And while councillors in Kent are being fed a contaminated stream of baloney at least the Greens can still speak out against this dangerous and destructive practice unlike two children in the Land of the Free who have been given lifetime gagging orders.
Fracking has become the front line for the environmental movement.
This is the 'naive' briefing from KCC's Cabinet Member for the Environment (Tory, Cllr Brazier) to councillors:
Fracking – A briefing for Members
What is fracking?
Fracking has been much in the news recently and will continue to feature.
Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, as you will know by now, is a process for releasing gas or oil from shale, a sedimentary rock rich in organic matter lying up to 20,000ft below the earth’s surface. The methodology involves applying a mixture of water and chemicals under pressure to open the lateral seams in the shale and effectively push out the gas or oil.
Expert opinion is that there are extensive beds of shale under Kent and elsewhere in the UK, and substantial quantities of a hitherto untapped source of energy are there to be taken, perhaps for seventy years. Shale gas, when burnt, has only half the emissions of coal and its use as a mainstream fuel could represent the cheapest and quickest way of making the cuts in Britain’s carbon emissions that we are committed to under international treaties.
Fracking is a violent-sounding word, and a violent process. You will have read or heard that it causes earthquakes; well, it can cause earth tremors but generally of a low order and not significantly more than might be caused by coal mining. There is also worry about the large amounts of water needed in the process and the possibility of pollution of groundwater reserves. A huge amount of concern has been generated at the prospect of fracking in Britain, and what is needed is a balanced view of the impacts, weighing the positive impacts of the technology
against the negative ones. This is mine:-
· Given the UK’s future energy demands, the responsible exploration for and production of indigenous hydrocarbon resources offers significant economic benefits that are broadly in the national interest. Shale gas has particular attractions in that it is, relatively speaking, a cleaner, greener, high energy methane rich fuel. It has no value if it remains locked in the ground.
· Shale gas can be produced onshore locally and used locally, assuming an economically sustainable delivery system.
· It will be a largely new industry, creating jobs.
· Shale gas production routinely requires large sophisticated hydraulic fracture treatments on each well
· Development will impact the local infrastructure and environment with massive equipment and large numbers of vehicle movements.
· Many wells are required, the number being consistent with the intensity of activity
· Fracking can use large quantities of fresh water. Very large volumes of flow back water have also to be recovered and treated
The UK Government view of Fracking
The UK government is supportive of home-grown energy initiatives and whereas some European governments have banned fracking, it has adopted a pragmatic approach to the technique and has allowed some small scale tests to be carried out. However, following some earth tremors near a site in Lancashire, government insisted on the suspension of activity pending an independent study. The independent panel has published its findings and whilst the operators in Lancashire, Cuadrilla, have admitted causing earth tremors of up to magnitude 2.3 (2.3 is described as “moderate”), the government response is that fracking should be allowed to resume.
Q. Is fracking a new technology? Why hasn’t it been done before in the UK?
A. No. It’s been going on since 1946 and now produces huge amounts of energy in, principally, the United States and Canada. Fracking is an expensive process and not viable when oil and conventional gas is plentiful and cheap, as it has been until recently.
Q. Can it really cause an earthquake?
A. Depends what you call an earthquake. The technique can occasionally cause earth tremors that might crack the plaster, but it is not capable of causing serious damage. In any case, when a local problem is discovered, the danger of tremors can be designed out of the system.
Q. Doesn’t it cause environmental damage?
A. Yes, some, but then so do all extractive industries. The problem will not be huge holes in the ground, like open cast mining, but the intrusion of the plant and installations needed to deliver the gas or oil. With regulation and care, the effects can be minimised.
Q. What’s this business about chemicals being pumped into ground? Aren’t they going to pollute the groundwater and poison us all?
A. Water and sand are 99% of what is used as a fluid in fracking, but water is not an efficient carrier of sand and a range of chemicals are used to make the mixture more gel-like as it is pumped into the fractures in the shale. The chemicals used are said to be those used in commonly used domestic compounds and therefore not dangerous, but the concentrations and manner of use are quite important. Bores are carefully sealed and fracking usually occurs at depths far below that of groundwater.
Q. Are people right to protest?
A. People will always protest against change but fracking can produce substantial quantities of energy fuel, possibly enough to meet Britain’s needs for decades at a time when other options are running out and our reliance on foreign suppliers is increasing. There is no reason to assume that it cannot be a safe process.
Q. What’s the position in Kent? What’s KCC doing about it?
A. Operators require a licence from DECC first, but KCC is the Mineral Planning Authority and can give planning permission for onshore exploration and development of underground resources.
The East Kent drilling project that was granted planning permission in 2011 (Coastal Oil and Gas)is only for the initial exploratory borehole. If this borehole exploration proves successful further development of the resource would require a full planning application and Environmental Statement. The operators have (verbally) stated that development of the resources here would probably not involve fracking.There is also an extant permission for exploratory work at Cowden, Tunbridge Wells, but this is for oil. Shale may lie below, so permission for fracking may eventually be sought.
Q. Yes, but what’s the authority’s view of fracking if people think there are serious environmental issues?
A. Emerging policy in the Kent MWDF Core Strategy at Strategy and Policy Directions stage (May 2011) stated,
Oil, Gas and Coal Bed Methane
Planning permission will be granted for proposals associated with the exploration, appraisal and development of oil, gas Including shale gas and natural gas development and underground coal seam gasification subject to:
· Development taking place in appropriate locations where the proposals do not have unacceptable amenity or environmental impacts
· All environmental impacts being controlled to ensure there is not a significant effect upon sensitive receptors
· Exploration and appraisal operations are for an agreed, temporary length of time; and
· The drilling site being restored to a satisfactory standard and after-use.
Policy will evolve as the industry does.
Q. So it’s the next big thing, is it?
A. It could be very important in Kent, bringing jobs and a range of other benefits to the economy, and of course, a measure of energy security. However, the timescales are hard to anticipate. What you can be very sure of, is that if fracking becomes a mainstream source of energy, it will be heavily regulated to make it as undamaging and safe as possible. The mistakes and environmental damage that has given it a bad name elsewhere (polluted drinking water and flame from the bathroom taps!) have resulted from bad practice in other countries and are unlikely to occur in the UK.