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.


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.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Laughing Gas Emissions Red Herring

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg MP is well known for his enthusiasm for the unabated burning of fossil fuels, for the reduction of environmental regulation and for his climate skepticism. So it is nice to see him belatedly expressing concern for an environmental health issue – None of us can afford to ignore dangers of diesel, Somerset Guardian (16/2/2017). However, rather than actually addressing the substantive issue (the health impacts of burning fossil fuels) he uses his article as a stick to beat the EU with and he constructs a red-herring fallacy to trivialise the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on climate change.

Mr Rees-Mogg quotes the shocking statistic that air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK “primarily caused by nitrous oxides that are produced by diesel engines”. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is of course laughing gas (dephlogisticated nitrous air to Mr Rees-Mogg), rather than nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is produced by diesel engines and gas boilers and which causes harmful air pollution.

The policy of promoting diesel over petrol engines was a well intentioned but bad policy based on bad information and lobbying by the car manufacturers. Mr Rees-Mogg blames an “EU green agenda” rather than the criminal actions of the car industry or the lack of regulatory enforcement by national governments, including the UK. The EU is threatening to fine the UK for being in breach of its NO2 limits since 2010, not the other way around.

The motivation behind the switch from petrol to diesel was to reduce CO2 emissions from petrol engines in order to mitigate global climate change – on the basis that companies such as VW were not knowingly cheating the system, which they were.

Mr Rees-Mogg says “The policy was determined because of fears about carbon dioxide emissions and an agreement made across the European Union to reduce them. Petrol creates more carbon dioxide than diesel engines but carbon dioxide does not lead to serious health complaints, indeed it is perfectly safe as a background atmospheric gas for people to breath”.

In these two sentences Mr Rees-Mogg has constructed a logical fallacy that says – because carbon dioxide is not toxic it is therefore harmless, so we shouldn’t be concerned about it and producing more is not an issue. This meme, which is often used by the fossil fuel lobby to misinform, detracts from the real issue which is that emissions from burning fossil fuels, including both diesel and petrol, is a very serious problem that both kills people through air pollution and which is dangerously disrupting the Earth’s climate.

Mr Rees-Mogg has clearly not read the report from the Royal College of Physicians on air pollution (the source of the 40,000 figure) which highlights the co-benefits of mitigating climate change and reducing air pollution.

Given that fossil fuel combustion is a major source of both greenhouse gases and local air pollutants, if action is taken to address climate change there could be major improvements in outdoor air quality as a result of decarbonisation of power and transport systems, and improved efficiency of energy use. Indeed, the economic benefits of improved health resulting from reduced exposure to fine particles and other local and regional air pollutants as a consequence of climate policies have been estimated to be sufficient, on their own (ie without reference to climate benefits), to justify a range of climate actions being adopted”.

Neither air pollution nor climate change are laughing matters and their solutions lie in both strong environmental regulation and leaving fossil fuels in the ground – two things Mr Rees-Mogg is not the slightest bit interested in.

Rees-Mogg’s red herring…

Sir Humphrey is up to his Obfuscating Shale Gas Antics (again)


Sir Humphrey ApplebyGCBKBEMVOMA (Oxon)

Having exposed Sir Humphrey’s role in telling half-truths about unconventional gas in the Bath/ Mendip area we wrote to DECC asking them to confirm the other half of the truth – that Coalbed Methane (CBM) is the primary mineral in the area, that CBM isn’t covered by the Infrastructure Act (including it restrictions of drilling depths, other safeguards and restrictions on drilling in protected areas such as the Mendip AONB), that is it done at shallow depth, etc, etc, etc. Sir Humphrey replied and confirmed these other essential pieces of information or carefully obfuscated to avoid excruciating embarrassment.

We also asked what the Government is doing to protect the climate given that climate change and sea level rise is such a massive issue in Somerset and considering that their very own Chief Scientific Advisor had reported to them that “The production of shale gas could increase global cumulative GHG emissions if the fossil fuels displaced by shale gas are used elsewhere” (NB DECC has no way to keep displaced Qatari gas in the ground).

Given the very carful wording of Minister Andrea Leadsom’s letter to Ben Howlett MP we though that we should check Sir Humphrey’s reply, in which he said:

The Government is committed to a low carbon and affordable future for energy. Gas – the cleanest fossil fuel – still meets a third of our energy demand and we will need it for many years to come. As the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said in 2013, the UK will “continue to use considerable, albeit declining, amounts of gas well into the 2030s” and “if anything, using well-regulated UK shale gas… could lead to lower overall greenhouse gas emissions than continuing to import gas”. Developing home-grown sources of gas can create a bridge while we develop renewable energy, improve energy efficiency and build new nuclear.

(NB The CCC is the Government’s statutory advisor on climate change)

What the CCC has said about gas is that gas “cannot be regarded as a low-carbon fuel source”. So much for the ‘cleanest fossil fuel’ – let’s call it the least-dirty fossil fuel instead.

But where have the 2013 CCC quotes come from? A report from the CCC to the Government? Err, well apparently not, they seem to have been cherry picked from a note to a CCC blog post.

The first part of the quote does not refer to the UK as a whole but is specific to the “building and industry sectors” in a “virtually” decarbonised power sector supplied by renewables, new nuclear and gas with Carbon Capture and Storage – now effectively cancelled by Sir Humphrey’s own department.

The second part of the CCC quotation seems to have been edited.

The CCC’s words are: “As outlined above, if anything using well-regulated UK shale gas to fill this gap could lead to lower overall lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than continuing to import LNG.

Sir Humph’s version :if anything, using well-regulated UK shale gas… could lead to lower overall greenhouse gas emissions than continuing to import gas

The word ‘lifecycle‘ has been removed and the word ‘LNG‘ has been changed to ‘gas‘.

The CCC quotation used by Sir Humphrey is about Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) (e.g. from Qatar) not about gas in general. The self-same CCC note shows that conventional ‘gas’ from Norway has lower lifecycle emissions that UK shale (with green completions). LNG has marginally higher emissions than UK shale gas with green completions and about the same emissions as UK shale gas without green completions. The CCC note says “So, at the margin, meeting a given amount of UK gas demand via domestic shale gas production could lead to slightly lower emissions than importing LNG“. Hardly the basis for a national shale gas policy.

Illustrative livecycle emissions of natural gas

Illustrative livecycle emissions of natural gas, Source CCC 2013

The relative emissions from different gas sources is interesting but it doesn’t tell you about cumulative greenhouse gas emissions (what actually matters in terms of global warming) and whether a new fossil fuel source is increasing or decreasing those emissions. If a new fossil fuel displaces an old one but the old one is simply burned somewhere else, rather than leaving it in the ground, then the new source is part of the problem or at best is an ineffective solution.

So there is no justification in Sir Humphrey substituting the word ‘LNG’ with ‘gas’. Nor is there justification for removing the word ‘lifecycle’ because CCC was talking about comparative lifecycle emissions. And of course there can be no excuse for editing the CCC’s note in the first place, presenting it out of context and passing it off as CCC’s words in order to justify the exploitation of shale gas as a ‘clean’ fossil fuel.

Considering that:

  1. Sea level rise is an undeniable and measurable consequence of anthropogenic global warming caused by fossil fuel combustion
  2. Sea level rise and drainage are massive issues in low lying areas of Somerset
  3. That the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor on energy and climate change says that any new fossil fuel will probably lead to further global warming

then the licensing of large areas of Somerset that are vulnerable to sea level rise for unconventional gas or oil exploration is a grotesque nonsense.

We have asked Sir Humphrey to explain his portrayal of gas as ‘clean’, for his cherry picking of CCC blog posts to justify unconventional gas exploitation and for editing and misrepresenting CCC quotations. We have also asked why these self same edited words have been used repeatedly by the DECC Correspondence Unit and by the Minister Andrea Leadsom in a debate in the House of Commons. Amazingly the Hansard transcribers managed to get the “…”s and the ” ” marks in the right place – how does the Minister do that? She must be doing that annoying quotations thing with her fingers as she speaks.

We are looking forward to Sir Humphrey’s reply.

Hacker: Humphrey, do you see it as part of your job to help ministers make fools of themselves?

Sir Humphrey: Well, I never met one that needed any help.




South West MEP Julia Reid repeats climate myths (again)

In the South West we are represented in the European Parliament by six MEPs one of whom is Dr Julia Reid who is also the UKIP science spokesperson. MEPs represent us in the parliament and are responsible for passing European laws, establishing the EU budget, etc.

UKIP policy is not just Euro-sceptic it is also climate-sceptic and firmly rejects climate science and advocates the use of fossil fuels including fracking. In the European Parliament debate on the outcome of the recent Paris Climate Conference, at which the world’s nations committed to act to avoid dangerous climate change, Dr Reid gave a speech in which she repeats a number of well known climate myths frequently used by UKIP and the fossil fuel PR machine.


Let’s see if Dr Reid’s assertions have any basis or if they are well known myths debunked by the scientific community.

Since 1880 the 16 hottest years on record are the last 16 years.

Dr Reid’s Myth 1 – “… there has been no warming since 1997… ”

This is a well worn climate myth championed by Lord Lawson’s fossil fuel lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation quoted in the UKIP policy documents.

The myth cherry picks by using a starting point of a hot El Nino year (it is normally 1998 not 97) and ignores the fact that the land, the atmosphere and melting ice only account for about 3% of total warming with most of the rest being taken up by the oceans.

Source Met Office

From Nuccitelli et al. (2012)

But let’s hear it from a geeky climate scientist:

Not enough?

NB in February 2016 we are towards the end of the latest El Niño event.

To study climate we have direct climate measurements for the past 250 years or so and we also have proxy measurements covering millions of years.

Dr Reid’s Myth 2 – “Current records are all too brief, even 250 years is insufficient time for a meaningful assessment of long term climate patterns

This myth ignores the fact that we have a multitude of climate data sources in addition to recent direct measurements, including ice cores, tree rings, lake sediments, knowledge of orbit variations, etc.

Paeleoclimatology https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/paleoclimatology-data

Let’s hear it from another climate scientist:

The climate has changed greatly over geological time and science has a good idea of why these changes have taken place.

Dr Reid’s Myth 3 – “I don’t dispute there has been climate change, there has been for thousands of years. A thousand years ago we had the Medieval warm period, before that we had the Roman warm period, before that we had the late Egyptian warm period and before that the Minoan warm period.“.

These warm periods were caused by a combination of factors including the Earth’s orbit, volcanic activity and solar output and are understood by science. Science also understands that the dominant factor causing warming now is the greenhouse effect caused by manmade CO2 emissions and that the other natural factors are currently secondary.

Let’s hear it from a climate scientist:

Variations in the Sun’s output are an obvious factor in the Earth’s climate but science knows that a) the current warming is caused by atmospheric CO2 concentrations not the Sun and b) the Sun is currently entering a quite cooling period, not a warming period.

Dr Reid’s Myth 4 – “All these [warm periods] actually coincide with the Sun’s activity. We’ve seen that cooling has actually started to happen since the solar cycle 24 decreased and the sun is very inactive at the moment in fact some solar scientists forecast that we are actually heading for another Maunder minimum

Dr Reid is attributing past warm periods to variations in the Sun’s output whilst at the same time ignoring the fact that despite the Sun currently entering a cool phase temperatures are rising. She rationalises this by denying that temperatures are rising.

Source: skepticalscience.com

But let’s hear it from a climate scientist:

Dr Reid’s climate scepticism is not just her opinion, it is stated UKIP policy. It is also a counter narrative to the global science community’s robust analysis of the full range of evidence which has been accepted by the nations of the world in the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to avert dangerous anthroprogenic climate change.

Are you happy to be represented in the European Parliament by proponents of climate ignorance, no matter what party they come from?

The science videos in this posting are all from the University of Queensland, Australia.

Let’s hear it from Sir David Attenborough:

Alternative views are available:


Jacob Rees-Mogg Timsbury Environment Group Interview

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“.

Shale gas climate impacts – according to the “task force on shale gas”

The industry funded Task Force on Shale Gas has today released its third report Assessing the Impact of Shale Gas on Climate Change.

The report brings nothing new to the table and rehashes existing information whilst coming to their own conclusions. It also has some massive holes in it, no least its central argument that shale gas is “cleaner” (aka “less dirty”) than coal and by displacing coal can help us to decarbonise. The conveniently misses the point that our coal fired power stations are due to close by 2023 and rather than displacing coal shale gas would displace Liquefied Natural Gas and that the emissions benefits of shale gas against LNG are at best marginal.  This self appointed industry funded “task force” is suggesting that shale gas is a bridging fuel to a decarbonised economy. This is the same argument used by UK Methane and  Cuadrilla’s chief geologist who said at a seminar in Bath a year ago that the solution to climate change was more and more gas. Despite giving a seminar on fracking in Bath he didn’t seem to know anything about the Bath Hot Springs or the local geology and presented a slide from DECC which had been doctored to make shale gas emission intensity look less – on the basis of wishful thinking rather than evidence. On the other hand DECC’s former Chief Scientific Advisor very clearly stated (twice) in his report on greenhouse gas emissions that:

Without global climate policies (of the sort already advocated by the UK) new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of climate change.”

The task force report conveniently ignores global cumulative emissions which are what actually matters. For a full analysis and commentary on the task force’s climate change report have a look at Carbon Brief’s take on it.

The potential impacts of climate change and in particular sea level rise on Somerset are profound. Let’s hope that DECC (read George Osbourne who has actually taken oven energy policy) will stop listening to this so called task force and start listening to its scientific advisorsthe Environmental Audit Committee and the  Committee on Climate Change whose job it is to provide this kind of advice without first filtering it through a gas industry prism.  However, Ministers seem to prefer to trumpet the views of the task force rather than their statutory advisors.

Thanks to Jill Sutcliffe for pointing out this reference: A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas

House of Commons Committee calls for fracking moratorium

Update: The government accepted changes to the Bill tabled by Labour including independent well inspection, monitoring of methane leaks and informing residents of local fracking and removing the clause allowing any substance to be left in the ground. Labour however abstained on the amendment for a fracking moratorium. Whilst the government also committed to cancelling licences if advised by the Committee on Climate Change that shale gas would not enable the UK to meet its climate change commitments, this does not robustly address the climate issue highlighted by the Environmental Audit Committee. Labour abstained from voting on the proposal for a moratorium.

Update: In a shambolic debate on the Infrastructure Bill today in the House of Commons MPs complained that they did not have time to debate the issues, that they didn’t know what they were voting on (as the government hadn’t tabled its amended amendment to one clause), that what was happening was undemocratic, MPs voted through changes to the trespass law (amongst other things). Other amendments were also rejected but as yet it is unclear what has really transpired. The government has conceded that fracking will be banned in National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs but the status of ancient wood land remains unclear. Other amendments and concessions were made but it may take a few days to really understand what has happened. The bill will now return to the House of Lords.


Tories forced into U-turn on fast-track fracking after accepting Labour plans

Fracking to be banned in national parks, Government concedes

Update: David Cameron said today “We want to have greater energy security, we want to keep prices down, we also want to tackle climate change.” Apart from George Osborne and the drilling companies it is hard to find anybody who agrees with this statement.

UpdateGeorge Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter

This morning (26 January 2015) the cross party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has published its report on the Environmental Risks of Fracking. The committee (7 Conservative,  6 Labour, 2 Liberal Democrat, 1 Green) concludes:

We called for a moratorium on fracking because it cannot be accommodated within our climate change obligations. A halt is also needed on environmental grounds, and it is essential that further independent studies into the impacts of fracking in the UK are completed to help resolve the environmental risk uncertainties. It is vital that the precautionary principle is applied. Until uncertainties are fully resolved, and the required regulatory and monitoring system improvements we identify are introduced, there should also be a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking on environmental grounds.

This evidence based cross-party Parliamentary report cuts through the spin and nonsense (cheap gas, transition fuel, etc) that has been used by the government to promote the fracking industry. Hopefully it will inform the debate in Parliament on the infrastructure bill later today!

The committee also comes to the following conclusions (read the full report here):

  • “A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached.” The Committee recognises that unconventional gas is likely to add to our greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them, meaning that we can’t stick to our legally binding climate change commitments. This can be done by amending the Infrastructure Bill – being debated today!
  • Fracking must be prohibited outright in protected and nationally important areas including National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland, and any land functionally linked to these areas.” Enough said.
  • The time required to develop an unconventional gas industry (10-15 years) means that unconventional gas would be competing not with unabated coal (which will largely have been phased out) but with renewables – making a nonsense of the transition-fuel argument for unconventional gas.
  • The changes to the law of trespass “has serious implications for citizens’ rights which could unnecessarily undermine the democratic process for objecting to development. On this issue, the public have spoken and the Government must listen.
  • Regulation of unconventional gas is not fully coordinated across government.
  • Environmental baselines should be in place and should inform licensing.
  • fracking should be prohibited in all [water] source protection zones
  • There must be clear and accessible public disclosure on the chemicals used in the exploration and production of shale gas, and the risks they potentially pose.”

Analysis can be found on Carbon Brief – MPs brand fracking ‘incompatible’ with UK climate targets

London & Bristol Climate Marches

Frack Free Chew Valley joined 40,000 other people (young and old, on foot, in prams, in wheelchairs) in London on Sunday 21st September and thousands more in Bristol to send a message to the government and our MPs that there is no sense, no science and no votes in climate change denial and that we are currently way off track limiting temperature rise to 2C. The UK together with its international partners need to get real and start listening to their scientific advisers and put in place meaningful binding policies to deal with the problem. It is cheaper to deal with it now than in the future.

Statements by the government such as:

“Unconventional gas and oil can enhance our energy security, provide economic growth and be an important part of our transition to a low carbon future.”

(by the Office of Unconventional Gas & Oil) just don’t make sense or add up. Unconventional gas can only be considered as a transition fuel in the context of a completely binding agreement that properly accounts for the global carbon budget and which leaves other, dirtier, fossil fuels in the ground (according to DECC’s former Chief Scientific Advisor and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research). Otherwise it is just fanciful and damaging wishful thinking. The suggestion that unconventional oil can be a transition fuel is just simply nonsense. It is not. We have asked OUGO and DECC to justify this statement and 3 months later are still waiting for an answer.

What Do We Want? The Earth. When do we want it? Forever. Seems reasonable.

What Do We Want? The Earth. When do we want it? Forever!  (seems reasonable).



Why Cuadrilla is Wrong about Shale Gas Carbon Emissions

On the 4th March 2014 shale gas company Cuadrilla (who have no current interest in exploration in Somerset) came to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and Environment at Bath University to give a talk entitled Why shale gas is key to economic revival and an environmental force for good although on the day it was called  The Exploration for shale, why we’re doing this, why it’s safe and why it’s good.

The talk had three key points:

  • shale gas is revolutionary and the UK can play a role in these changes
  • the UK shale gas industry must communicate its experience
  • gas consumption must be one of the key strategies in reducing CO2 emissions

The speaker cited “the six big myths” of fracking including the possibility of fracking fluids and hydrocarbons contaminating ground water and illustrating the “reality” of  fracking at 3km depth in the Bowland shale of the north of England but  seemingly with no knowledge of the geology of Somerset or of the Bath Hot Springs and how they work – i.e. the migration of water from the Mendips to great depths where it is heated to reemerge under pressure at the surface via an unknown network of existing fractures. No need for fracking then in Somerset as the geology already has fluid migrating from depth to the surface via all the geological strata. There was no mention in the Cuadrilla myth list of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s main concerns on well failure and surface spillage –  “Both are common to all oil and gas wells and extractive activities” (RAE), so that’s not a myth then.  One slide directly compared how much gas is there in the Bowland shale with the UK annual gas consumption but without mentioning that only a fraction of the resource can be economically recovered or mentioning that the Houses of Parliament Office of Science & Technology says that “there are currently no official reserve estimates”.

This post however is not about shale gas resources and reserves or about the complex Somerset geology, it is about Cuadrilla’s assertion that “continued gas consumption must be one of the key strategies in reducing CO2 emissions”. Cuadrilla’s message is basically that gas is less dirty than coal and that shale gas has brought down emissions in the USA – so wouldn’t it be great if the UK could do the same. To illustrate this they compared the annual US natural gas production (EIA 2013) with the CO2 emissions of the top four emitters (Global Carbon Project).

US Natural Gas Production by Source

US Natural Gas Production by Source

Global Carbon Project 2013, Top Fossil Fuel Emitters

Global Carbon Project 2013, Top Fossil Fuel Emitters

So increased US shale gas production results in reduced US CO2 emissions because methane generates less emissions per unit of energy than coal. But that is not the whole story.  Caudrilla did NOT show the following slide, from the same source, which shows that whilst the per capita emissions in the USA are declining they are still more than double the per capita emissions in the European Union where emissions are also declining but without any shale gas. US emissions are about four times the world average. This highlights the fact that if the US concentrated on energy efficiency it could drastically reduce its per capita emissions.

Average per capita emissions of the top four emitters in 2012

EIA, Average per capita emissions of the top four emitters in 2012

So if the USA is the number two CO2 emitter in the world and shale gas has had such an amazing impact on lowering US CO2 emissions then we might expect to see such good news as a reduction in global CO2 emissions? Do we?

Global Emissions by Country, Global Carbon Project

Global Emissions by Country, Global Carbon Project

Err, no. Where is the dip? The dirtier fuels, like coal, which are displaced by the less dirty shale gas do not stay in the ground. The US miners have not all gone home, the mine owners have not all shut up shop. The coal still gets dug up and is exported to other countries in Asia and Europe where they are burnt. As the EIA says “U.S. coal production largely follows the trend of domestic coal consumption, but increasingly it is influenced by coal exports.

Emissions don’t go down they go up because the shale gas is additional to, not instead of, the existing fossil fuel production. The IEA’s business as usual reference case for US coal production looks like this and shows a pickup in US coal production year on year after 2016 “as a result of growing coal exports and increasing use of coal in the electricity sector as electricity demand grows and natural gas prices rise” (EIA 2013).

EIA, US Coal Production 1970 - 2040

EIA, US Coal Production 1970 – 2040

So, if US natural gas production is forecast to increase and so is coal after 2016 where is the CO2 benefit in the US coal for shale gas displacement equation? The Earth doesn’t care where the emissions come from (the USA, China, Europe, or wherever) it only cares what the global cumulative emissions are.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change recently published their report Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use (2013) which emphasises “The view of the authors is that without global climate policies (of the sort already advocated by the UK) new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative GHG emissions and the risk of climate change.” This report also contains the following graphic which shows that in terms of the CO2 emissions per KWh generated that shale gas is less clean than conventional gas and the UK current blend but somewhat cleaner than non-EU gas and Liquid Natural Gas, based on the assumption that 90% of the methane released on shale gas well completion is captured and flared.  This is the figure from the DECC report:

Gas emissions intensity, DECC

Gas emissions intensity, DECC (2013)

Cuadrilla however reckon that they can capture 100% of gas through so called green completions so they have changed the DECC graphic to make it look like all shale gas might be subject to 100% gas recovery, not just by them but by everybody else as well. The Cuadrilla version was shown in their presentation with the words “with green completions” annotated in brackets. What evidence is there that Cuadrilla have ever achieved 100% gas recovery? They have never produced any gas so this is wishful thinking.

Gas emissions intensity, Cuadrilla

Gas emissions intensity, Cuadrilla

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has also published a report on shale gas and climate change impacts,  Shale gas: an updated assessment of environmental and climate change impactsand say “any new sources of fossil fuel, even if relatively low carbon per unit of useful energy, are likely to be combusted and consequently add to the global emissions burden“.

So, in summary, both the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and DECC (McKay and Stone) say that in the absence of a binding global emissions agreement that shale gas will add to cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to further global warming, whereas Cuadrilla say that shale gas will reduce emissions on the assumption that it will displace coal. There is no binding global emissions agreement, so who is right? Who does the Rt Hon Michael Fallon (the responsible Minister) agree with – the Chief Scientific Advisor of his own department or the executives from a gas company with a vested interest in extracting the gas?

Rt Hon M Fallon Letter re GHG emissions

Rt Hon M Fallon Letter re GHG emissions

“The UK hopes that Shale Gas will be a significant part of our future energy mix. This will of course be in a way that is completely compatible with our legally binding climate change targets.” “If shale proves commercially viable and cost effective then it could have a key role in meeting our climate goals in a least cost way – that is good for consumers and the environment”

It is worth noting that both the Tyndall Centre and the DECC report both say that UK shale gas will have virtually no impact on UK gas prices. “Good for consumers and the environment”?

In June 2013 when asked about climate change Michael Fallon replied  “You are getting me into theology now, I don’t deal with that, that’s the other side of the department, isn’t it?”

NB Caudrilla do not have any current interests in Somerset where the licence holders are UK Methane and Shale Energy PLC. UK Methane and Shale Energy plc have.