Research

“UK fracking debate likely to stay deadlocked as neither side makes a compelling case” – new research

181020 PNR Rod Harbinsondotcom

Demonstration outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, 20 October 2018. Photo: RodHarbinson.com

Campaigners for and against fracking are failing to deliver a decisive blow to their opponents, according to a new study.

Researchers at Sussex University conclude that the shale gas debate remains deadlocked. A clear victory for either side looks unlikely because arguments used are “often theoretical and easily undermined”.

They found that the case about impacts – both negative and positive – tends to be extrapolated from the United States and the relevance to the UK is easily questioned by opponents.

The UK government has struggled to counter claims of poor governance of the shale gas industry, the study concluded. And attempts to portray shale gas as an environmentally-friendly “bridge fuel” to a low carbon economy appeared to have little traction beyond government and the industry.

According to the research, any shift in the debate is likely to come either from a sudden event – such as a change of government or an incident at an exploration site – or from a more gradual loss of enthusiasm by either side.

Pro and anti views about shale gas

The study, by the Science Policy Research Unit, identified the key views on fracking that it says have dominated the policy debate.

Interviews with 30 stakeholders and analysis of 1,557 documents revealed four views in favour and five against the prospects for a UK shale gas industry.

Francis Egan 9 Lancashire for Shale

Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, at a meeting of the pro-fracking group, Lancashire for Shale. Photo: Lancashire for Shale

Over the time-frame studied (2010-2018), the researchers found that pro-shale views were more frequently used. They comprised:

  • ‘Low impact development’. Shale gas produces only “mundane nuisance impacts” which will not amount to industrialisation of the countryside
  • ‘Lower carbon fuel’. A domestic shale gas industry is compatible with – if not a positive contribution towards – meeting the UK climate change targets
  • ‘Manageable risk’. The risks of fracking are manageable and the UK has world-leading regulation.
  • ‘Wealth and security’. UK shale gas resources are an opportunity for potentially substantial economic and energy security benefits.

Anti-shale gas views were used less frequently but were still widespread, the study said. They comprised:

  • ‘Bad gas governance’. Shale gas developments are being imposed on unwilling local communities by a central government that is behaving questionably.
  • ‘Dirty fossil fuel’. The development of a domestic shale gas industry is irreconcilable with the UK’s climate change targets.
  • ‘Elusive threats’. Fracking is seen as novel, highly risky and uncertain. Accidents are seen as inevitable because of perceived inadequate regulation and under-funded regulators.
  • ‘Industrialise the countryside’. Shale gas development is seen as industrialising the British countryside
  • ‘No repeat revolution’. Scepticism about the prospects of a UK industry. This includes doubts about a reduction in gas prices and scepticism over the emergence of an industry of any significance at all.

Lead author, Dr Laurence Williams, said:

“Our study demonstrates the key issues over which the UK shale policy debate has been fought, as well as the ways policy-makers and other stakeholders have tried to bring the public round to their way of thinking.

“We confirm previous research findings about the importance of arguments about governance and local community influence over decision-making in anti-shale discourse, and add that debate over whether shale gas development will industrialise the countryside seems particularly prominent in the UK.”

Co-author, Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, said:

“Our research underscores how contested emerging energy options such as shale-gas are, and how uncertain their future will remain.

“It ultimately implies that progress on meeting future energy targets—especially those that involve fossil fuels—will be a combination of unpredictable, debatable, and political.”

  • The study, funded by the Natural Environment and Economic and Social Research Councils, has been written up in the paper The discursive politics of ‘fracking’: Frames, storylines, and the anticipatory contestation of shale gas development in the United Kingdom. This will appear in the September 2019 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Global Environmental Change. The abstract can also be read here

39 replies »

  1. The question of how used fracking boreholes could be used for dumping nuclear waste hasn’t been brought in to the debate in any significant way.

    I’ve noticed that people who are on the fence on fracking for gas generally are dead against having nuclear waste stuffed down the boreholes.

    And with the government tomorrow more desperate to find somewhere to put all that rubbish, that may well be the final twist that maybe the twist that nails it for the silent majority

    • Hi Chris600uk – I would be interested to know how nuclear waste is to be “dumped” down fracking boreholes? Do you mean boreholes drilled specifically for nuclear waste disposal which are “fracked”? Or do you mean oil and gas wells which are “fracked will be used later to dispose of nuclear waste? Either way I would be very interested to see how this could be undertaken technically. I have drilled hundreds of oil and gas wells of all sorts of configurations onshore / offshore / shallow water / deep water / desert / Lancashire / Sussex / Hampshire some fracked, most not, and none would be suitable in anyway whatsoever for disposing of any kind of nuclear waste.

      Purpose built very large diameter boreholes which you could install glass / lead encased nuclear waste down somehow may be feasible, certainly no fracking, and definitely no oil and gas wells in any configuration that I am aware of.

      Interested to know how this is supposed to happen.

      • Ah, now this is working, in triplicate. I agree that posting nuclear waste down fracked boreholes won’t work. You need it to be water-tight, fluid tight and radioactivity tight, and we all know that that is prob not the case down a fracked well. But I understand that the industry is feeding drilling data back to the BGS and govt with nuclear waste deposit in mind, not in fracked wells but in similar geology. And I understand that Sheffield Uni has been developing/researching capsules and transmission methods for nuclear waste. But I have not been able to learn detail.

  2. Of course the “debate” will remain deadlocked. Is that of any significance? No. Because the factor which will determine the break to the deadlock is whether the public will have economic advantage demonstrated from fracking in the UK. If that is shown, the deadlock will be broken. Strange this research did not show this. It is quite standard for new product launch research. Fracking in UK fits that situation pretty closely.

    It really is not rocket science, extremely predictable, and the only question is who funds such “studies”? Oh, the tax payer!

    • ‘Because the factor which will determine the break to the deadlock is whether the public will have economic advantage demonstrated from fracking in the UK’ – so you just lost your own case…

      • No, it is you who have to resort to speculation, Passepartout, I am a patient sort of guy who can wait for the facts. So can the undecided, it seems.

      • Whilst the governance are not supporting clean energy solutions there is clearly a bias towards fossil fuels – this removes freedom of choice. As the climate emergency escalates and its enshewing problems, survival will be the main consideration, and if too late, anarchy will reign.

        • No, it does not remove freedom of choice. It means those who want to chose can chose and pay for it. Those who don’t want to pay for it, do not have to pay for it either for themselves or others. That’s why delayed reaction still sticks with his 3 litre BMW diesel. Now, that is true democracy on the Fylde!

          By the way, without survival there is no anarchy. Having been trained in survival, (check Lofty Wiseman. His book is almost on a par with Sir Jims) when such were seen as good corporate teamwork schemes, I would also point out that survival is negatively linked to anarchy.

          Failing to understand that should thin out the activists.

          • OMG Marty is Bear Grylls!

            Perhaps you may be better studying history…hang on a minute, that would mean you would have to read…..

            As Electricity generation from gas in Q1 has dropped a little….[Gas 36.4 down 1.3%, Renewables 31.1 up 9.2%]
            …it does not account for the 85% of those surveyed who would prefer their energy from renewable sources…..so yes, it has removed freedom of choice…

  3. Perhaps disturbing the Kraken should be brought into the debate, Chris?

    The silent majority are silent because they are not that easily excited. Sorry, wrong audience.

    Have a look at the old mine workings under the UK. Plenty to fill before a few little fracking boreholes are of interest.

    Goodness, I even have my Will stored underground. Should keep my kids fit and healthy for years searching for it! LOL.

  4. Interesting reading for and against / positive and negative: i would like to point out that the industry is probably not the best at PR, but the perception of the communities believing the industry will destroy land the anti’s don’t even own and the the operators have legally been contracted to work on! The shale operators are legally carrying our their work.
    The Anti’s regard the land they occupy during their protesting debate, to be theirs to occupy and stuff the legal actions of others, most of the actions are illegal and hence they are arrested for, costing the public purse more and more each day they protest! Most of these anti’s have not contributed this financial contribution to taxpayer and yet it costs to police the anti’s in illegal practice. One does not contribute to the growth and prosperity of the country and one has the potential too!
    Once a bill has passed through parliament this legal practice should be allowed democratically to progress!

    • Eli-Goth!

      Your unfounded claims about the tax payments of anti-fracking folk show your ignorance once again.

      Surveys show we are mostly middle-class, middle aged or older, mostly female and reasonably well educated.

      The majority of us therefore, although not often spotted at protest locations, have contributed plenty of tax pounds over many years and in fact still do!

      Nobody owns the fresh air or the fresh water except the Community that lives there! Certainly not the Government whose responsibility it is to ensure continuity of supply. Certainly not the Onshore oil and gas industry whose activities worldwide are causing pollution and contamination of these essential assets!

      I have just become aware of the dirty bullying tactics employed against the Lancashire County Councillors and the incorrect Legal Advice that affected their decisions regarding Cuadrilla’s fracking appeal. This was basically corruption of justice of the worst kind in my opinion! The whole process shouldbe subject to serious scrutiny at the highest possible independent level!

    • Eli-Goth. In my experience, mainly at PNR, I think you would find most of the anti’s are retired locals and locals attending on days off from work. I know I have certainly paid an awful lot of taxes in my 72 years and still pay a lot in Council Tax towards the police who are depriving me of legal, peaceful protest. It has been shown in court that legal protest can cause some disruption and consist of more than standing out of the way, holding a placard, but that is the only protest allowed by the police at PNR. All other meaningful protest is pre-empted.
      You may wish to live in a country where all protest is stamped on, but be careful what you wish for.

  5. A government can try to enforce the law through ruthless social control, but it comes at the cost of freedom…

  6. There is no case for not developing UK natural gas, the UK needs an independent supply of energy, do you use gas to heat your home? 80% of UK homes are heated by natural gas, why be dependent on Europe and Russia.The benefits of UK natural gas, tax revenue, local financial support., energy independence and secure local jobs.

    • Vincent: thats common sense. But the anti’s are committed to corbyn socialist rhetoric! Renationalising uk firms to fund the taxpayer, not securing borders, securing our energy dependance from politically unstable nations and giving us a primary energy gas feedstock for beyond 2040 which is inline to be significantly lower GHG’s than comparative hydrocarbons and safer than nuclear. Bring on the gas!

    • Vincent, we already have our own Natural gas….it’s in the North Sea…..We can heat our homes with electricity; this can be generated from clean energy; less carbon, planet safe for humans….

      We are not dependent on Europe and Russia. If you have a problem with these two entities, best lobby to stop trade all together as we export to both…

      The shale gas investors are all registered offshore, so no tax revenue would come into the pot even if it got going, which it won’t.

      All of the those things you have listed came out of Cuadrilla’s PR leaflet 10 years ago…no gas produced so far, just big fat cheques for the directors and losses for the investors….

      • Hi Sherwulfe, Gas provides the heating source for 80% of UK homes, gas provides 40% of the energy to produce electricity and is also used to back up wind turbines and solar when the wind fails to blow and the sun is not shining. In 2017 renewables provided only 16.9% of our energy needs for heating and electricity generation. Work out how many wind turbines would be needed, 100s of thousands, the rewiring of most of the UK homes, a massive expansion of the grid and don’t forget the tripling in the cost of energy electricity v gas. Renewables will never be able to provide the total energy needs of the UK, they are variable and intermittent and will always need back up.

      • Nope. You confuse UK with Norway. But then you are confused on taxation as well.

        All that insomnia just to post factually incorrect guff.

        But well done, for continuing in not making a compelling case, against. Perhaps there isn’t one.

    • Vincent, all your statements have been shown to be simply government and industry propaganda!
      Which blackboard did you copy them off?
      Have you not heard of green renewable energy? It’s coming our way right now! On the Fylde, where Cuadrilla are attempting to frack again, we have legions of offshore wind turbines operating right now plus at least 5 solar energy farms!
      Fossil fuel expansion is fortunately not required nor socially acceptable!

      • And, off shore gas, Peter. Oh, and nuclear not far away.

        Seems your blackboard has a chunk missing.

        Just shows how the UK requires a diverse and local energy supply.

  7. Ah, now this is working, in triplicate. I agree that posting nuclear waste down fracked boreholes won’t work. You need it to be water-tight, fluid tight and radioactivity tight, and we all know that that is prob not the case down a fracked well. But I understand that the industry is feeding drilling data back to the BGS and govt with nuclear waste deposit in mind, not in fracked wells but in similar geology. And I understand that Sheffield Uni has been developing/researching capsules and transmission methods for nuclear waste. But I have not been able to learn detail.

    • Perhaps this is what you are referring to Kathryn:

      https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/nuclear-borehole-sheffield-university-1.456716

      https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/protests-spur-rethink-deep-borehole-test-nuclear-waste

      It would appear from the second link that the test borehole never happened and the program was cancelled. The plan was to drill into Precambrian basement rock to around 16,000ft with a 50cm borehole and insatll the nuclear waste in the borehole in sealed canisters. A scematic is shown below.

      No oil and gas company is likely to drill into precambrian basement looking for hydrocarbons unless the basement rock is heavily fractured and has been uplifted with source rock at the side of the uplift (offshore Vietnam). However by definition the fnatural fractures are not what the nuclear disposal team want to be present.

      Anyway it is very clear from reading this and associated articles that oil and gas wells are not suitable for nuclear waste disposal.

      • Agreed Paul. Neither Kathryn or Chris600uk seem to have much of an understanding of the subsurface geology of the UK.

    • Kathryn – all oil and gas subsurface data and 50% of any cores cut plus sample sets of wet and dry cuttings and geochemical samples go to the BGS. This is correctly a stautory requirement for input into the national database. No conspiracy, just free data.

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