DECC Q&A - Fallon's Fallacies
Minister Michael Fallon announced last week that he was publishing 70 questions and answers to inform us about fracking. The report came out on 30th July.
To access the document in full it's downloadable here
Here are my comments which will be completed over the next few days
About shale gas and hydraulic
fracturing (fracking) (DECC 30 July 2013)
Below are my personal comments on the document. Where I have no complaint about the content or have very minor quibbles I have left statements unrepeated and uncommented on.
The introduction should be quoted back in the face of anyone who continues to claim that shale gas is nothing new and has been happening for decades in the UK.
“Shale gas activity in the UK is still in the exploration stage, where companies are drilling test wells. There is no experience of production operations in UK conditions as yet, although we have a long history of production of oil and gas from ‘conventional’ onshore fields.”
The introduction goes on to place doubt about the certainty of the statements in the body of the document.
“The answers to questions about the potential impacts of production operations are therefore tentative or qualified for the time being.”
The report body
3. How do you break the rock, does it involve explosives?
There are no explosives used in fracking operations.
The process of preparing any oil or gas well for production involve the use of small
shaped charges to “perforate” the steel tubing used to control the flow of fluids.
We have met this before. The fine distinction between a charge and an explosive!
The distinction is not academic. In the US there have been problems with unexploded charges being removed from the well and disposed of in extremely casual fashion. In Colorado recyclers and landfills stopped accepting fracking pipes over worries they may contain unexploded ordnance, a Colorado Department Of Transport release stated in June 2013.
4. What is the process for obtaining permission for drilling a shale gas well?
…. When an operator wishes to drill an exploration well, their first step is to negotiate access with landowners for the drilling pad area and the surface under which any drilling extends.
In private correspondence DECC have informed me that the second part of this is guidance only. It is not law. Drillers need not achieve the necessary from landowners under whose land horizontal wells will be drilled before planning permission is applied for. There is no definition of when underground access permission must be sought and granted. This leaves it therefore open to drillers to flout the law.
This paragraph has a major omission in that it does not mention the requirement under EU regulation to apply for mining waste and radioactive mining wastes from the Environmental Agency, as evidenced by FoE action against Cuadrilla at Balcombe.
5. Is Government regulation holding back Shale Gas development?
The UK Government has been extremely active creating the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible way. The Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) has been set up to co-ordinate the activity of the regulatory bodies and Departments. OUGO is liaising with regulators to create a streamlined planning and regulation system with a high degree of local scrutiny and prior consultation. We want to ensure that regulation is fit for purpose, encourages growth whilst fully protecting the environment.
In a paragraph clearly designed to calm down frustrated frackers this statement pinpoints what we know. The regulation system which is currently totally unfit for purpose will be ”streamlined” with the effect of easing things for fracking companies, NOT enhancing regulation protection. The purpose of regulation is NOT to stimulate growth, but to protect the public.
The government admits that the current bodies DECC, EA and HSE are not co-ordinated, but instead of dealing with the root problem sets up yet another body, highly biased towards the industry to stick its oar in.
The recently published new planning guidelines have stripped MPAs of ability in many areas of decision-making regarding environmental concerns the statement regarding local scrutiny and consultation. The EA’s announcement of cutting down time periods for decisionmaking will cut out the opportunity for public consultation. To suggest local scrutiny is enhanced is simply wrong and misleading.
This paragraph shows clearly the government’s intention to hide under a propaganda cloud its determination to weaken regulation and local involvement in planning decisions.
6. What are the best estimates at the moment for the amount of shale gas that can be extracted by fracking?
… shale gas clearly has potential in Britain, but as little drilling or testing has taken place, it is not at this stage possible to make meaningful estimates of how much shale gas may be practically and commercially recoverable.
7. What about these huge numbers – bigger than the North Sea reserves – mentioned in the Press?
No-one knows at this point what proportion, if any, of the gas in the ground will ever be practically and commercially producible.
8. Will shale gas give us a secure domestic supply of gas?
Production of unconventional gas could offer the UK additional security of supply, but given the uncertainties around when, and the degree to which, unconventional gas will be produced outside North America, DECC continues to take a cautious view of the implications for gas security of supply.
This we can fully agree with. If only pro-frackers really took this to heart we would have a better chance of handling the “loads of cheap gas” and security from those horrible Russians hype.
9. Should we halt the production of shale gas?
There was a moratorium on fracking following two seismic tremors in the Blackpool area during 2011, associated with “fracking” for shale gas at Preese Hall, Lancashire.
In the light of the robust controls in place to protect the environment and ensure safe operation, DECC see no need for any moratorium on shale gas.
The Government takes the safety of the public and protection of the environment very seriously. We commissioned the Royal Society to review the scientific and engineering evidence on shale gas extraction conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.
This concluded that “the health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.” The Government believes that the regulation is robust for exploration, but wants to continue to improve it.
I will mention just one reason why (apart from commenting that the Government ignored most of the Royals’ recommendations) this is woefully inadequate.
One of the Royals’ report recommendations applied equally to the exploratory phase as well as to production - the lack of adequate regulation and monitoring of abandoned wells. Already in Fylde we have had two wells needing abandonment, but no long-term security for the locality. Also with exploration we have fracking with potential hazard in the long-term to environmental security.
There is no excuse for NOT designing shale gas regulation for the exploratory phase. To admit in future that production needs another look is to admit the deficiencies of the current system.
10. Why has a full public consultation of all aspects of shale gas fracking not been undertaken?
Good question, but, rather laughably, the question is not answered. The response is that government have discussed this in parliament and have had a report from the Royals (which they have ignored apart from the bits that feed pro-fracking propaganda). They know why they don't want consultation. They know why it will never go to referendum. The public will say no. They are even trying to prevent public consultation during the permit and planning permission process. That is in my opinion the true and fair answer.
11. What is the Government doing to develop shale?
This paragraph summarises the government’s activities in issuing new planning guidance, the disgraceful streamlining by the EA to facilitate fast decision-making, the recent announcements regarding tax breaks for the industry, and (inaccurately described) the community “bribes”. What is very wrong is the continued insistence that the work being done on the regulatory regime will safeguard public security and protect the environment.
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