Thursday, 30 November 2017

Reasons to be Fearful... 1,2,3 +

Will the shale gas industry damage our water, pollute our air and negatively impact our health? Will it do economic harm too by making the area less attractive for investors, home buyers and residents?

These are the types of questions that have brought residents in the UK to hundreds of public meetings across the country where shale gas development is proposed. Many of us have found research that gives cause for concern, yet others seem to think that the industry is a positive thing for our communities. It's hard to find a point of agreement but I want to put forward some of the research that led me to spend almost the entire year at the side of the busy A583 between Kirkham and Blackpool - not a sacrifice anyone would make lightly.

Here in Blackpool we have the only UK experience of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF); Preese Hall was explored for shale gas using fracking in 2011 and we are currently watching as a new site develops on the A583 that seeks to take the industry into full production. That first round of fracking did not go well:

Exploration for shale gas DOES cause seismic activity.

The British Geological Survey makes the headline clear:
[In Lancashire, UK, 58 earthquakes were linked to fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing at the Preese Hall well in 2011. The largest, on 1 April 2011, had a magnitude of 2.3 and was felt locally. These hydraulic fracture treatments were carried out during exploration of a shale gas reservoir in the Bowland basin, Lancashire. A further magnitude 1.5 ML earthquake was felt on 27 May, 2011 and also linked to hydraulic fracture treatments, leading to the suspension of operations at Preese Hall.

In total, 58 earthquakes were detected in the time period between 31 March and 30 August 2011, nearly all of these either during or within a few hours of fracturing operations at Preese Hall. De Pater and Baisch (2011) concluded that the earthquake activity was caused by fluid injection directly into a nearby fault zone, which reduced the effective normal stress on the fault and caused it to fail repeatedly in a series of small earthquakes.]

This initial experience ended in the site being shut down and a moratorium put in place (lifted Dec 2012) after work on this one well, on this one pad... caused those 58 seismic events. Caudrilla now propose upward of 80 pads in the Fylde alone and each of these would have 10+ wells. Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan claims they want to eventually create 'Super Pads' with around 40 wells on each and aim to make the site on the A583:


We'd be guinea pigs if the Super Pad goes ahead as it is a first. In Canada where they claimed the largest at 16-wells, they had this to say:

[…these industrial fracking pads, from which wells angle out in all directions over two km underground, represent but the early stages of exploration. It doesn't reflect the density of development needed to extract shale gas overtime. A 2012 Alberta study noted that "widespread commercial development... will require significant investment in surface infrastructure facilities and roads" and much greater land disturbance.]

Here in the UK where the industry has yet to get properly started, there are many concerned residents and businesses with worries about the implications of this, including: health, industrialisation, increased traffic, harm to tourism, risk to agriculture and the potential loss of property and asset value that could come. Protests here in Lancashire have been daily since 5th January 2017 with the commencement of development of the new site.

Peer-Reviewed Scientific Research

Although there is only one experience in the UK to draw on, there are multiple sources of first-hand evidence as well as peer-reviewed papers available to help better understand the potential future we are facing here. The following is from this link to the much cited  Categorical Assessment of the Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature, 2009-2015

[The present categorical assessment provides an overview of the peer-reviewed scientific literature from 2009–2015 as it relates to the potential impacts of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) on public health, water quality, and air quality. Our results indicate that at least 685 papers have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that are relevant to assessing the impacts of UNGD.

-84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes
-69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination
-87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

This paper demonstrates that the weight of the findings in the scientific literature indicates hazards and elevated risks to human health as well as possible adverse health outcomes associated with UNGD.]

Of course the industry insists that the risks would not be a problem if operators abide by the UK’s ‘Gold Standard Regulations’. Putting aside any jaded views of UK regulators, accidents can and do happen in an industry of this size and complexity. Road traffic accidents alone are a primary concern when you consider that 685-1050 vehicle movements required for each well (see Table 1 here of ‘Investigating the traffic-related environmental impacts of hydraulic-fracturing operations’ and each single pad will have multiple wells – thus vast amounts of additional traffic.

Talking about wells…

From one of the key regulators, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE):
[The main hazard from shale gas operations is the uncontrolled release of hydrocarbon gas due to a failure of the well structure, which may then reach a source of ignition leading to a fire or explosion.]

“Research shows that well leakage is an issue for shale exploitation”

Headline and research from Durham University Study:
[The risk of well failure… our research examined the leakage rates of hydrocarbon wells in various countries, onshore and offshore, and indicates that well barrier failure occurs in between 1.9% and 75% of wells. In the UK, shale gas production has yet to take place. However, large quantities of data are available on shale gas well integrity in the USA. Of more than 8,000 shale gas wells monitored in Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2013, our research shows that 6.3% had evidence of well barrier or well integrity failure.’

Inspecting Wells…

Again from the HSE link above:
[As wells are deep underground and complex in their construction most of the structure is not accessible to visual inspection. So, alongside inspections at the extraction site, HSE focus on ensuring the operator is managing risks effectively throughout the life-cycle of the well. Monitoring of well operations during construction is based on weekly reports submitted to HSE by the well operators. This is supplemented by a requirement for an independent well examiner to assess design, construction and maintenance.]

But how INDEPENDENT can that ‘Independent Well Examiner’ be if his boss is the company extracting the shale gas? The HSE goes on:
[The examiner does not have the power to give consent to, or prohibit, activities. The examiner can inform the health and safety regulator if he is unsatisfied that the operator has addressed his concerns. The operator commissions and pays for the services of the well examiner. The Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc.) Regulations 1996 states that the well examiner should be ‘sufficiently knowledgable and separate from the immediate line management of the well operations involved … This might be someone employed by the well operator’s organisation. It is important that those carrying out examination work have appropriate levels of impartiality and independence from pressures, especially of a financial nature. Promotion, pay and reward systems should not compromise pay and reward professional judgement’]

Cement Bond Logs (CBL) are what can help spot well integrity issues but according to the
government’s oft quoted Royal Academy for Engineering report:
[There is currently no legislative requirement for pressure tests or Cement Bond Logs to be carried out. Operators should carry out such tests as appropriate to ensure well integrity]

So those ‘Gold Standard Regulations’ seem to amount to box-ticking exercises and do not instil a sense of trust.

Another concern that provides no comfortable answers is the matter of what happens when a site is finished with. The industry says it puts the site back to its original state but that’s only at the surface; beneath the ground remain the wells and substances left there from the operation of the site.

Abandonment & Orphans

The Durham University Study again:
[When a hydrocarbon well is abandoned, cement is pumped into the production tubing to form a plug that seals the well. In the UK, the top of the well is normally welded shut and the land is remediated. After a well is abandoned it is not typically monitored for leakage.

Of the 2152 onshore UK hydrocarbon wells, our research shows that up to 53% were drilled by a company that no longer exists, or which has been taken over or merged. Between 50 and 100 are what we term ‘orphaned’ wells, where the company that drilled them has gone out of business or is insolvent. Without the monitoring of abandoned wells, their long-term integrity is not known. Furthermore, if a leakage incident occurred at an orphaned well site, it is uncertain whose liability it would be.]

Some governments have called a halt to fracking operations after doing their own research; I find it hard to understand how our government can still think the risk worth taking, when so many other notables have said no. No government rejects an industry that could potentially be an economic contributor, without good reason. Here in the UK it is only the Conservative Party that is pursuing fracking, with Labour, Green Party and Liberal Democrats saying they will ban it.

Bans & Moratoriums

The list is ever-growing but this is a snapshot. Much of the following was sourced from Wikipedia and utilises some of the text from there along with additional links for further detail:

AUSTRALIA:
September 2016, Victoria permanently banned hydraulic fracturing and all forms of unconventional gas extraction. The Principal Adviser at The Australia Institute, Mark Ogge, praised the ban as “sound economic and energy policy”. He said that Queensland’s experiment in unconventional gas had demonstrated that the economic benefits promised by the gas industry had largely failed to materialise, while negatively impacting other industries. Research had found that for every 10 new gas jobs, 18 agricultural jobs were lost.

AMERICA:
Vermont banned fracking in 2012, Maryland has a moratorium on fracking and New York’s 2014 ban came along with a comprehensive report, authored by Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, that demonstrated the tremendous amount of scientific evidence of the health impacts, water contamination and climate risks of fracking.

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, biologist, author, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York  said: "The available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that fracking is incredibly harmful. Scientific studies have demonstrated that drilling and fracking can increase risk of cancerrespiratory conditions and migraines in communities surrounding fracking sites. Fracking pollutes the air, water and land in nearby towns and cities, and has resulted in explosions and earthquakes. There are least 17 million Americans living within one mile of a fracking site, whose lives will be negatively impacted and potentially shortened, by fracking."

EUROPE
In July 2015 the Dutch government banned all shale gas fracking and in Bulgaria after protests reached their height in January 2012, the government decided to ban it too. France’s ban came in 2011 and was based on the precautionary principle as well as the principal of preventive and corrective action of environmental hazards. The ban was upheld by an October 2013 ruling of the Constitutional Council following complaints by US-based Schuepbach Energy.

Germany in February 2013, the government announced draft regulations that would allow for the exploitation of shale gas deposits using the same fracking techniques common in the U.S  But… these plans immediately drew massive critique both from opposition parties and elements of the ruling party, as well as from major NGOs, large parts of the press and the general public. Within less than a month, the original plan was put on ice for the foreseeable future and a moratorium was  declared. Ever since, shale gas fracking has de facto been banned in Germany and the stance of the newly formed Grand Coalition government expressed in the coalition treaty is that unconventional  gas exploration will not be pursued in the country under this government. Here is an excerpt from the coalition contract:

[According to available studies on its environmental relevance, the fracking technology –  is
technology with enormous potential risks. The effects on humans, nature and the environment are scientifically not yet sufficiently clarified. Drinking water and health have absolute priority for us.

Finally in June 2016 German politicians passed a law banning fracking, with limited exceptions for scientific and non-commercial projects.]

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All this is why I and so many others, get up each day and challenge this industry... and will continue to do so until they are stopped. The Conservative government is willingly playing Russian Roulette with my grandchild (and you & me) - and that cannot be ignored or tolerated.

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*There's so much more you discover when researching this subject; some good bits like the honour and bravery of people like the Utah Midwives and George Bender or the wisdom and dedication of Jessica Ernst and Marianne Lloyd-Smith... but plenty of additional discoveries just add to an awful picture. The facts that many of academic institutions rely on funding from industries with vested interests, that many media outlets have bias and local government can be neutered at the whim of Westminster, have repercussions that go far beyond fracking. 






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