Residents visit Cameron to make a stand against fracking

Residents from regions under threat from ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing) will today deliver a letter to David Cameron calling for a ban on shale gas and coal bed methane exploitation in the UK. In an effort to step up the focus of attention on this harmful technique and its effect on people, landscape and ecosystems in Britain, residents of Sussex, Falkirk, Belfast, the Fylde, the Ribble Estuary and the Vale of Glamorgan have come together as a UK-wide deputation to ask for action, not words, on this crucial subject.

The credentials of the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ are already in tatters and to allow fracking in the UK would be the final nail in the coffin for Cameron’s green agenda.

Fracking is a technique used for extracting natural gas from shale rock or coal seams. Shale gas is released by causing underground detonations and injecting millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals into the earth at high pressure to create fissures. Test fracks in Lancashire in April and May 2011 caused earthquakes of magnitude 2.3 and 1.4, one of which caused structural damage to a house 10 miles away. Unconventional methane extraction poses many actual and potential environmental concerns, including impact on climate change, groundwater pollution, air pollution, water depletion and earth tremors.

The current narrative about energy has heavily featured a new ‘dash for gas’ in the UK as a major strand in energy policy. This week the government launched their long awaited Energy Bill and today’s action shines light on a problem that is not featured in the thinking around energy policy: that there will be massive local opposition to the destructive practice of fracking. This local opposition will make the dash for gas even more of a pipe dream.

Today’s action takes place amid a weekend of anti-fracking and climate change protest which is occurring across the country, while a recent YouGov poll showed overwhelming
support for renewable energy development in the UK.

Vanessa Vine from BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free) said “Fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane is an uneconomical and ecocidal attempt to address Britain’s critical energy needs. It might “keep the lights on” for another fifteen to twenty years – but we would then find ourselves in a worse energy predicament than we are now. Landscapes would be despoiled, water courses irreparably contaminated and we would have poured countless tons of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere. When will our Prime Minister stand by his claim of leading the “greenest government ever”, order an immediate ban on
this unintelligent and short-sighted dash for gas and invest instead in safe and truly renewable energy generation?”

Fracking technology has enabled the USA to overtake Russia as the world’s largest natural gas producer and has covered large areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, West Virginia and other states with thousands of concrete aprons the size of football pitches. Chemicals used in fracking have been linked to diseases in humans and livestock, soil toxicity, algal blooms and ‘dead river’ syndrome in the USA and Australia.

According to the anti-fracking website Frack Off, recent claims of declining US carbon emissions being due to shale gas exploitation are in fact due to a drop in US economic output. Once fugitive emissions of methane and heavy tanker traffic are taken into account, fracking for shale gas has a higher carbon footprint than coal.

Letter to David Cameron: David Cameron Re Fracking Ban 1.12.12

Press Contacts:
Vanessa Vine – BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free) / Frack Free Sussex 01342 810238 07597 970360
Gayzer Tarjanyi Frack Free Fylde 07761 544179
For technical information and news on fracking in the UK and around the world see and Facebook Page: BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free)

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Sixteen thousand gallons of Hydrochloric Acid scheduled for Balcombe

Cuadrilla plan to inject the equivalent of nearly 80,000 bottles of Bonnymans Patio Cleaner underneath Balcombe village

A recent presentation by the owner of UK fracker Cuadrilla reveals the company plans to inject tens of thousands of gallons of Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) into its frack sites in the UK.

The presentation – by AJ Lucas, 42% owner of Cuadrilla – reveal that Balcombe can expect sixteen thousand gallons of HCl to be pumped 800m under the village. Hydrochloric acid is typically used neat – its main function is to clean the tiny spaces between subsurface rocks at the start of the fracking process.

The presentation shows that of the fluids Cuadrilla intend to inject underground, 0.125% will be HCl (see p 21 of the presentation). A typical well uses 12.8 million gallons of fluids (based on 1.6 million gallons per frack and 8 fracks per site). For Balcombe this would mean a total of 16,000 gallons of pure hydrochloric acid forced into the ground.

The company likes to maintain that the fracking fluids it uses are found in everyday products.

What this obscures is the sheer quantity of chemicals used, usually without dilution.

Hydrochloric acid is indeed used in some household cleaning products. Yet a small city would be required to consume the same amount used by one frack site. The amount of HCl planned for release under Balcombe, for example, would top 80,000 bottles of Bonnyman’s Patio Cleaner  (based on 5 litres per bottle, composed of 28% HCl, total 16,000 gallons).

Similarly the company plans to use a second chemical: polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is found in – amongst other things – shampoo. Yet even if polyacrylamide were the only constituent in shampoo, this would also equate to 80,000  bottles of shampoo under the village (8000 gallons of polyacrylamide, ten bottles of shampoo per gallon).

While this cornucopia of subsurface consumer goods provides an almost comical example of the process of hydraulic fracturing, the reality is more stark. The water usage planned for Balcombe equates to more than 12m gallons – or more than 24 Olympic swimming pools.  At  a time of water shortage both the pollution of underground sources and the asset stripping of surface water is highly irresponsible.

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New study shows fractures within 720 feet of Balcombe village

A new report from Durham University shows fractures from fracking operations could extend to within 720 feet of the surface at Balcombe. The report concludes maximum fracture lengths at US frack sites is 588m, or 1928 feet.

Cuadrilla plans to drill at 2667 feet in Balcombe – a maximum fracture, therefore, would bring frack fluid to within two football pitches of the surface – and right through the water supply.

In November Cuadrilla admitted that faults such as the one that caused earthquakes in Lancashire may extend 2000 ft upwards (see p50 of linked pdf). Were the company to hit a similar structure in Balcombe this would bring fluids and gas even closer to the surface than man-made fractures. The fault that caused the earthquakes in Lancashire remains unidentified, despite two studies.

The report provides yet more evidence that fractures can extend close to the surface. In a ‘shallow frack’ such as Balcombe, the risks of fluid and gas migration are high. In their submission to parliament last year, Cuadrilla claimed fracking takes place at 5000 feet below the surface (see 6.3.11). No mention was made of Balcombe, which is scheduled to be be fracked at nearly half that depth.

Durham’s study undermines those who claim that Balcombe’s unique geology makes it exempt from comparisons with other frack sites. In fact every frack site is unique: this new study is important because it shows fracture lengths averaged across many different types of terrain.

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Cuadrilla’s secret meeting with Balcombe Parish Council

Fracking company Cuadrilla has held a secret meeting with members of Balcombe Parish Council (BPC).

The meeting undermines the company’s claim that ‘no firms plans have been made for Balcombe’ and was facilitated by Nick Sutcliffe, Guildford District Councillor and lobbyist for PPS Group, who represent Cuadrilla. Members of BPC and its working group on hydraulic fracturing have also been in close correspondence with the company.

Writers from this website have sent Freedom of Information requests to BPC obliging it to reveal the content of this secret meeting and correspondences. As of April 16th BPC has 19 further days to respond – documents released will be published here.

BPC and its working group are under increasing scrutiny after research showed three members have vested interests in the fracking industry:

Alison Stevenson
BPC co-chairman & working group member
Stevenson until recently worked as ‘Principal Engineer’ at Capita Symonds a large engineering firm. Capita Symonds are enthusiastic supporters of the fracking industry, recently sponsoring a shale gas conference in Durham. Speakers included a Cuadrilla geologist and several other industry luminaries. It is unknown what Stevenson’s role as Principal Engineer entailed; she has not to our knowledge declared this interest to BPC.

Norman Sayer
Working group member
Sayer works for the fracking industry in Oman. He works at a Omani ‘tight gas’ field owned by BP which has been fracking there since 2008. Sayer divides his time between the Middle East and the United Kingdom and has worked in the oil and gas industry for 30 years.

Mostyn Field
Working group member
Field’s employer also provides services to the fracking industry. His Linkedin profile describes him as working for WesternGeco, which provides seismic surveying to the oil and gas sector, including fracking. WesternGeco is part of Schlumberger, which is heavily involved in fracking in the US. In his comments on this website, Field described himself as ‘having a degree in Geology’.

Rodney Saunders
BPC co-chairman & working group member
At a stormy public meeting in January, Saunders apologised for waving Cuadrilla’s planning application through with no scrutiny. Since then Saunders has overseen the secret meeting with the company, and appointed three people to the working group who have conflict of interest, in direct contradiction to his own stated requirements that working group members have “no vested interest in the proposed exploration”. Questions, therefore, must be raised as to Saunders’ competence to investigate hydraulic fracturing.

The population of Balcombe, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly skeptical as to the contents of the BPC report on hydraulic fracturing, due out next month.

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New Zealand city joins Frack Free movement

Christchurch, New Zealand recently joined a growing list of municipalities declaring their regions ‘frack free’.

The city council unanimously voted that Christchurch would be a fracking-free zone.

The city joins a growing list of councils worldwide that have banned fracking in the teeth of government opposition. 61 municipalities in the US have banned fracking, as have five counties in Ireland (including bans in Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon and Clare) and one in Northern Ireland (Fermanagh). France has declared a moratorium, along with Quebec, Bulgaria, the German state of Westphalia.

East Sussex recently expressed its concerns over the practice, and called for Councillors to be fully aware of the risks before any planning permissions were granted in the county.

Christchurch Council member Paul McMahon said: “Stick up for your local people, because central government isn’t listening,” The council needed to take a stance against fracking, he said, because the Government had declined to intervene.

Fracking has been in the news recently in New Zealand after a sponsor of Womad – the international Music Festival – spilled fracking chemicals at its site near Taranaki.

Fracking – hydraulic fracturing – involves injecting chemicals into rocks to fracture them in an attempt to release oil and natural gas.

Chistchurch councillor Barry Corbett expressed concerned over possible water contamination, as well as the possibility that fracking was related to seismic activity. “I think it’s very silly for us for one, to possibly affect our water with chemicals, and two, to possibly cause seismic issues,” he said.

Councillors also voted 13 to one to call on other councils to declare their areas fracking-free.

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BBC Newsnight: fracking regulators inadequate

By Will Cottrell

BBC Newsnight last night revealed that UK fracking regulators failed to visit sites they were supposed to be regulating.

The Health and Safety Executive – in charge of the integrity of fracked wells – neglected to perform independent analysis of US frackers Cuadrilla, who have designs on Lancashire, Sussex, Kent and Surrey.  Instead they relied on the company’s own reports. (see 8.04 of video below).

This lack of oversight is in line with government policy. In July the government said “It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure the integrity of the well, not the regulator.” (See point 15).

According to the same document, the HSE “proactively regulates activities” of the drillers.
Indeed: proactively reading company reports would surely raise a sweat on the brow.  Not that we are able to find out – the HSE have denied Freedom of Information requests for the Cuadrilla drilling reports that they are allegedly overseeing.

In July 2011 the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee took issue with this lackadaisical approach, advising that the HSE ‘test the integrity of wells before allowing the licensing of drilling activity.‘ (point 15 again).

The government slapped them down, with Minister of State Charles Hendry MP insisting ‘we have a strong safety and environmental regime in place, administered by the HSE,the relevant environmental agencies and my Department (DECC)’.

MPs – spurred to action by concerned residents – have taken to repeating Hendry’s platitudes, with Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames recently assuring that fracking will be ‘adequately regulated’.

Reticence to increase industry oversight is revealed by the government’s real objective.  In his submission to the CCC, Charles Hendry notes: “the government is committed to ensuring that we maximise economic recovery of hydrocarbon resources, both offshore and onshore“.

Not all agree. 48 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing while the impacts and regulatory framework of this high-tech and fast developing industry are assessed.

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44% of wells leaking at Australian gas field

By Will Cottrell

A study of a gas field in Queensland, Australia has found 44% of gas wells leaking (see p4 of this pdf). The report adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that gas drilling inevitably leads to water contamination as gas escapes from boreholes.

The study, conducted in the Tara, Queensland field examined 56 of the field’s wells. 26 were found to have leaks. See below for aerial footage of the Tara field –

Tara is a Coal Bed Methane (CBM) gas field (it’s called Coal Seam Gas in Australia). CBM uses techniques similar to hydraulic fracturing but in layers of coal, rather than shale rock which lie deeper underground. Australian CBM operator Dart Energy has just applied to drill a third well at its site near Airth, Scotland.

Australia is not the only country to suffer leaking wells. A Canadian study found more than 17600 oil and gas wells leaking nationwide. Watson and Bachu (Society of Petroleum Engineers SPE 106817 – 2009) surveyed 352,000 oil and gas wells and found 5% of wells had gas or oil outside the central borehole.

In 2003 Gas Service Company Slumberger found 60% of offshore gas wells leaking within 30 years of being drilled.

In 1992 the US EPA estimated that of 1.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the US,  200,000 were leaking, a 16.7% failure rate.

Little surprise that both Duke University and the US Environmental Protection Agency have correlated gas in water with proximity to fracking sites.

The industry and its apologists like to claim that careful regulation will ensure wells don’t leak. Yet with hundreds of thousands of wells currently leaking worldwide these claims are unlikely to inspire confidence.

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