What was your view of fracking before you went?
My view of fracking before I went was that it was inappropriate on grounds of climate change. We should not be starting to develop a new fossil fuel and that it is a serious distraction from renewables that have to be our future. Britain, as a very innovative country but also as a primary polluter, has a moral responsibility to set an example and not just work out how to keep the lights on. That was my general view.
My particular view was that the more we heard what Third Energy wanted to do just over half an mile from our house the less and less that it seemed to be a good thing for Ryedale, irrespective of climate change because beauty, tourism, agriculture and food are the long-term prosperity of this area.
What was your overall impressing of fracking in Pennsylvania, having had conversations with people from the fracking areas?
I had not got my head around the scale, including infrastructure. We have been saying it all begins with one well. And we have some of the scariest pictures from certain places in the world. But the Dettwilers gave me a Powerpoint presentation that they had prepared for a visiting group from Denmark, which shows Pennsylvania with the first three wells in 2006 and by the time it stops there are well in excess of 8.000 and someone has told me it is 10,000. When you see it built up like that and you see it concentrated in certain counties of the state, a couple of which have a thousand wells.
There was a close up of Beaver County proximity to a town and a school. And then stepping back until you saw all 1,000 wells in Beaver County. I have done some follow-up on that. The problems have been in the minority of those wells. But the minority of those wells have produced over 760 violations, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The more you get, the more scale there is for all sorts of pollution and damage to take place.
Because the proposed well here is at a former conventional gas well and has a pipeline, originally we were told that both the gas and the waste would go out through the pipeline.
We now know that the waste cannot and must be trucked through the village. We now know that there won’t be 260 odd truck movements, there will be 910 odd truck movements for the one well.
Then I look at how many wells they need to be commercially viable and many of these are where there is not already a pipeline and therefore we will have to be talking about pipelines and compressor units that make noise all day. I have seen some video of some of those. I have seen a map of the infrastructure required for a seven square mile bit of Washington County. This is a huge industrial process.
I could not speak to the people that Mr Hollinrake spoke to. But Michael, who came to see me was one of a group that he spoke to, and I have seen the public comments of the Mars Parents, a group of concerned parents who were objecting to the proximity of a well to their school. They didn’t all begin as opponents to fracking. They just began as concerned parents. They met Mr Hollinrake and he said that was very helpful. They have since expressed their deep regret that that he says that he has been in any sense reassured because they say he should at the very least be sceptical about the claims as a result of the evidence that they shared with him. So they don’t feel he actually heard them.
I’m interested in how your experience and conclusions vary from Mr Hollinrake’s experience?
I am a clergyman so almost inevitably I approach this from what does this do to people and what does this do to communities. I came away quite clear that it has huge potential for harm, that its scale changes rural communities, I think I would have to say, permanently, given the concrete is not going to disappear when these well sites run dry. That it has clear potential to damage health and to damage animals. I was chilled by the expression ‘the harmed’. It is clearly accurate and there is a whole record of the harmed kept by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water.
I have learned a completely new expression: ‘water bank’, as in food bank. In an area called Woodlands the water became such that it was undrinkable, people came out in rashes if they put their hands in it. Initially the relevant drilling company, while denying in any way that it was their responsibility, as an act of ‘neighbourliness’, provided bottled water. The Environmental people inspected the water and for some reason said it was alright. Though clearly it was not. So there are 32 households dependent on their water source that they cannot use. So a Presbyterian church a few miles away, which includes people in its congregation who work on fracking, were providing free bottled water for families that would not get it otherwise. And they are running out of money.
And this is happening now?
This is happening now yes
Because the accepted view is that there were problems in the past but those have all been solved, regulation has been strengthened, more regulators have been appointed.
I am clear that regulation is better. One of the things that the environmental authorities admitted to Mr Hollinrake was that they were simply not on top of this at all in the beginning, neither the geology nor the scale. They did not have the knowledge or the people to do their job.
It is also clear from an investigation by a group of journalists that a very large number of those environmental complaints were not dealt with properly and that there was a large amount of political pressure, as well as lack of resources at the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection].
I am clear that they have learned some things but that is starting from almost a minimal base. And it is clear that violations continue to happen. I doubt if very often these days you will get water that you can set fire to because methane has leaked into it.
But yes, there are still people whose water is funny. There is medical material that I have just been sent about increases in hospitalization over a five year period when normally these environmental changes take much longer to impact: how many people go to hospital and for what diseases.
I have come back not the slightest bit assured that this is safe and some of the things that I saw about proximity to wells make the fact that I live what is just over half a mile from what is supposed to be the first one particularly concerning.
From what you saw, how does Ryedale compare with Pennsylvania?
The rural landscapes have some similarities in that Pennsylvania is very beautiful. The giant difference is size. Pennsylvania is heavily wooded in many places and it is hilly and in some places mountainous. So tree and hill cover means that fracking pads are far less easily visible in the day light than they are here. But with 24-hour operations with lighting and flaring obviously they are going to be as visible in the night time in Pennsylvania as they are here.
The population density is greater in Ryedale and the communities are closer together. You don’t have to go very far before you come to another village. In fact, I am fairly certain that if Mr Hollinrake’s suggestion that nothing should be done within a mile of homes was applied, there would be no fracking in Ryedale and there would be no possibility of it being at the industrial scale needed for it to be profitable.
Bradford County is twice the size of Ryedale and has 63,000 people. Bradford County has over 1,000 wells. And that’s the one with over 700 violations. Ryedale, half the size, has 52,000 people. So a greater density.
Mr Dewar, of Third Energy told the select committee on environment, farming and rural affairs, when pushed, he would like a total of 19 sites, with between 10 and 50 wells per site, depending on the size. So you put that potential number of wells, which is the object of the exercise, into a community this size with this level of population that is not wooded, and is not largely hilly – we’re between the Wolds and the Moors – and the impact is huge.
Yes Pennsylvania is beautiful but the contrasts are more important than the parallels.
From what you have seen in Pennsylvania and what you know about regulation in the UK, how confident are you that fracking could be safely regulated in the UK?
I am not for several reasons. There is no unified monitoring scheme. So when the Environment Agency came to the village and we raised with them the range of our concerns the moment we said traffic and they said that’s the County Council. So you have a fragmented system of monitoring and supervision.
The moment this develops on the scale that it is needed, with all the cuts that have been, there are not the personnel to regulate it properly. Mr Hollinrake talks about engineers being all over inspecting, well who is paying for them, how many, who do they work for?
The current schemes are much too dependent on the actual gas company’s own documentation and self-regulation.
Because of the confusion between conventional gas and hydraulic fracturing and non-conventional gas we probably don’t have the proper water baseline data for KM8 and I see nothing in the application that says a year will be taken to get that, as is the normal case.
I am not convinced that there is the expertise in regulation about the consequences of hydraulic fracturing and the whole surrounding process. I know the companies, when they talk about it, they just mean when they do the actual fracking. I mean the whole infrastructure surrounding the process. I am not convinced that we have the expertise. I don’t think the people in Pennsylvania were stupid. I think they were skilled people suddenly confronting a new entity and we will find ourselves in exactly the same situation, having hopefully learned a little from their learning.
What is your greatest fear if this first well in Ryedale goes ahead?
I do not see how any of the others can easily be stopped. The basic principle will have been given. The objections we have made on grounds of traffic, environment, health and all the other things, will have been turned aside in one case and the precedent will have been set to turn them aside for another.
The real fear I have is of a large-scale hundreds of wells industry that does huge harm to the environment both here long term in terms of climate change and global warming (not just overseas immediately) and which changes the nature of this community and robs it of its long-term economic prosperity.
The government’s view is that shale gas extraction is a benefit for fighting climate change because it will help to displace coal in power generation and we will need gas for heating. What is wrong with this?
There are a number of reasons why I think this is wrong. It do accept the received wisdom that 75% of known fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we are going to limit ourselves to the 2 degrees increase in temperature. So it seems to me that there has to be a clear positive case given for starting to develop a new fossil fuel.
According to the January report of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (which recommended a moratorium by a majority) it [shale gas] will not replace coal because there is no possibility of it being up to full industrial production by the dates in international agreements for phasing out coal. And secondly by the time it is into that level of production our targets regarding carbon emissions under European law have tightened. So as far as I can see they said it can’t be produced in time to replace coal and by the time it is we will have international agreements that won’t allow us to burn it all.
I keep quoting that at people and it seems to me to be a game-changer.
This issue is methane related. With methane 22 times more harmful in terms of greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide and with considerable evidence that methane leakage being potentially around all this process I think there is a scientific case that the impact in terms of greenhouse gases is considerably more than is being quoted. Therefore this is not a nice safe transitional process.
One of the other arguments the government uses is that a domestic supply of gas is better than importing it by pipeline from Norway or as LNG from Qatar.
If that were a stand-alone argument it might have some strength. But you have to ask at what cost. It seems to me that right at the heart of all of this is a significant evasion of the reality of climate change, for which I am clear the science is not in doubt. It is inconvenient. It does not fit four or five year rolling politics. And politicians do not like to be elected to make unpopular decisions. We are actually playing short-term roulette with our children’s futures on this, as far as I am concerned.
If we are talking about security, it is clear that climate change is an intensifier to other conflicts and a major source of migration. Anything that we do here that is actually less than we could do to challenge climate change will have a direct result in terms of refugees, migration of peoples and the scale of impact of the change in climate.
Fundamentally at the heart of this is a government that does not take as seriously as it should climate change and is addressing keeping the lights on rather than the fact that we probably need to turn some lights off.
Kirby Misperton is now in the front line of fracking. What is the mood in the village?
The mood in the village is varied. I have not yet met anyone in the village who likes the thought of fracking at KM8. I am told there might be one but I have never actually met them. Quite a group of us are actively opposed and concerned and there are only one or two of us who stick our head above the parapet and talk to the papers. There is a strong body of concerned people.
When Third Energy actually drilled in 2013 people in parts of the village that is nearest to the site were kept awake all night. It was summer, it was hot, they dared not open their windows. They got noise pollution, they got light pollution. When they complained Third Energy sent them an electric fan.
But Third Energy says it wants to be a good neighbour
Third Energy, from my point of view, has at best been economical with the truth. It has promised us figures and applied for something like four times the amount. It has sent us a leaflet which says “we wanted you to be the first to know” two hours before the parish council had an open meeting for residents to express their concern, and then we discovered that the leaflet had been given out to local schools three weeks earlier. So we don’t feel one little bit well-dealt with. We have no reason to trust what Third Energy have said to us.
There are other people in the village who are fatalistic, who feel there is nothing we can do about this and we just have to put up with it.
There are one or two who still haven’t made the connection that this is very different from conventional gas.
How well informed do you think people are in the village?
Increasingly so. Fifty gathered from this village and nearby to talk to Mr Hollinrake and share a whole string of concerns, which, to be fair, he then (except for the health ones) reiterated in his Westminster Hall debate a few days later.
Those who are prepared to find out are quite well-informed. I will be putting my personal letter through every door, telling the main things that I found in Pennsylvania and urging people to put in an objection to the planning application by the deadline.
Background to Reverend Cray and his visit to Pennsylvania
The Right Reverend Graham Cray was the Bishop of Maidstone for eight years and the Archbishops’ Missioner for five years, heading the Fresh Expressions initiative, which took him to Pennsylvania.
He retired 18 months ago. With his wife, he has had a house in Kirby Misperton for 18 years, never renting it out. They have lived in the village permanently since retirement.
The trip to Pennsylvania, planned in Sept 14, was to give annual sponsored lectures in September 2015. The visit took place from the 19th – 26th September 2015.
Among the nine people he met were:
- Mark Dixon, environmental filmmaker
- John Detwiler, PhD engineer from the Marcellus protest, involved in the Pittsburg ban on fracking that’s been in place since 2010.
- Claudia Detwiler, masters in public health from the Marcellus protest, involved in the Pittsburg ban on fracking that’s been in place since 2010.
- Dana Leigh Dolney, of Friends of the Harmed, who publishes Shalefield Stories and has just put out a second volume.
- Michael Bagnes-Canning, of Marcellus Outreach Butler County.
- Captain Nancy O’Leary, lay minister of the Church Army, who works with the Marcellus Shale Awareness Committee and works particularly in Beaver County.
- Ron Dulla, who leased his land for the second ever well in Pennsylvania. He was a part-time farmer, part-time working in oil drilling equipment so he understands both sides of this, who told me that he had dug a three-acre pond for fish on his farm. His water turned black, some of his fish died, some of his neighbour’s goats died. He has been involved in battling fracking ever since.