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Special Digest


28/11/2013

Professor Davies and the Lords Select Committee 19th November.

Professor Richard Davies, Durham Research Institute, giving evidence to the Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs.

Although the focus of this committee is economic impact, the Professor's testimony was mainly on unrelated matters.

The opening question to him was about the Refine project.

His answer was this - "ReFINE it is the acronym for Researching Fracking in Europe. It is a project that was officially launched on 7 November this year. It is funded jointly by the Government and through research councils and industry: three companies—Shell, Total and Chevron. Our mission is to carry out totally unbiased, independent research on the concerns that people have raised around Europe and elsewhere about the environmental risks associated with fracking technology.

Professor Davies has received criticism from the anti-fracking camp of being biased, and fears have been expressed about the impartiality of Refine when it is industry-backed.

It is worth, therefore, looking at the Prof's evidence to the Lords committee to see if this informs our view.

The full evidence draft transcript can be found here

Professor Davies was questioned about the problem in the UK of the number of wells required. He quoted maybe 130 trillion cu ft recoverable from BGS estimates and each well producing between 1.4 and 5.9 bcf. (This would mean between 93,000 and 22,000 wells).

He said it would probably be well into the 2020s before shale would have any impact on the UKUK gas supply. This based on the large number of wells required (and no-one yet knows whether this will be restricted to a "cottage industry") and the deficiencies of the supply chain (particularly drilling rigs). We do not have a supply chain to drill hundreds a year.

In written evidence Davies said that 1 tcf would require between 169 and 714 wells. (This tallies with the above calculation for the number of wells to produce 130tcf).

Prof Davies said in the US they are drilling 25,000 to 30,000 wells per year. (Lord Lawson said there is no problem with the supply chain).

Davies said this -
"We have done some recent research on this. As you know, the UK has around 2,100 wells onshore already, drilled from 1902 to the present day. We have gone looking for the wells, and you cannot physically put your hands on about 65% of them. That means that they would difficult to monitor. If you look at 65% of wells over the past 111 years—you can look at them on Google—you can see where they are meant to be but you could not physically put your hands on them. The UK has some area here, given the well count, to make sure that wells can be efficiently monitored going forward. I have raised that before. Given the well numbers, it would be prudent to make sure that wells can be monitored in the very long term, after the company has finished its operations."

This brought him into conflict with Lawson, who said there was no problem with monitoring, surely. Davies started to say 65% of wells could not be traced but Lawson interrupted him and said that was in the past.

Davies said that in Canada 4.6% of 316,000 wells drilled since 1904 had leaked. So well leak is an issue.
"It is not that we do not have the technology, but cement breaks down and cracks, and steel corrodes."

Lawson pushed on whether monitoring was possible. It led to this exchange -
"Lord Lawson of Blaby: But they can be?
Professor Richard Davies: There is nothing stopping that. There is no technological reason for not being able to monitor them, but 65% of the wells drilled to date are buried.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: But that is going back a long, long way.
Professor Richard Davies: No, some of these wells have been drilled in the past five or 10 years. These are wells drilled over the past 111 years—... (interrupted) "
Lord Lawson of Blaby: Exactly.
Professor Richard Davies: Yes, but a lot of them were drilled in the recent past."


Lord Hollick took up David Smythe's point about UK shale basins being heavily faulted, and asked Davies to comment on the recommendation that fracking should not take place in areas of complex, faulted geology.

Davies returned to his 2012 study which concluded from the US that fractures did not extend beyond 600 metres. "There is evidence that if you pump for days and days, with enough fluid, you will get the fluid to go from a depth of three kilometres to the surface. Davies did not think this would happen.

In the same evidence session Howard Rogers, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, discussed the economy of shale gas.

Rogers said he was reasonably pessimistic about the future scale of shale gas production, and thought it would have at best a minor effect on the overall decline rate of UK production. He didn't think it would have an effect on other fuels, because that would be down to covernment policy and the markets.

Rogers said that there was a possibility of US shale exports affecting world gas market prices. But production of shale gas in the UK would have no effect. He believed a low drilling rate (due to public concern) would mean there would be no discernable effect on prices.

Professor Richard davies was happy to agree with that assessment.

Mr Rogers repeated his belief that shale would have little impact on the energy mix because the major factor was government policy. Prof Davies chipped in with a final comment that currently shale was having a detrimental effect because displaced coal from the US had meant lower prices and more coal use in the UK.

The above is an edited version of evidence with a mix of my comments. E&OE

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