Election 2017

It is election time again, so where do the political parties stand on unconventional gas?

The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party would either ‘ban’ or ‘oppose’ fracking.

UKIP energy policy supports fracking and is firmly based in head in the sand climate change denial nonsense. However, there is no UKIP candidate standing in North East Somerset so we don’t need to consider it further.

The Conservative Party policy reiterates David Cameron’s desire to mimic the US Shale Gas experience citing lower energy prices, energy security and carbon benefits of displacing coal. It also states that ‘non-fracking drilling’ will be treated as ‘permitted development’, meaning that planning permission would not be needed.

Geographically England is nothing like the USA and a US style fracking ‘revolution’ is not compatible with ‘maintaining public confidence’ on account of the scale of the operations required to bring about such a retrograde revolution on a densely populated island. Belief that the US experience can be replicated in England is naive and widely recognised as such. Coal will have disappeared from the UK energy mix before fracking may get going so fracked gas will either displace imported gas or renewables, with no emissions benefit.

In the Chew Valley Coalbed Methane rather than Shale Gas is the mineral of interest. The definition of ‘fracking’ in the Infrastructure Act is so specific to shale that it does not cover the development of Coalbed Methane whether fracking takes place or not. Making ‘non-fracking’ drilling ‘permitted development’ sweeps away planning considerations in relation to unconventional gas in this rural economy.  The 300 gas wells that Coalbed Methane specialists GeoMet Inc estimated the Chew Valley and Mendip could ‘accommodate’ would therefore not need planning permission! This is the extraordinary policy that the Conservative Manifesto sets out and wants you to vote for.

Whilst there is no extant exploration licence in the Chew Valley area at present it is quite conceivable there could be again in the future.

Party

Position on Developing Unconventional/ Shale Gas

conservative The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers. The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more secure as a result. And because shale is cleaner than coal, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. We believe that shale energy has the potential to do the same thing in Britain, and could play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy. We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain. We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected. We will legislate to change planning law for shale applications. Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, expert planning functions will be established to support local councils, and, when necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime. We will set up a new Shale Environmental Regulator, which will assume the relevant functions of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This will provide clear governance and accountability, become a source of expertise, and allow decisions to be made fairly but swiftly. Finally, we will change the proposed Shale Wealth Fund so a greater percentage of the tax revenues from shale gas directly benefit the communities that host the extraction sites. Where communities decide that it is right for them, we will allow payments to be made directly to local people themselves. A significant share of the remaining tax revenues will be invested for the benefit of the country at large.
labour Labour will ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline…[The Conservatives] have allowed fracking in national parks.
libDem We will oppose ‘fracking’ because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment.
greens We will introduce a ban on fracking.

Table shamelessly summarised from CarbonBrief.org.  Visit CarbonBrief.org for a full analysis.

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Sir Humphrey’s Role in Somerset Fracking Obfuscation

It has recently been reported in the local press that the Chew Valley, Bath and Mendip will remain free from fracking for Shale Gas. This is based on an announcement by Ben Howlett MP (Bath) following a meeting that he and James Heappey MP (Wells) had with the responsible Secretary of State the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom. Ms Leadsom wrote to Mr Howlett saying that “Bath and the surrounding areas are not located in the British Geological Survey’s ‘shale prospective area’.

NB – Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t seem to have been invited to Ms Leadsom’s tearoom surgery.

Ms Leadsom’s letter to Mr Howlett is reproduced on his web site and is reproduced below in blue italic.

Mr Howlett commented “As the Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said in her response to me I regret that this situation has been unclear both to me and my constituents and am relieved and reassured by her response“.

However, Ms Leadsom seems to have persuaded Sir Humphrey Appleby GCBKBEMVOMA (Oxon), (a “master of obfuscation”) to draft the letter for her as it is simultaneously both truthful and utterly disingenuous. Let’s see what Sir Humphrey had to say and whether what was unclear is now clear and whether we can also feel “relieved and reassured”.

Sir HumphThank you for attending my tearoom surgery recently. I hope you found our discussion about the shale reserves in Bath and the Mendip Hills helpful and thank you for raising this matter with me.

Not a good start. Why was the conversation about ‘shale reserves’ rather than the ‘coalbed methane resources’ that the gas companies have been searching for in this area for the past 20+ years?

These companies (include Pendle Petroleum in 1985, Union Texas Petroleum Inc in 1995, GeoMet Inc in 2000 and UK Methane in 2014) were all looking for CBM according to the licence applications and relinquishment reports filed in Sir Humph’s filing cabinet.  Considering that these companies all delivered their reports to Sir Humph’s Department saying they were looking for CBM it is odd he didn’t bother have a peek to find out and so save embarresment.

Also Shale Gas ‘reserves’ (what can be technical and economically extracted) certainly don’t exist because the economic value of any Shale Gas in the area have certainly not be calculated. The dextrous use of the word ‘reserve’ rather than ‘resource’ is a careful double blind to hide behind. So they were discussing something that hasn’t been calculated (reserves) for something that isn’t of primary interest in the area (Shale Gas).  Of course Sir Humph knows all about this because his Department has published a note on this very point in order to prevent, rather than create, confusion – Resources vs Reserves: What do estimates of shale gas mean?

And what about the tearoom cake reserves?

Sir HumphBath and the surrounding areas are not located in a ‘shale prospective area’ according to shale resource estimates by the British Geological Survey.

So what? The companies are not primarily looking for Shale Gas. Opps – there is the word ‘resource’ instead of ‘reserve’. This is because BGS has got a map of Shale Gas resources but it hasn’t got a map of Shale Gas reserves – because it hasn’t calculated any.

In addition, Bath (as a World Heritage sire) and the Mendip Hills (as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are afforded the highest level of protection within our planning system.

The highest level of protection is afforded to hydraulic fracturing for Shale Gas at the exclusion of CBM.  The definition of “associated hydraulic fracturing” and related protection in the Infrastructure Act 2015 is specific to shale and stuff “encased in shale”, which does not include coal – as confirmed in writing to us by Sir Hump’s very own Department.

Sir HumphIn addition, there are currently no active Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDLs) in the Bath area. In 2008 the Government issues PEDLs in Bath and North East Somerset, as part of the 13th round licences. In July 2014, three of the PEDL licences in this area were relinquished by the licence holders and another licence was extended for further year until July 2015 but has since been relinquished.

PEDL 227 covering the most prospective area for CBM was not available in the 14th Licensing Round because the previous licence hadn’t been relinquished in time. There is nothing stopping the Bath and Mendip area being licensed again in the 15th Licensing Round if anyone were interested – as it has been in the past. Sir Humph obviously hasn’t looked at the 2008 PEDL licence applications or the relinquishment reports otherwise he probably wouldn’t have even drawn attention to them considering what they contain – a plan to comprehensively extract the entire hydrocarbon resource in the area using a combination of fracking, mining and underground coal gasification.

Sir Humph:  “Even if there were shale gas reserves, the recent announcements on fracking would make obtaining permissions for drilling at the surface extremely unlikely.

Note the use of the word ‘reserves’ again – there aren’t any Shale Gas ‘reserves’ because they haven’t been calculated and nor have the ‘resources’ from which you would calculate the ‘reserves’.

What has been estimated by GeoMet Inc and others is the CBM ‘gas in place’ – i.e. the CBM ‘resource’ from which you might calculate a CBM reserve.

The recent announcement on fracking don’t apply to CBM anyway.

Sir Humph: “Thirteen blocks located to the west and east of Somerset are being considered as part of the 14th licensing round, subject to the Habitats Regulations Assessment consultation. A map of licences being considered in the 14th licensing round can be found here.

Ah, right. Thirteen blocks in west and east Somerset are being considered as part of the 14th Licensing Round even though they are also not in the BGS shale gas prospective area either. Err, so they must be being licensed for something else other than shale gas, something like CBM and Shale (Oil) – as stated in Sir Hump’s list of licences.  So, not being in the BGS shale gas prospective zone is a good thing in Bath, but not in any way relevant in Weston, Frome or the Forest of Dean – based on the same criteria of not being in the BGS shale gas prospective zone (Ed. Has Sir Humph got that right, it sounds like nonsense?).

Sir Humph’s Department has actually licensed 1,200 square kilometres in the Forest of Dean (CBM), Wiltshire (CBM) and the Somerset coast (Shale but not Shale Gas) that is not in the BGS Shale Gas prospective area. So the talk about not being in the BGS shale gas prospective area and the careful use of the words ‘reserve’ and ‘resource’ is just a meaningless ruse that only Sir Humph could articulate to make everything sound OK?

Sir Humph also forgot to mention that the Habitats Regulations Assessment consultation had three possible outcomes all of which resulted in the licenses being issued, no matter how sensitive the area or the consultation response.

Sir Humph: “PEDLs do not give permission for specific operations, such as drilling. Rather, they grant exclusivity to licensees, in relation to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction (including for shale gas but also for other forms), within a defined area. Any licensee looking to explore for hydrocarbons would have to apply for planning permission and various permits in advance of any drilling.

Sir Humph is fixated on only articulating “Shale Gas” at the exclusion of the “other forms” such as CBM and even Underground Coal Gasification. Why would Sir Humph not want to say CBM or “Underground Coal Gasification”?

Sir Humph: “I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this matter with you and with James Heappey MP recently, and hope that this brings assurance that there are no known shale reserves in your area and currently no plans to explore for any.

Phew, so now we know that there are no shale ‘reserves’ in the area (the ones that haven’t been calculated, so how could there be any?). But what about the CBM ‘resources’ – the ones that have been calculated and the ones that UK Methane recently said in their relinquishment report (filed in Sir Humph’s office) were “probably prospective” and which any company can apply for an exploration licence for the next time around.

Sir Humph: “I regret that this situation has in the past been unclear to some of your constituents, and I hope you can take the necessary steps to alleviate their concerns.

Glad that Sir Humph has cleared up that confusing mess by providing a carefully worded explanation of what isn’t significant in this area. Pity he didn’t mention anything that was of primary interest even if it isn’t covered by recent reassuring legislation.

Bernard: “But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know“.

Sir Humph: “No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity“.

PEDL 227 – “in process of being relinquished”

According to the Oil & Gas Authority Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) 227 which is held jointly by UK Methane and Eden Energy is in the process of being relinquished, see https://www.facebook.com/FrackfreeSomerval. This is the last remaining PEDL in Somerset and with its relinquishment Somerset will be Frack Free! Unless that is other gas exploration companies have applied for Somerset licences in the 14th Onshore Licensing Round, the results of which have been delayed until after the election.

Considering that over the last 20 years the Somerset coalfield has been evaluated for unconventional gas twice (by GeoMet Inc and by UK Methane/Eden Energy) and twice the licenses have been relinquished without any drilling taking place this area should now be excluded from further petroleum exploration licensing.

Australian Eden Energy and UK Methane have for some years been trying to consolidate their shared PEDLs into a merged company but without success. The terms of the deal were that Eden would be entitled to receive “£1.14 million together with a 33.33% shareholding in the merged company“. Eden reported on 30th April 2015 that “it is now highly unlikely that this merger will proceed on the terms previously announced“.  Eden Energy and UK Methane relinquished their other Somerset exploration licenses last summer “due to both environmental and social reasons“. Whilst Eden Energy is still listing PEDL 227 in their Interests in Tenements it looks like “environmental and social reasons” mean that it won’t appear in their next quarterly report.

This is a watershed moment in which by shedding its petroleum exploration licenses Somerset can transition from the fossil fuel age into a renewables future by leaving its fossil carbon in the ground, thereby playing its part in averting dangerous climate change.  Climate change is a scientific reality not a matter of political opinion and in election week our politicians need to grasp this opportunity to make sure that Somerset’s fossil carbon stays in the ground and isn’t licensed out to the next highest bidder.


North East Somerset Election CBM-Frack-Info-Pack

Local Resources

In the interest of promoting an informed debate on unconventional gas exploration and development in Somerset here are some local resources, including new maps which are based entirely on open information from the UK Government. Hopefully these resources will help to inform the local political discourse in the lead up to the election.

Briefing Notes & Reports

Web Sites

Maps

The first map shows all of BANES and the area identified as prospective by US coalbed methane specialists GeoMet Inc. Note that their assessment of coalbed methane resources didn’t cover all of BANES  and information is missing to the south of the City of Bath. As a World Heritage Site the City of Bath is now off-limits to gas exploration. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are also off-limits, although drilling underneath them from outside may not be. The Mendip AONB is shown on the map. Fracking has also been excluded from groundwater protection zones, although the government hasn’t yet decided which ones. The maps shows protection zones 1 and 2 which relate to areas where surface pollution could enter aquifers within 50 days and 400 days respectively. Lastly the map illustrates a hypothetical grid of gas wells within the prospective area, according to GeoMet’s specification of one well every 32 ha or 566m, which matches the government’s Planning Practice Guidance on CBM Well Spacing. GeoMet propose drilling at depths between 152m and 1524m which also pretty much matches the government’s Planning Practice Guidance on CBM Drilling Depth. When questioned about the minimum drilling depth the current licence holder, UK Methane, obfuscated. The Infrastructure Act 2015 doesn’t seem to cover CBM so the 1,000m trespass threshold in the Act doesn’t apply – the coal seams can already be accessed by virtue of the Coal Industry Act 1994. Currently only PELD 227 is extant and is held by UK Methane and Eden Energy. The rest of BANES is up for grabs again by the gas companies in the 14th on-shore Licensing Round. DECC will not tell us where companies have expressed an interest in despite a Freedom of Information request and appeal.

BANES GeoMet Coalbed Methane

BANES GeoMet Coalbed Methane Prospective Area and Groundwater Protection Zones

Click on the map to open a detailed A3 PDF file. The next map shows the detail of PEDL-227 held by UK Methane. This map includes the CBM prospective area, as identified by GeoMet Inc, the groundwater protection zones, the grid of hypothetical wells and entrances of old mine workings. Note the avoidance of mine workings by GeoMet.

PEDL227-GeoMet-GWPZ

PEDL 227 GeoMet CBM Prospective Area and Groundwater Protection Zones

Click on the map to open a detailed A3 PDF file. The last map also shows PEDL-227 and the CBM prospective area but this time in relation to the surface water catchments which include a portion of the Chew Valley, the Cam Brook Valley, the Somer and Well Brook Valley and the Mells Brook Valley.

PEDL227-GeoMet-Catchments

PEDL 227 GeoMet CBM Prospective Area and Surface Water Catchments

Click on the map to open a detailed A3 PDF file.

Fracking & the Weights and Measures Act 1824

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has recently replied to constituents who expressed their concern about fracking in relation to the Infrastructure Bill. The Bill has now passed into law as the Infrastructure Act 2015 after MP’s were given just one hour to debate the Lords’ revised and watered down amendments.

Mr Rees-Mogg jumped the gun by replying before the Lords’ amendments were approved by Parliament and stated that “The Government made a number of alterations to the Bill such as declaring an outright ban on fracking in National Parks and, of particular relevance to North East Somerset, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” – whereas the Lords have watered this down to allow horizontal drilling under national parks and AONBs so long as it starts outside the areas. World Heritage sites such as The City of Bath are protected.

In his letter Mr Rees-Mogg also states:

“The Government has proposed to allow developers to access the ground up to 5000 feet below private land without the risk of breaching trespassing laws”

The trouble is that 1000 metres does not equal 5000 feet, it is not even close.

If Mr Rees-Mogg insists on using the Weights and Measures Act 1824 as his standard for measurement then he should make more effort to get the conversion right. Any school pupil will tell you that 1000 metres is about 3000 feet, not 5000 feet. More precisely it is 3281 feet. So, Mr Rees-Mogg has exaggerated the depth at which trespass extends by a factor of 1/3. It is hard to imagine how he came up with the figure of 5000 feet unless he was thinking about the maximum (rather than the minimum) depth that coalbed methane (CBM) can be extracted from the Somerset coal seams.

What is equally worrying as Mr Rees-Mogg’s innumeracy is that the Infrastructure Act doesn’t seem to apply to CBM. The Coal Act already gives powers for drilling in coal seams without trespass. During the limited debate on the Bill Tessa Munt MP asked in relation to CBM whether “there should be a prohibition on all gas exploitation at depths of less than 1,000 metres?  but she received no reply.

On CBM extraction the Government’s Planning Guidance says:

“Extraction is likely to be achievable between 200 and 1500 metres, depending on the coal permeability and other issues. At shallower depths the gas pressure in the coal is likely to be insufficient, while at depths greater than 1500 metres the pressure of the overlying strata is likely to have reduced coal permeability restricting the flow of methane.”

The GeoMet Inc assessment of CBM in Somerset suggested extracting coalbed methane at depths between 152m (500 feet) and 1524m (5000 feet) and there would seem to be nothing in the Infrastructure Act to prevent that happening.

Despite a Freedom of Information Request and an appeal the Department of Energy and Climate Change has declined to say where in Somerset gas companies have applied for new licenses as part of the 14th onshore licensing round. Almost everywhere in the Bristol Somerset coalfield, apart from the City of Bath, is therefore still at risk of becoming a gas field. UK Methane are expected to apply for planning permission for test drilling in PEDL 227 at any time.

Fracking in Lancashire – a threat to us all.

At the end of January, Lancashire Council will make a decision on whether to approve two fracking applications that have been made by Cuadrilla for exploration within PEDL 165.  This has serious consequences not only for Lancashire but for the rest of the UK, as approval there could set a precedent for the rest of the country.  ‘Frack Off says that ‘If approved these applications would permit the first use of high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK since Cuadrilla’s first frack at Preese Hall in Lancashire in 2011 (i).  Remember the earthquakes? 

On 16th January the Environment Agency granted environmental permits after what it describes as a ‘rigorous assessment’ of Cuadrilla’s applications (ii).  These permits will apparently ensure the safety of people, ground water and the environment from the effects of mining waste, gas flaring, radioactive material and chemical pollutants that will arise as part of the fracking process.  At a time when the Government is offering assurances that fracking is a safe process, with appropriate regulations and monitoring in place, Defra plans to ‘reduce regulatory and administrative burdens’ by reducing air quality monitoring and perhaps more interestingly, proposing to abolish air quality objectives for four pollutants, two of which are of concern in fracking (iv).  None of this makes sense.

You can object to Cuadrilla’s Planning Application via the following website where you will also find information about how to join the demonstration at Preston County Hall http://frackfreelancashire.org.uk/cms/?p=58

Related information:

http://frack-off.org.uk/new-lancashire-threat-cuadrillas-fracking-plans/

ii https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-agency-grants-shale-gas-permit-for-preston-new-road

iii http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/17/lancashire-fracking-revolution-uk-shale-gas-exploration-cuadrilla-fylde-blackpool

iv https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/laqm-review-next-steps/