Opposition

Shale supporters challenged over fracking facts

The accuracy of facts supporting calls to lift England’s fracking moratorium have been contested.

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 31 October 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

A shale gas company and a small group of Conservative politicians have said fracking could deliver long-term benefits for Britain.

But the statements have been challenged by campaigners, residents, researchers and journalists.

Fracking company’s claims rebutted

The latest comments in favour of shale gas by the fracking company, Cuadrilla, were refuted this week.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph (19 February 2022), its chief executive, Francis Egan, said just 10% gas recovery from the Bowland shale could supply 50 years of UK gas demand.

He also said a 10-acre shale gas site of 40 wells would require a wind farm of 1,500 times that size.

This was then tweeted by Steve Baker, Wycombe MP and member of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), a Conservative faction opposing government green policies.

But in a factcheck, Dr Simon Evans, deputy editor of Carbon Brief, said Mr Egan had made “some heroic assumptions”.

“He doesn’t mention 20,000 wells over 30 years needed if he’s right, evidence that there’s ten times less gas than he claims (or climate change).”

Cuadrilla had estimated that a single horizontal Bowland Shale well would produce 6.5bcf of gas over 30 years.

The estimate of total gas in the Bowland shale, from a 2013 study by the British Geological Survey, is 1,329,000bcf [billion cubic feet] of gas.

Dr Evans said:

“the 1,329,000bcf at 10% recovery rate, would need 20,446 wells producing 6.5bcf over 30 years. 20,446 wells. (Cuadrilla currently has 2.)”

Dr Evans also said Francis Egan had ignored a more recent study, from 2019, which showed there could be 10 times less gas in the formation – a maximum of 140,000bcf.

That study also suggested 10% recovery was unlikely because of the depth of deposits.

Dr Evans said Francis Egan’s biggest omission was:

“By 2050, if we’re on track for net-zero, UK gas demand will be down 76%.”

MP urged to “act according to evidence”

In Thanet, Kent, people have urged local MP Craig Mackinlay to “act according to the evidence”, after he called for the fracking moratorium to be reversed.

Mr Mackinlay, who chairs NZSG, was among signatories of a letter to the prime minister arguing that shale gas extraction would tackle rising fuel bills. The letter, from around 30 Conservative politicians, claimed that shale gas would be “affordable” and “cheap”.

In response, more than 200 people have signed an open letter accusing Mr Mackinlay and NZSG of “attacking all means to decarbonise”. The signatories said:

“We consider you are out of step with the general population and the people in your constituency of South Thanet.

“The majority of the population and MPs believe, on the basis of rational scientific evidence, in the goal of Net-Zero. By your continued promulgation of spurious information, in the hope of short-term political gain you and your group are missing the enormous potential for green economic renewal.

“We urge you act according to the evidence.”

The letter to Boris Johnson was also criticised this week by Barbara Richardson, of Frack Free Lancashire, writing in The Guardian:

“It’s telling that nobody who is publicly backing the letter is from an area directly threatened by fracking.

“Most are from the south, not the “industrial” north, as it is perceived to be. These MPs and their allies are at best misinformed and at worst delusional.”

She said:

“Hundreds of sites and thousands of wells would be needed to have any significant effect on the UK gas market; so that’s hundreds of communities, mainly across the north, that would be affected. Then there’s the impact of fossil fuel projects on climate change, affecting not just the UK but the whole world in terms of carbon emissions.”

Steve Baker Watch

In Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, residents are raising money to challenge the views of their MP, Steve Baker.

At the time of writing, crowdfunding for Steve Baker Watch, had exceeded its target, raising more than £11,515 from nearly 500 supporters.

The fundraising page said:

“Steve’s Net Zero Watch campaign will make people’s lives in Wycombe miserable. He wants to stop us getting cheaper clean energy, insulating our homes and creating a better future for our children. We’ve had enough!”

The fundraisers said they planned to “educate local people about MP’s views on climate action with leaflet drops, vigils and a website”.

Steve Baker told the Guardian he was “thankful for everything they are doing to highlight that the voters of Wycombe will be poorer and colder unless we change course as I am setting out”.

But Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, tweeted:

“It’s very odd that opponents of net zero, who are worried about costs, attack cheap renewables, but advocate fracking (which won’t cut bills because of small amount of recoverable gas) & nuclear (there’s a role for this but clearly it’s not cheap).”

In an earlier article for Conservative Home, he said:

“Despite the Government removing multiple regulatory barriers to fracking in the 2010s and expending huge political capital in the process, shale gas companies were unable to frack without exceeding legal limits on earthquakes and alienating local communities.

“It was the regulator’s report on seismicity which led to the government’s decision to impose a moratorium, not any climate policies. I’m sure the fact that only 19 per cent of the public support fracking made the decision easier still.”

21 replies »

  1. Interesting research, and what’s even more interesting is the funding budget and origin of this money the carbon brief receives. It easy to read many of the articles of research and view that between now and 2050 carbon brief states we will be consuming a 76% lesser demand in gas than now. I find that staggering, what are we going to transition too? Renewables only take us a 1/3rd of the way there…. Evidence please.
    Less Academic science and more engineering!

  2. Careful, E-G, engineering and science should be excluded if inconvenient!

    Such as the article in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” where it looks as if corn-based ethanol is 24% more carbon intensive than gasoline production. However, there are loads of vested interests that will support corn-based ethanol, plenty of consumers who are conned into believing they are doing the right thing, then pay through the nose for it in several ways without knowledge of doing so, and end up doing more harm than good. Often the way towards this brave new world.

    Sorry, 1720, KatT seems to disallow your minority political belief. But, that would also include the Greens, so it just means that the majority political belief should prevail. Hmm. That will thin out the comment section.

  3. Oh, I forgot, E-G:

    “I’m swapping my useless heat pump for a wood burner”-Telegraph. Guess what? The heat pump doesn’t work so well when it gets cold!

    Such is progress?

    • Martin, your heat pump must have been installed incorrectly. If correctly installed and operated correctly they are brilliant. I have had a heat pump for nine years now and it has been superb. Reliable, economical, plenty of hot water and it kept me nice and toasty even in the Beast from the East. I have an underfloor, water based system. I can, from experience, recommend heat pumps very highly. I have never had to use any form of supplementary heating.

      • Not my heat pump, KatT. I am yet to contribute to the Telegraph. I am only the messenger.

        Yes, I am sure there are some happy with their heat pumps. There are certainly some who are not. Including an ex colleague who bought a large rural property, installed an undersoil heat pump system and then had his grounds expensively landscaped to cover the area. Then, all his shrubs died! Maybe a bit of miscalculation there from the suppliers regarding amount of heat required to be drawn and the length/depth of the piping?

        There are those who are “happy” with burning dried Yak dung in their Yurts. But, the guy reporting in the Telegraph, in his Eco house, preferred to go to a wood burner.

        I have a heat pump myself and am happy with it for supplementary heat. I can reverse in the summer and get cooling. However, to modify my property to full blown heat pump, with or without a wood burner, would cost £ tens of thousands. I think I may just wait until my gas boiler changes to hydrogen mix. (Interestingly, both heating engineers that service my systems are completely against ground sourced systems.)

        (The 60 bed care home near me who received a quotation for £1.5m to convert to air sourced heat pumps was not convinced, either.)

  4. The government has no plans, currently, to end the moratorium. There is no evidence the industry could give that would possibly make a difference to the premise of the moratorium. The government would have to do a great deal of fancy footwork and a sleight of gand so massive we would see it in order to begin fracking again. Importing of fracked gas, that’s a different matter.

    • Deborah, the UK imported a record 2.4 million tonnes of LNG during January 2022, 64% of which was fracked gas from the USA.

      Given that two geothermal projects in Cornwall have produced seismic activity similar to that at PNR without any complaints or problems, perhaps it’s now time for the government to revisit shale exploration with the view to produce our own, tax it and use the revenue for increasing home insulation and reducing fuel poverty.

      • It is just not that simple John. There are lots of question marks surrounding U.K. shale, not just seismicity. Issues about complex geology, the size of the reserve, surface infrastructure that will limit development, the fact it is likely unviable according to some experts. And not only that it would take 10 years or more to establish an industry.

        The U.K. does not have a security of supply problem as things stand but is subject to global gas prices. Fracking would not lower gas prices. This is a fact long accepted by government and experts. The gas extracted in the U.K. is owned by private companies and sold at market prices.

        If people have had their homes shaken to the same level as those in Lancashire, I would be surprised if there had not been widespread complaints. Many people that had had no opposition to fracking became very concerned after their homes shook and became opponents.

        I do not think for one moment the government, after spending many millions and changing laws to facilitate fracking simply turned its back on the industry because of public opinion. The government must know fracking is not a viable solution for the U.K.

        If geothermal repeats the same experiences in Lancashire I am sure it will face opposition.

        • KatT, if shale gas exploration is allowed to be conducted under the same seismic regulations and allowances as the geothermal projects, the questions around geological suitability, recovery rates and viability would soon be answered.

          If the answers were to be negative, then the issues of timescale and surface infrastructure which would be no different in scale to an onshore wind farm or solar park would also be resolved.

          The UK can only produce around 45-48% of our needs and needs to import the majority of gas to fill the gap. We do export some gas, but when you view the full picture of production, imports and exports, the amount is relatively small.

          Gas is normally traded through local hubs. The main ones in Europe are NBP (UK) TTF (Netherlands) ZEE/ZTP (Belgium) PSV (Italy) NCG and GPL (both Germany). In the USA the main gas trading hub is the Henry Hub.

          During this energy crisis, the interesting thing with the hubs has been the difference in prices. Gas from fracking and traded on the Henry hub were a tenth of those on the NBP and TTF at the start of the crisis, they are still approximately a sixth cheaper at the moment. So fracking and increasing local supply has no effect on prices?

          Also oil and gas in the UK belongs to the crown, the government issues licenses to companies to extract them, there’s no reason why they couldn’t offer companies extraction contracts for shale gas similar to the CfD scheme for electricity generation.

        • KatT, if shale gas exploration is allowed to be conducted under the same seismic regulations and allowances as the geothermal projects, the questions around geological suitability, recovery rates and viability would soon be answered.

          If the answers were to be negative, then the issues of timescale and surface infrastructure which would be no different in scale to an onshore wind farm or solar park would also be resolved.

          The UK can only produce around 45-48% of our needs and needs to import the majority of gas to fill the gap. We do export some gas, but when you view the full picture of production, imports and exports, the amount is relatively small.

          Gas is normally traded through local hubs. The main ones in Europe are NBP (UK) TTF (Netherlands) ZEE/ZTP (Belgium) PSV (Italy) NCG and GPL (both Germany). In the USA the main gas trading hub is the Henry Hub.

          During this energy crisis, the interesting thing with the hubs has been the difference in prices. Gas from fracking and traded on the Henry hub were a tenth of those on the NBP and TTF at the start of the crisis, they are still approximately a sixth cheaper at the moment. Fracking and increasing local supply has no effect on prices?

          Also oil and gas in the UK belongs to the crown, the government issues licenses to companies to extract them, there’s no reason why they couldn’t offer companies extraction contracts for shale gas similar to the CfD scheme for electricity generation.

        • Perhaps some UK gas fields only have pipelines into the Netherlands? Perhaps Ireland gets all it’s natural gas from the UK by pipeline? Perhaps the UK has replaced European Russian gas to some extent (from Norway via UK) due to the Ukraine situation.

          • Or perhaps after balancing production and imports with demand, we are sometimes lucky enough to have a little bit spare that we are able to sell on to our neighbours.

            Without supplying those production, import and demand figures at the same time, the export figures have little context.

  5. This s a very good article. This government has not changed the buildng regulatons for new builds even – it would be so easy for new houses to be built to a high environmenal standard, but unfortunately government or this one anyway, is in the pockets of the house builders who obviously want profit before environmental protection. So much missed opportunity. Srangely in media reports we are constantly told that our gas comes from Russia whereas almost all of it comes from Norway. This is part of the trouble, people generally are too busy to do research and only catch the repeated information, which is often misinformation, coming from media outlets. With politicians deliberately muddying the waters like MaKinlay and Baker like this we are being propelled to a very dark place indeed.

    • Well said CJR, the facts are important to stop the propaganda being put out there by those desperate to undermine Net Zero and deny climate science.

    • Oh, I believe many are in a dark place already, CJR. Unable to afford to keep the lights on.

      I am not sure what media you follow, but all I have seen refers to around 3% of UK gas coming from Russia. However, I would suggest a little caution regarding security of supply of anything from Norway. I recall an evening in Norway talking with a customer who had done his service in northern Norway to be ready to defend that quarter in the case of aggression. The plan to enable security to be achieved did not look too hopeful to me, or to himself or his colleagues who served with him. They referred to it as a suicide posting.

      My son is in the building trade in the UK. Strangely, their part of the building industry finds that the customer sets the demand. If they supply what the customer requires, they sell their new build quickly. If they don’t they have difficulty shifting them. But, they do embrace the brave new world and recently tested a battery powered digger, that worked okay after they had brought in the diesel powered generator to charge it up!

  6. Exactly, John. And one thing I have yet to see raised as a concern with regard to Cornwall geothermal or lithium is the aspect of radioactivity. Much of the rock in Cornwall has relatively high levels. Who knows whether there may be some selenium as well!

    Maybe in Cornwall they are just more used to herrings-including the red ones.

    • Martin, it’s the higher level of radioactive decay within the granite formation that produces the heat, which the geothermal projects in Cornwall seek to exploit. There’s also the issue of cleaning up of the wells, which due to the geology involved requires hydrofluoric acid to be used. This was a big issue with those against oil production at Wressle if I remember correctly.

  7. Indeed John, but with the lagoon vested interests wanting to blast out huge quantities of Cornish granite to construct tidal lagoons then maybe there will not be a lot left. Even though those on the Lizard have said no, but one word is apparently not that important. Ice-cream over vested interest, say I.

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