Legal

Government ignored new evidence on climate impacts of fracking – court told

pnr 181102 Cuadrilla Resources

Gas flares at Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, 2 November 2018. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The government ignored new science on the climate change impact of shale gas sites when it revised planning policy on fracking, the High Court in London heard today.

The campaign group, Talk Fracking, said a public consultation failed to take into account key new evidence on the effect of methane emissions from shale gas sites.

According to the group, civil servants said the evidence was too difficult to assess and they didn’t need to consider it.

Talk Fracking was making its case this afternoon in a legal challenge to the government on the National Planning Policy Framework. This is the document used by councils to shape their local plans and decide on planning applications.

This was the second challenge this week on the NPPF at the Royal Courts of Justice. Friends of the Earth argued earlier that the government should have carried out an assessment of the impact of the NPPF on the environment. DrillOrDrop report

181112 BEIS protest Ruth Jarman CCA

Climate change campaigners blockade the entrance to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 12 November 2018. Photo: Christian Climate Action

The Talk Fracking case centres on a single paragraph in the revised NPPF, issued in July 2018.

Paragraph 209a requires local authorities to

“recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, for the security of energy supplies and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy; and put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction;”

This paragraph incorporated into the NPPF government support for shale gas on climate change grounds from a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) made in 2015. The WMS, in turn, was based on a 2013 report commissioned by the government from scientists David Mackay and Timothy Stone.

Talk Fracking, thorough its member, Claire Stephenson, argued this afternoon that the Local Government Secretary had acted unlawfully in publishing and adopting the revised NPPF.

The minister should have considered new evidence developed since the Mackay and Stone report, which challenged the government’s policy on the benefits of shale gas for transition to a low carbon economy.

The court heard that the government consultation attracted more than 29,000 comments. Most of those on shale gas, including a submission by Talk Fracking, opposed the proposed revisions.

Talk Fracking referred in its consultation response to what it regarded as a key piece evidence, known as the Mobbs Report.

This concluded that previous data on the level and potency of methane emissions from shale gas developments had been underestimates. It cast doubt on the reliability of the Mackay and Stone report and questioned government arguments that shale gas had a lower carbon footprint than imported liquid natural gas.

David Wolfe QC, for Talk Fracking, said civil servants collating consultation responses failed to include a link to the Mobbs Report, provided in a footnote in the campaign group’s submission. They also failed to consider the content of the Mobbs Report.

The court heard that a witness statement by a lead official, Dr Michael Bingham, confirmed that the Mobbs Report dealt with “a contested area of science and was taking a view on various detailed academic studies”.

But Dr Bingham added:

“It was not feasible for the team to assess the veracity of the range of work referred to or the conclusions drawn”.

Paul Mobbs report

The Mobbs Report, by researcher and investigator, Paul Mobbs

Dr Wolfe said the Mobbs report, and others, “plainly needed to be evaluated”. He said:

“The government was contemplating rolling forward a statement and policy which had been based on a detailed scientific assessment, the continuing correctness of which was being challenged by consultees.

“The Secretary of State had asked for (and indeed encouraged) views: he needed to consider them properly, particularly when they were scientifically based and properly explained.

“It was no answer to put it in the “too hard” pile, without even looking at it.”

The court also heard that Dr Bingham suggested that government did not need to consider the climate change impact of fracking when it revised the NPPF because this had been done elsewhere.

In his witness statement, Dr Bingham added:

“Nor was it necessary given the limited purpose of paragraph 204a [the draft paragraph number] – i.e. to carry forward existing policy at a high level, as a framework for plans and decisions at the local level.”

Dr Wolfe responded that the points raised by the Talk Fracking consultation response and the Mobbs Report were material to the decision to include paragraph 209a in the revised NPPF.

“The Defendant [Secretary of State] failed to consider the material put before him about scientific developments in relation to the climate impact of fracking. As a result, he failed to grapple with the question of whether the development of on-shore oil and gas was compatible with the UK’s obligations under the 2008 Act.”

Instead, Dr Wolfe said, civil servants summarised for the Secretary of State the consultation responses as:

“There is minimal support for the changes”

“the majority of disagreement to changes in policy is on environmental and climate change grounds”

[some interest groups] “believed that these policies should be omitted due to disagreement with the principle of fossil fuels, shale development and fracking”.

Dr Wolfe said:

“These summaries gave the clear impression that the only thing emerging from the consultation was a general (essentially political) opposition to fracking, rather than concern that the stated policy being adopted was not supported by scientific evidence.”

Tomorrow’s hearing will hear more of Talk Fracking’s case. Rupert Warren QC, for the Secretary of State, will then defend the challenge. He is expected to argue that paragraph 209a sought “at a very high level” to restate the government’s position on what it regarded as the benefits of shale gas and to encourage local councils to “facilitate onshore oil and gas developments”.

  • The case resumes at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London at 10.30am.

Reporting from this hearing has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers

58 replies »

    • Maybe I need to explain again.

      A shale gas summit took place in London in 2012. all the big players were invited. This was after the 3 wells had been drilled.

      Are you suggesting that the following is from someone who had not seen the reports from the 3 wells?

      If so where do you suppose he got his facts from?

      This is what he said

      10. The low calorific value of shale gas is a major issue, says gas guru

      The average calorific value (CV) of the UK national gas grid is 39.5 megajoules per cubic metre; shale gas is quite low at around 37. To get round this, shale gas suppliers may have to inject propane, which costs 140p per therm, into gas transmission pipelines to make up for the shortfall.

      “This is a major issue,” said John Baldwin, managing director of CNG Services Limited. “You probably will have to add propane in LTS (Local Transmission Systems).”

      For injection into the National Transmission System (NTS), there would need to be “thousands of calorific value measurement devices all over the UK”, said Baldwin, in order to ensure accurate billing, as the lower CV of shale gas would mean end-users pay for gas priced at a higher CV than received.

      Moving on to the 2016 shale gas summit. This is what he says

      Issues for shale gas producers

      Addition of propane may be needed to meet flow weighted average calorific value (ethane issues)

      Still concerned about this guys credibility?

      Best check him and his company

      http://www.cngservices.co.uk/index.php/news/108-uk-shale-gas-summit

      Looks to me like he is heavily involved in the UK shale industry and knows exactly what he is talking about.

      So now we are up to date. Expensive propane injection which the industry is trying to pass off as ‘ minimal surface treatment’

  1. JP – are you sure you wanted to quote Mr Baldwin? Here he is on October 16th, 2017:

    Gas industry expert John Baldwin, Managing Director of CNG Services and one of the architects the renewable gas industry in the UK , has welcomed the decision of Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid to approve plans for fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton in Lancashire.

    Baldwin says:

    “This heralds a golden age for gas in the UK and will benefit the environment from day one. It has always been very difficult to understand why environmental activists are opposed to shale gas. UK shale gas has a much lower carbon footprint than imported LNG whether from Qatar or made from US shale gas. Gas is the ideal fuel for back-up generation for intermittent wind and solar especially if produced in the UK with a low ‘well head to burner tip’ carbon footprint.”

    “We are very lucky to have our own domestic shale reserves which we can exploit now. Shale gas will give the UK a massive environmental and financial boost and the tax received can be used to fund gas demand reduction and renewables. Even better if the US and Qatar LNG that is not needed in the UK goes to China and helps coal to stay in the ground. Lovely .”

    Next Tuesday, John Baldwin is giving a presentation at the UK Shale Gas Summit in Manchester talking about how the development of the UK Biomethane Market has facilitated the injection of Shale Gas into the gas grid.

    http://www.cngservices.co.uk/index.php/news/109-it-s-a-golden-age-for-gas-and-low-carbon

    • Unqualified, categorical and sweeping statements about ‘domestic shale reserves’, as if instantly accessible (right now), make me wonder what Baldwin was on at the time. At least on a PR/Marketing drive for gas no doubt. Sinking 40 wells a week for the next fifteen to twenty years, and anticipating all to have successful gas production and minimal environmental impacts, might get you close to his dream outcomes. Otherwise … La La Land.

    • JP – are you sure you wanted to quote Mr Baldwin?

      Not sure why you want to dig yourself a deeper hole but here we go.

      I said “Looks to me like he is heavily involved in the UK shale industry and knows exactly what he is talking about”

      I reference him stating both in 2012 and 2016 that it is likely that expensive propane will be needed to be injected into UK shale gas to correct the calorific value.

      So the answer to your question is yes. I am happy to quote from Mr Baldwin.

      Do you think he is correct when he states

      The average calorific value (CV) of the UK national gas grid is 39.5 megajoules per cubic metre; shale gas is quite low at around 37. To get round this, shale gas suppliers may have to inject propane, which costs 140p per therm, into gas transmission pipelines to make up for the shortfall.

      “This is a major issue,” said John Baldwin, managing director of CNG Services Limited. “You probably will have to add propane in LTS (Local Transmission Systems).”

      For injection into the National Transmission System (NTS), there would need to be “thousands of calorific value measurement devices all over the UK”, said Baldwin, in order to ensure accurate billing, as the lower CV of shale gas would mean end-users pay for gas priced at a higher CV than received.

      If you disagree with him please explain why he is incorrect.

      • John Baldwin has been bigging up UK shale for years. If even he admits they have a problem with the caloric value and the expense of adding propane then I think we can be reasonably sure he is not making it up as it really doesn’t suit his own position.

          • Interesting – I guess that with the three year duration of the exploratory project and then the delay whilst billing systems and meters are adapted this might just be a get out of jail free card for the UK shale gas industry some time around 2030 (given the expected lifetime of the current generation of smart meters.) At Cuadrilla’s rate of progress that might fit quite well I suppose.

            It sounds a bit like CCS to me though – an interesting idea but one which is some way away from being a solution to short or even medium term issues.

            • For what it is worth I don’t believe that a viable shale gas industry will be developed for a variety of reasons, so our discussion may well prove academic.

              [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

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