Authorities duplicitous, ill-informed and one-sided on fracking

Evidence increasingly undermines MP Soames' assertions that fracking will be 'adequately regulated'.

In a letter to the Mid Sussex Times, MP for Mid Sussex Nicholas Soames assures readers that fracking will be ‘adequately regulated’.

This conceit – used by varied bodies from Balcombe Parish Council (BPC) to West Sussex County Council (WSCC) to Ministers – misses a key point.

The authorities deciding on regulation have repeatedly been proved duplicitous,  ill-informed and one-sided on fracking. In light of the following evidence it’s no surprise that local people feel uneasy about the threat of hydraulic fracturing:

Duplicitous

1/ Balcombe MP Francis Maude listened to his constituents’ concerns about fracking in late 2011- but omitted to reveal he had appointed a Cuadrilla director to his department in government .

2/ The British Geological Survey (BGS) is a key advisor to the government on fracking – yet the BGS receives a portion of its funding from the fracking industry, leading to concerns over conflicts of interest.

3/ The gas industry has hired lobbyists to promote their cause and gain access to decision makers – one of these lobbyists has been revealed to be a local district councillor.

Ill-informed

1/ The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was unaware that fracking was to take place at Balcombe – until informed so by Balcombe residents.

2/ WSCC and BPC repeatedly told constituents (and each other) that fracking had been suspended – until residents forced an admission from DECC that the ‘suspension’ was nothing of the sort.

3/ The British Geological Survey (BGS) has begun a baseline survey of water quality around proposed fracking sites – a full three years after oil and gas licences were issued, and only after significant public pressure. Incredibly, this survey does not include Lancashire.

One-sided
Repeated statements by varied authorities state there is no evidence to link water pollution to fracking. Widely-read studies conclude precisely the opposite –

1/ Duke University in the US correlated methane levels in water with proximity to gas wells. The closer they got, the more methane they found. This finding was repeated by the US EPA in late 2011.

2/ Gas company Cuadrilla’s own report demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing in Balcombe could bring gas outside the well head to within 667 feet of the surface.

3/ The gas industry itself concludes that 60% of its wells leak.

By attempting assurances of the ‘it will be fine’ variety, authorities like Soames just make themselves look patronising.

This appearance of benevolent paternalism in the face of mounting evidence to the opposite only leads to cynicism and revulsion.

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County Councillor: West Sussex must ban fracking

In a strongly worded letter to the Mid Sussex Times, West Sussex County Councillor Anne Hall argues that county authorities must be proactive and ban fracking.

Hall argues that West Sussex County Council has been “complacent” on fracking. She states that earthquakes risks have been ignored and the council has effectively outsourced decision making to central government.

She also criticises council leaders for avoiding responsibility. “Lionel Barnard (WSCC deputy leader) states that forthcoming applications would not be supported if there were any uncertainty. He does not give any indication as to what can be done,” she writes. “Will WSCC leave the decision to proceed with fracking on this site to other regulators?”

“I believe that the council has a duty to its residents to be more proactive in this decision and not just to sit back and see what others decide.”

Meanwhile Balcombe Parish Council continues to show exactly the failures of leadership that Councillor Hall points out. BPC seems determined to avoid taking a stance on the issue, perhaps because one of its own number is millionaire Simon Greenwood, which owns the land on which fracking is scheduled to take place.

The Parish Council has convened a working group to examine the benefits and risks of fracking. Copies of this report will be made available to the residents of Balcombe (who are obviously, in BPC’s eyes, unable to perform research themselves). The council will then decide how best to represent their constituents, based on these views.

Exactly what democratic process will be used to assess local opinion is unclear. Currently BPC risks being lost in a procedural miasma which will result simply in the continuation of its current policy: do nothing.

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DECC: “no fracking suspension”

Despite causing earthquakes and threatening scarce water supplies, companies are free to perform hydraulic fracturing in the UK, said the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Contrary to official and industry announcements, DECC, in an email to Sussex campaigner Vanessa Vine, has revealed that ‘Cuadrilla agreed voluntarily to suspend operations.’

Authorities regularly use the notion of a ‘suspension’ to justify inaction on fracking.  Balcombe Parish Council maintained the fiction for several weeks, and more recently West Sussex County Council, despite being clearly informed otherwise, have justified inaction on the spurious basis of a non-existent national suspension.

DECC also detailed the official definition of fracking, and the issuance of licenses nationally.  You can read the full text of the email below –

(Vanessa Vine): What is the definition of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, that is used for the purposes of Government licensing, permission, consent and legislation?

(DECC): The term “hydraulic fracturing” does not occur in DECC licences or in any relevant legislation. It is not possible to give a single exclusive definition of the term as it might be used in consenting activities under the licences, because it covers a range of techniques which are applied in a wide variety of contexts. But in general terms, hydraulic fracturing is a process in which fluid under pressure is pumped into an oil or gas borehole to stimulate production of the hydrocarbon by creating fractures or channels into the petroliferous rock.

In fracking for shale gas, the fluid normally contains small particles of inert material to hold open the fractures and allow the released gas to flow at commercial rates. Although shale exploration is new to the UK, fracking is not a new technique and it has been used both onshore and offshore in the UK in pursuit of low permeability gas and coalbed methane during the last decade or so.

(VV): Does this definition include the exploratory stage – of lesser volume and intensity – which nevertheless involves pressure injection of water, sand and foreign toxins into the subterranean geology?

(DECC): The kind of fracking performed in exploring for shale gas is broadly similar to that expected to be used in production, but is likely to involve fewer stages, and so a smaller total volume of frack fluid. In US practice, a production well is most commonly drilled horizontally, and fracked in a number of stages – the number of stages is normally more than in an exploration well. It is expected that production wells in the UK will likewise have more stages than exploration wells, but the only wells so far drilled in the UK are for exploration.

Any substance that is proposed to be released to groundwater has to be assessed to determine if it is hazardous. The Environment Agency will not authorise the use of hazardous substances for fracking operations.

(VV): How does this legislatory definition differ (if at all) from the process – also involving hydraulic fracturing – currently being used in the UK to extract oil from shale rock and to extract gas (Coal Bed Methane) from coal seams ?

(DECC): The pressures used in fracking for shale gas would be expected to be greater, and the volumes of fluid injected substantially greater, than for coal bed methane.
Has the Department of Energy and Climate Change imposed a suspension on Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing activities at Preese Hall in Lancashire, or has Cuadrilla desisted voluntarily and temporarily?

The Department has powers to suspend activities under the licence where necessary. In this case, Cuadrilla agreed voluntarily to suspend operations.

(VV): Please would you either provide the documentation confirming any such Government suspension, or confirm, explicitly, that no such documentation exists.

(DECC): There is no specific documentation. The company has orally confirmed on numerous occasions its recognition of the effect of the suspension.

(VV): Do Cuadrilla still have permission and all the necessary licenses in order to continue drilling, in preparation for potential subsequent fracking? If so, where are they currently granted such permissions.Preese Hall?Balcombe? Cowden? Lingfield?

(DECC): The petroleum licences convey no permission to conduct operations, which require separate consents from DECC, in addition to planning permission, etc. (see further below). Cuadrilla currently has DECC consent to drilling operations at only three sites, Preese Hall, Hesketh Bank and Grange Hill, all in Lancashire.

(VV): Please answer the same question with regard to all other prospective UK fracking companies, such as Magellan and Coastal Oil & Gas.

(DECC): No other company currently has DECC consent to drill for shale gas.

(VV): You mentioned a commercial fracking license (you thought it was in Lincolnshire) that was granted but subsequently declined by the applying company. Was this License then revoked? Which is the company in question?

(DECC): Europa Oil and Gas was granted consent in Aug 2011 to re-enter a producing well in the Crosby Warren field in Humberside to frac, as the production flow rate in previous wells in the field had been improved by fracking, but their operational plans changed and they no longer wish to frack, so this consent was withdrawn.

(VV): How many sites in the UK currently have all the requisite permissions, licenses and consents in order to go ahead with exploratory fracking?

How many sites in the UK currently have all the requisite permissions,licenses and consents in order to go ahead with commercial scale fracking?

Where, specifically, are these sites? Please would you list them all.

(DECC): There are currently no sites in the UK which have all necessary permissions for fracking, either for exploration or production.

(VV): Or has the DECC suspended all existing licenses to frack (including flow tests/ leak-off tests/ acid washes etc.) for shale gas/oil and coal bed methane in the UK, for example at Cowden in Kent, where Cuadrilla claim to have carried out such a “test frack” in July 2010?

(DECC): No licences have been suspended for any reason connected to shale gas, and no consents have been suspended other than Cuadrilla’s consents for fracking at Preese Hall and Grange Hill.

(VV): What permits, specifically, are required in order for a company to carry out both drilling and fracking?

(DECC):A Petroleum Exploration & Development Licence, planning permission, and a drilling consent from DECC. The drilling consent will where appropriate specify which fracking operations are permitted. The company must also notify the Environment Agency, which may require it to take out one or more permits for certain aspects of the operations; and must notify the HSE, which has powers to stop operations if they are not satisfied with the drilling plans.

(VV): Please would you provide example documentation.

(DECC): There is a document on the DECC site which describes the regulatory steps required to drill a well (which would include any plans to frack)

http://og.decc.gov.uk/media/viewfile.ashx?filetype=4&filepath=og/ep/onshore/3626-onshore-oil-and-gas-exploration-and-development-in.doc&minwidth=true

and a diagram which depicts the steps required to move to production

http://og.decc.gov.uk/media/viewfile.ashx?filetype=4&filepath=og/ep/onshore/3627-slide-describing-regulatory-interaction-onshore-ex.ppt&minwidth=true]

The Environment Agency holds all the permits and consents it issues on public registers. It is possible on-line to examine data, with a facility to request further details and copy documents from their customer contact centre.

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/library/publicregisters/default.aspx

They also have interactive maps that include details of emissions from larger permitted sites.

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/37793.aspx.

Copies of recent licences can be viewed on the DECC website at http://og.decc.gov.uk/en/olgs/cms/licences/licence_data/recent_licence/recent_licence.aspx and as an example, a copy of the licence for the Balcombe area is attached.

(VV): Will the DECC respond to the Early Day Motion http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2292 tabled by Caroline Lucas, sponsored by Jim Dobbin, Mark Durkan, Jonathan Edwards, Glenda Jackson and Michael Meacher – to date signed by 44 MPs and supported by tens of thousands of UK citizens – by declaring a Moratorium on all hydraulic fracturing in the UK (including that used in coal bed methane extraction).

If not, why not?

[DECC officials declined to answer this one]

DECC-LED

8 February 2012

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Gasland Screening, 22nd Feb, Forest Row

22nd FebGasland, Forest Row, 22nd Feb, 7.30, Freshfield Hall

A chance to watch the Oscar-nominated Gasland – the film that lifted the lid on the evils of hydraulic fracturing. Come to learn more & discuss this alarming threat to our ecology & our community.

Controversial company Cuadrilla has planning permission to perform hydraulic fracturing at Balcombe. The borehole is ¾ mile from Ardingly Reservoir and ½ mile from the Sussex Ouse, both of which contribute to Forest Row’s drinking water.

There are worldwide concerns about contamination of groundwater caused by the toxic chemicals (many of them carcinogenic) that are used in the fracking process.

Cuadrilla has already carried out test fracking in Cowden and is seeking permission to start work in Lingfield. Another company, Magellan Petroleum, has license blocks right across the Weald, including Ashdown Forest.

You can download Posters here and Flyers here

Forest Row, 22nd Feb, 7.30, Freshfield Hall

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61 towns block fracking in New York State

The anti-fracking movement in the United States is gaining in strength and numbers. In New York State, 21 towns have declared bans; a further 40 have declared moratoria; 35 have movements for a ban or a moratorium (see here for an interactive map).

Dozens of municipalities have adopted zoning ordinances that remove natural gas exploration and extraction from the list of permissible land uses within their borders.

Numerous citizen-led organisations – such as Sustainable Otsego, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy, Gas-Free Seneca, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper (and many more) – have led the fights against the hydraulic fracturing industry.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College, termed the movement “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.”

And in local elections last November, scores of anti-fracking candidates, many of whom had never before run for office, displaced pro-gas incumbents in positions as town councilors, town supervisors and county legislators.

The movement centres on legal moves to give municipalities the power to prevent the gas industry operating within a town’s jurisdiction. In the small town of Ulysses, for example, councillors were opposed to fracking, but couldn’t see how to prevent it. Activists, however, recognised that if enough registered Ulysses voters signed a petition, the board would have the popular backing it needed for declaring a ban.

A six-month-long door-to-door campaign followed, and when 1,500 out of 3,000 registered voters signed the town council voted to ban fracking.

The movement centres on unpaid volunteers, sometimes putting in thousands of hours, to oppose the fracking industry. On the other side, billion-dollar corporations flood the airwaves with pro-gas ads.

The industry has not had things all its own way, however. When New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation issued new draft guidelines for the industry, they received 40,000 objections. Agency officials had told the New York Times they didn’t know of any other issue that had received 1,000 submissions. Anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one. A meeting to implement the guidelines was cancelled when thousands of activists rallied outside the building.

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Balcombe MP appointed Cuadrilla director to government


Balcombe MP Francis Maude

Balcombe MP Francis Maude appointed Lord Browne, a director of Cuadrilla Resource Holdings Ltd, to the Cabinet Office in June 2010.

The Cuadrilla executive ‘works closely‘ with the cabinet office board, chaired by Maude, in his role as ‘lead non-executive’.

On appointing Browne, Maude said: “his experience will be a real benefit to make Whitehall work in a more businesslike manner”.

In January Maude visited Balcombe to talk to consitutents concerned about hydraulic fracturing in the village. Those who attended described the MP as ‘non-committal’.

At the meeting, Maude failed to disclose his association with a senior member of the Cuadrilla management team, nor their close working relationship.

Browne joined Cuadrilla four months before his appointment to government. In one of his many roles he acts as Managing Director of Riverstone LLC – in February 2010 Riverstone invested 27m in Cuadrilla and Browne and two other Riverstone executives joined the Cuadrilla board. He was instrumental in hiring the current head of UK operations, Mark Miller.


Cuadrilla director Lord Browne

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Europe against Fracking – a continent says: NO!

The last six months has seen anti-fracking sweep Europe. In an extraordinary upsurge of citizen-led pressure, European governments, state legislatures, civil liberty groups, activists and residents have all taken up arms against the hydraulic fracturing industry.

Grassroots organisations have staged marches, legal challenges, hundreds of public meetings and many direct actions in response to this unprecedented threat. And this remarkable collective anger has scored a series of victories – including bans, moratoriums and revoked licenses.

The anti-fracking movement is spread continent-wide – from the Atlantic to the Black Sea sea. And with no wells in production and only a handful under exploration, big Oil and Gas is finding it increasingly difficult to root fracking into the European pscyhe.

France – Moratorium
In France, the government issued two exploration licenses to Schuepbach Energy and one exploration license to Total last year, valid for a period of five years. In May 2011, the government banned hydraulic fracturing on the basis of environmental concerns.

For a while, it appeared that shale exploration could proceed using conventional techniques, and Total stated in September 2011 that it would explore without the use of hydraulic fracturing, according to Reuters. Those hopes were dashed on 4 October 2011 when the government cancelled the three exploration permits issued in 2010, citing drilling plans recently submitted by Shuepbach and Total which still included hydraulic fracturing.

No exploratory drilling had been accomplished on the permits. On the same day, President Sarkozy has stated that France would not permit hydraulic fracturing until it is proven to be “environmentally clean.”

Read more here. Know of groups in France? Send details to our facebook page and we’ll update this piece accordingly.

Germany – Westphalia Moratorium
In Germany, ExxonMobil has been drilling vertical study wells since 2008, completed four exploratory shale wells by January 2011, and previously had planned for investment of $1bn over the five years to 2015. However, the state of North-Rhine Westphalia instituted a moratorium on further shale-gas drilling in March 2011. A history of politically active environmental groups in Germany may continue to hamper exploration progress.

Know of groups in Germany? Send details to our facebook page and we’ll update this piece accordingly.

Holland – Legal challenges
A court in the southern Dutch city of Boxtel recently ruled that a temporary planning for an exploratory borehole was invalid. THe judge ruled that exploratory wells are by definition not temporary – if gas is discovered the intention is to extract it.

This landmark ruling against UK fracker Cuadrilla sent shivers up the fracking industry’s spine – without the ability to secure temporary plannings it’s difficult to see how frackers can perform the exploratory testing required.

See more here. Know of more groups in Holland? Let us know via our facebook page and we’ll put them here.

Bulgaria – Exxon licence revoked
In January 2011 thousands of people took to the streets of Sophia and other major cities to demand the governement ban hydraulic fracturing. The opposition – largely organised on Facebook – forced Bulgarian MPs to vote overwhelmingly for a ban

Bulgaria became the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling.

See more here (in Bulgarian, you’ll need Google Translate). Bulgaria! Send us details of your anti-frackers via our facebook page and we’ll put them here.

United Kingdom
Since a series of direct action at the country’s first test rigs, fracking is looming large in the national conciousness. Activists have increasingly joined forces with local residents, and the mood in the UKs ruling party is said to be swinging against the industry.

Poland & Ukraine – pushing ahead
Poland perhaps represents the most aggressive environment for shale-gas development as the government aims to reduce its reliance on Russian gas exports. Prime Minister Donald Tusk has indicated that commercial production could begin as early as 2014, and expects that Poland may be self-sufficient in natural gas by 2035.

According to Reuters, ExxonMobil has six licenses and is now planning a second test well near Siennica, while state-owned PGNiG holds 15 shale concessions and is planning to drill six test wells in 2012.

The industry is not unopposed, however. In the autumn activists occupied a Shale industry conference, and are increasingly vocal.

Poland – send details of your anti-fracking groups and, yes, we’ll put them here – our facebook page.

In Ukraine, the first shale-gas exploration contract was awarded to Royal Dutch Shell in September 2011. On 30 September, the state energy company, Naftogaz, signed a preliminary agreement with ExxonMobil on shale-gas exploration and development. Energy and Coal Minister Yuriy Boyko believes that exports of shale gas could be possible in the next seven to 10 years.

Ireland anti frackers – see here

Send details of anti frackers in Europe to our facebook page and we’ll update this piece accordingly.

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