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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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.

The wheels have already fallen off the US Coalbed Methane band wagon

The coalition government wants to start a US Style unconventional gas revolution in the UK including Somerset where Coalbed Methane (CBM) is currently the prime form of unconventional gas being evaluated. Before embarking on a similar US style CBM band wagon it is probably worth taking a closer look at how the US Coalbed Methane Industry is performing. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has undertaken a series of studies on CBM which make interesting reading.

EPA report that according to the Energy Information Administration that US wellhead gas prices fell from an all time high of $7.97 per Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) in 2008 to $ 3.67 in 2009 and that this fall was a combination of both the increase in shale gas production but also in the economic crisis that started in 2008 resulting in a simultaneous over supply and a decline in demand. From here on it is estimated that prices over the coming decades are only going one way and that is up.

US Natural Gas  Prices and Projection

US Natural Gas Prices and Projection, Source EPA

How has CBM gas production compared with shale gas during this period? Whilst shale gas production has increased dramatically CBM production isn’t keeping up and is actually declining. So what is going on?

US Gas Production

US Gas Production, Source EPA

The EPA’s motivation for this research was to investigate the impact on the CBM industry of additional environmental controls on wastewater processing and disposal and how additional costs to protect the environment would impact the industry. Note that for CBM the wastewater is from dewatering the coal seams to get the gas flowing in addition to any water used for hydraulic fracturing. In the USA companies can use a range of methods to get rid of wastewater from full processing to direct discharge of untreated water into surface water courses and underground injection (which would not be allowed in the UK – or will the Infrastructure Bill allow it?).

From their analysis the EPA found that independent of further environmental controls that:

“a large fraction of existing CBM projects are no longer economically viable”

and

“EPA estimated that approximately 25 percent of existing CBM projects either closed immediately in 2008 or were non-operational by 2010. EPA expects that an additional 43 percent of the existing CBM projects reported in 2008 were shut down by 2012.”

So they are saying that 68% of the US CBM projects were shut down by 2012! No wonder CBM gas production is not keeping up with shale gas. For existing projects EPA say:

“Overall, EPA found that applying wastewater discharge requirements would impose significant burdens in terms of immediate or early shutdown and loss of gas production from the projects that remained economically viable at 2008 and 2010. “

They go on to say that most new projects may be “delayed by at least 30 years” (by which time we are supposed to have decarbonised our energy sector). This is without even cleaning up the water discharge regime which would further delay the viability of new projects. So EPA isn’t going to impose any further wastewater regulations because it would basically close down development of the CBM industry.

But if CBM companies are going out of business then what happens to the gas wells?  It turns out that they may get bought up and fostered by other companies who don’t have to bother with the development costs or they may be simply “orphaned”.

Coalbed methane bust leaves thousands of orphaned gaswells in Wyoming 

Aftermath of a drilling boom: Wyoming stuck with orphaned gaswells

Orphan wells

Wyoming effort to plug orphaned coalbed methane gas wells ahead of schedule

Orphaned wells are not just a US phenomenon, of the 2,000 odd oil and gas wells ever drilled in the UK the ownership of 53% is unclear and between 50 and 100 are thought to be orphaned – Davies et al. 2014

GeoMet Inc – where next?

What happened to the company GeoMet Inc who evaluated the Bristol-Somerset coalfield back in the 1990s? Their 2011 report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission gives a brutally honest assessment of the industry including 10 pages of Risk Factors that might affect their business including regulation relating to global warming, indebtedness, uncertainties in estimating gas reserves, finding new areas to develop, environmental regulation, water disposal costs,  detrimental impacts of climate change and uninsurable losses.

In May 2014 GeoMet Inc sold “substantially all of its remaining assets”.

So much for the US CBM revolution. Do we want to start one in Somerset?

Read the page about GeoMet’s CBM exploration in Somerset here and our annotated copy of their PEDL relinquishment report for Somerset here:

FFCV CBM Report

Click to download

The Bad News and a Glimmer of Hope

NEWS ALERT!

The bad news is that FFCV has located a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) report from 2000 prepared by American coalbed methane (CBM) specialists GeoMet Inc which lays bare what the government already knows about coalbed methane exploration in the Chew Valley and surroundings – the extent of the prospective area, the estimated volume of the gas and the number of wells needed to extract it. In the 400 sq km around the Chew Valley lake 108 sq km are considered prospective and if fully developed would require about 300 gas wells on a 566m well spacing. It is quite shocking that this public information has not been made available to local communities (or to BANES) so that they can make informed decisions about unconventional gas and how it might affect them, their families and their businesses. What is more this report was not referred to in the report on unconventional gas prepared for BANES by the British Geological Survey – even though they make reference to it in their national CBM evaluation. Read our web page on the subject and the report and maps we have prepared from the original government report and digital map data.

FFCV CBM Report

FFCV CBM Report

The glimmer of hope is that BANES has been informed by DECC that three of the four current Petroleum Exploration and Development (PEDL) licences covering Somerset have been relinquished (i.e. given back to the State) by the gas companies (PEDLs 225, 226, 228), including most of the Chew Valley catchment. However these PEDLs could be put back into the pot and offered again to other gas companies for exploration and development as part of the 14th Onshore Licensing Round, which is imminent. On the basis that these areas have now twice been evaluated by gas companies and twice they have decided not to develop them it is imperative that they are now excluded from further licencing rounds to protect them. Help make this happen by writing to BANES, to your MP and most importantly to Rt Hon Michael Fallon (correspondence@decc.gsi.gov.uk) the minister of state responsible for onshore unconventional gas. That the government should knowingly licence these sensitive areas exposes the extent to which the administration is willing to gamble with what David Cameron only recently described as one of “Britain’s greatest assets” – the beautiful countryside of the West Country – not to mention your well being.

Further bad news though is that licence PEDL 227 has been extended indicating that the company UK Methane is probably planning to apply for planning permission to drill an exploration bore hole. The DECC/GeoMet report indicates where within that PEDL the exploration might take place and if productive how may wells might be needed to extract it – its about 85.

Somerset PEDL Map

Somerset PEDL Map (Source Frack Free Somerset)

Let your MP know what you think and make sure they know what the government actually knows about unconventional gas in their constituencies rather than listen to their parroting and cheer-leading of the coalition government’s position.