Cameron’s American Style Fracking Revolution in Somerset

In the Western Daily Press on the 9th June David Cameron lauded the West Country saying:

“The West Country is one of Britain’s greatest assets. Beautiful countryside and coastline …  From du Maurier’s Cornwall to Hardy’s Dorset, with the mysticism of Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor, there’s no end to what this region has to offer.”

Then a couple of sentences later he says:
“We are legislating so that Britain can get the roads and the energy supplies it needs – unlocking our North Sea resources and developing shale gas, so that Britain is less dependent on foreign countries for its resources.”

Energy security is a serious matter but then, as he points out, so are the assets of the West Country’s beautiful countryside and cultural heritage on which so many local livelihoods rely.  There is no coal or shale in Devon or Cornwall so he must be thinking of the prospect of unconventional gas in Somerset where the existing licenses stretch in a 20 km wide strip from south Bristol to “mystical” Glastonbury Tor passing mystical Stanton Drew on the way. He has also said that opponents to fracking are “irrational”, “religiously opposed” and “ideological”. However, in pushing for an American style shale gas revolution in Somerset the Prime Minister seems to want to have his West Country asset / shale gas (or coalbed methane) cake and eat it.

Considering that 450 sq km of Somerset is under threat of coalbed methane (CBM) development and that American coalbed methane experts Geomet Inc have calculated that 400 sq km of Somerset can accommodate up to 300 CBM wells,  are local residents being either “irrational”, “ideological”  or “religiously opposed” when they know that in America an “American style” coalbed methane revolution looks like this in the forests of the Black Warrior Basin in Alabama (white dots are CBM gas wells) :

Black Warrior Basin, Alabama

Black Warrior Basin, Alabama (Landsat 8, May 2014)

Or like this in the wilderness of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico:
CBM San Juan Basin, New Mexico

CBM San Juan Basin, New Mexico, (Landsat 8, June 2013)

Or in Australia like this in the Kumbarilla State Forest in Queensland:
Kumbarilla State Forest, Queensland

Kumbarilla State Forest, Queensland (Landsat 8, December 2013)

These examples are all recent satellite images of 20km by 20km (400 sq km) blocks of coalbed methane gas fields which have regular patterns of hundreds of wells between 400m and 800m apart.
Rather than the uninhabited forests of Alabama and Queensland or the wilderness of New Mexico the coalition government wants to impose a similar revolution on Somerset (and a huge chunk of the rest of the country), not in wilderness or forests but right inside our communities. Cameron can’t have it both ways. Let’s make sure that Cameron doesn’t put an end to what the West Country has to offer!



Fracking Charm Offensive

The government has gone on a Fracking charm offensive today (13th Jan 2014) with the Prime Minister saying that the government is “going all out for shale” and has announced that councils can retain all of the business rates raised by from fracking sites. This has been widely reported as a “bribe” in the press. (We have been here before).

David Cameron said today :

  • “As soon as a well is dug the local community should get £100,000”. This is not correct. It is only when a well is hydraulically fractured which may not happen at all for exploratory wells and may not happen for some years for coalbed methane production wells. Further this is a voluntary payment by companies which are members of  the UK Onshore Operators Group. We have asked UKOOG who their members are. No reply.
  • That the shale industry will “bring 74,000 jobs” – highly debatable.
  • That shale gas will “Give us cheaper energy”. This is a real howler. Lord Stern (LSE), Lord Browne (Chairman of Cuadrilla for heaven’s sake) and the Department of Energy’s Chief Scientific Adviser, and many others, all say that shale gas will not bring down energy prices in the UK.
  • That shale gas will “Increase our energy security “. This is a mirage. Shale gas may offer a short-term supply of gas but then what? That is not energy security. Further it does so at the expense of climate security and will leave behind a countryside full of stranded and worthless assets. The government’s statutory adviser, the Climate Change Committee, estimates that the dash for gas is going to cost us (not save us) many billions of pounds.
  • “I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well.” Who on Earth is advising the Prime Minister?

This is what the Barnett Shale just outside Dallas looks like from space. The image is nearly 30 km across. Not all of those little white dots are drilling pads but a huge number of them are. The others are people’s houses.

Drilling pads to the west of Dallas, 31 August 2013.

Drilling pads to the west of Dallas, Landsat 8, 31 August 2013.

Some well sites are immediately adjacent to people’s homes.  Is this really what Cameron wants Britain to look like, a great mass of fracking pads? Well the people of Dallas (Oil City) are getting fed up with it and in December the City Council banned fracking within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, churches and protected areas. There are no such restrictions in the UK and UK Methane boasted at the debate in Bath that they have previously drilled within 50m (150 feet) of residences.

Politicians such as Mr Cameron, Mr Fallon, Mr Lilley and Mr Rees-Mogg continue to claim that shale gas will give us cheaper energy prices, whereas Lord Stern and many others call this “baseless economics”.

Only last week David Cameron said that the current floods are linked to climate change but today he is forcing through an expensive policy which compromises our climate change commitments. DECC’s Chief Scientific Adviser recently reported to DECC that:
“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 carbon emissions and the risk of climate change. We would strongly encourage continued efforts from the UK and internationally to address this issue, proportionate to the emissions involved.”

(McKay & Stone 2013, Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use. Department of Energy and Climate Change. )

Politicians are welcome to their own opinions and policies but they are not entitled to their own facts. The coalition government is willfully ignoring advice from their own advisers to concoct a pro-shale policy.