into it already and decided the risks outweighed benefits – they have banned unconventional onshore gas extraction / fracking at least till 2021. France banned it back in 2011 and has defeated challenges from oga companies since then. Holland has a ban in place till 2020.

    Shows how smart these EU countries and Scotland are compared to the UK

    • Philip P.
      You omitted a key word.
      “Show how smart these EU countries’ and Scotland’s governments are compared to the UK government.”

      • Already shown Martin. Spending another £8million when extensive data is available from those studies isn’t terribly smart. While it will be good to nail it all over again it’s just a time (and money) waster. We don’t want more methane and other contaminants in the atmosphere nor any risks whatsoever to groundwater. Besides toxic human exposures the disappearance of fresh-water species is surpassing the extinction rates of all others.

    • But Philip, we can name ten jurisdictions that allow fracking for every one that has banned it. So, fracking is obviously ten times smarter than not fracking, by your own logic. ;o)

  4. I suspect any decision by the SNP to ban fracking in Scotland will be received with glee in Westminster. If English fracking is then a success it will mean the end to the SNP and Ruth taking full control in Scotland and any ban being reversed. Further proof that the SNP are a one issue party who can not manage the day job-remember oil at $110/barrel costings??

    Is this the same “progressive” Germany who are back relying on COAL, with Putin in reserve?

  5. There are moratoria and/or bans on fracking of shale in the following countries:

    Australia: Victoria; Northern Territories.

    USA: New York, Maryland, parts of Texas, California.

    Canada: Quebec.

    Mainland Europe: France, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, The Netherlands.

    Offshore Europe: Scotland, Wales, Republic of Ireland.

    [apologies if this list is incomplete or if I am out of date, but so is the wikipedia page on the subject].

    Shale oil and gas fracking is dead or dying in most of the USA shale plays, apart from small pockets (‘sweet spots’) here and there where it may still be commercial at an oil price of $40 per barrel. It has never turned a profit overall, nor has it made the US self-sufficient in oil or gas. Where it has been tried in the more complex geology of Europe, in Poland and Romania, the companies have given up.

    Martin Collyer – I suggest you look at the inflation-adjusted oil price, historically analysed by Art Berman from 1970 to date. The high oil price of $91 average from August 2005 to end-2014 was the second ‘bubble’ (the first was the OPEC oil shock of the 1970s). The stable long-term inflation-adjusted price is around $50, which is where we are now. So, in short, you are talking nonsense.

    Prof Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey disingenuously suggested on the BBC Today programme last week (at 2:50:50) that the research ‘lab’ concerned energy storage and/or CCS. Unlikely – it’s clearly about shale fracking, unless there is a further hidden agenda which he failed to mention of nuclear waste disposal.

    So NERC’s research initiative is both too late and unnecessary. The experiments, by way of large-scale production, have already been done in the US, Alberta and in eastern Europe. The future has to lie in renewables. President Macron is showing the way by extending the 2011 ban on fracking in French territories to include all fossil fuel exploitation. I am glad I live in France and not in England.

    • Rule number one of research – don’t quote from Wikipedia. Your list is not “incomplete or out of date” but wrong.

      • Nonsense, ‘AI’. A typical pro-fracker comment – assertion without substance, from an anonymous person. If I am wrong why don’t you provide a more correct list? Indeed, why don’t you become a wikipedia editor then you can ‘correct’ the offending page?

    • David Smythe,

      [Edited by moderator]

      Here is an incomplete list of some of the places where fracking is allowed and is taking place (some on an exploratory basis):

      West Virginia
      New Mexico
      New Zealand

      I could go on, but I think that you get the point.

      Your statement, “Shale oil and gas fracking is dead or dying in most of the USA shale plays, apart from small pockets (‘sweet spots’) here and there where it may still be commercial at an oil price of $40 per barrel.” is seriously laughable. Shale gas provides close to 70% of our gas needs in the States, and we are shipping quite a bit overseas to European countries who have “banned” the practice. Production has been growing despite lower rig counts.

      In addition, the US is projected to become a NET EXPORTER of natural gas this year, thanks to fracking:

      Shale oil extraction is fairly expensive, but American ingenuity and competitive forces have combined to make the US oil shale plays the world’s swing producer. Contrary to your verbal garbage, analysts estimated that ALL us shale oil plays are profitable at $50 oil, and many are profitable at $40. So, you better cut your victory lap short, son. and

      Your idea that shale oil and gas are “dying” don’t comport with the facts very well, does it?

      You wouldn’t understand all of this, of course, because the UK has twiddled its thumbs for a decade or more while the US has made unbelievable strides in developing a technology that has led to a revolution in energy markets. Europe is benefiting from this revolution, by paying up to import our energy – but this is still a much lower price than you were paying prior to the shale revolution.

      And go on quoting Art Berman, but understand that the man has been sooooooo famously wrong all along with his peak predictions and gloomy cost forecasts, that he is the laughingstock of American energy analysts. He suits your purposes, am I right?

      President Macron has boldly extended the ban on fracking while at the same time opening his doors to imported fracked gas from all over. What a fantastic mind, indeed! And so principled too. LOL

  6. Sorry David, you are the one talking nonsense. SNP repeatedly supported their economics GOING FORWARD after the referendum at $110/barrel. As you state, it never happened, and it did not happen because of the success of fracking in USA. OPEC have cut production to try and compensate but we still see world oil prices around $50/barrel (allowing for hurricanes). OPEC state the current price is dictated by US oil production, via fracking. (If it wasn’t that must be because OPEC are being extremely generous and non commercial-REALLY? If it wasn’t US would not be looking to considerably reduce their Strategic Oil Reserve.))That’s what the market states generally, that’s what the price is. Reading English is quite simple. You don’t need to repeat the “small pockets” fiction you arbitrarily applied to the Weald.
    I think I will prefer to follow them rather than yourself David. Your previous attempt at a “might”y analyses of the Weald was dismantled by Injuneer. First a “scientific” analyses, which broke all the rules of a scientific analyses, and now an “economic” analyses that avoids what the petrol pumps show to every “honker”. Hmmm.

  7. While it is true some shale plays in US are uneconomical at $40-50 /barrel and these companies will be taken out of action. This however will have a positive effects on reducing the current supply build and hence upward pressure on oil/gas price which makes those plays on borderline of the economic thresholds of oil price become economical again. This is pure free market principles at work. And these borderline companies will innovate and improve their production efficiency to survive at market price. To pick an oil price threshold at $50/barrel and make a sweeping conclusion that low oil price will wipe out the whole shale industry is misleading and naive.

  8. Martin Collyer and TW:

    You both appear to be indulging in half-baked (and ungrammatical) generalities founded on childish neo-liberal free-market economic-cum-conspiracy theory; for example: that OPEC is keeping the price low to try to put US unconventional production out of business (no it isn’t – the OPEC countries just need to maintain their own oil export cash flow); that pure free market principles are at work (no, they don’t work, other than to make a few individuals very rich at the expense of investors); that borderline US shale gas companies will improve their efficiency to survive (no they aren’t and won’t – over 130 shale companies have filed for bankruptcy), and so on.

    Regarding the economics of unconventionals, I am merely quoting from Art Berman, a reliable geologist and oil economics consultant, whose analysis of the US situation is far more subtle than anything you seem to understand. It is he, not I, who uses the approximate $50 oil price threshold as an inflation-adjusted baseline for the last 47 years. Since he predicted back in 2008 that unconventionals were not all they were being hyped as, economically speaking (and was eventually sacked from the Oil & Gas Journal for bringing bad news), his analyses have repeatedly been proven correct. Please do read his columns, and, if you find fault with them, then you can comment on them directly. You don’t need me as an intermediary.

    Thank-you Martin Collyer for drawing my attention to the comments by ‘Injuneer’ on my guest post about UKOG in the Weald. I had not seen them till now, but will rebut them shortly.

  9. Dr Smythe,
    To quote your post ” nor has it made the US self-sufficient in oil and gas.
    Shale clearly has reduced US needs to import its fuel and save US economy billions of dollars. Can you explain why the oil and gas has plummeted in the US and globbally and the US was able to export LNG to us in Grangemouth UK and EU eastern states this year. Would you not admit these benefits were all due to US shale production?

    The anti shale are so contradictory in their arguments and evidence.

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