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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HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE

You are invited to a special screening of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change followed by a Q&A with Josh Fox (Gasland).

The Odeon Bristol Union St, Avon, Bristol, Gloucestershire, BS1 2DS, United Kingdom

Wed, Oct 12, 2016 5:30 PM. 

3 days left to book a ticket!

HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE

HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN'T CHANGE

Why are we promoting this film? Because unconventional gas, like the gas in the coal beneath the Chew Valley, is a fossil fuel that can’t be exploited if we want to prevent disruptive climate change.

Get involved, start talking !

Andrea Leadsom Misses the CBM Point

Recent local press reports (Bath Chronicle, Chew Valley Gazette) have trumpeted the news that Ben Howlett MP (Bath) and James Heappey MP (Wells) have been assured by Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, that North East Somerset and the Mendips are not in the ‘shale prospective area’ and that there is “no frackable shale gas to be found” with Mr Howlett adding that “I am delighted to find that Bath and the Mendips do not have frackable shale gas under the surface and is therefore safe from the risk of fracking”.

However these statements miss the point that the primary hydrocarbon of interest to the gas companies in the area is Coalbed Methane (CBM) not Shale Gas. The previous licence holder for BANES/Mendip, UK Methane, said in its PEDL 227 relinquishment report (September 2015) that:

The licence is still possibly prospective for:

  •   Coal Bed Methane in the Westphalian Coal Measure
  •   Namurian Shale Gas
  •   Avon Group (Lower Limestone Shale) – Shale Gas Potential
  •   Devonian – Potential Conventional Play in Variscan structures”

The latest maps of Andrea Leadsom’s own department (updated 21/12/2015) show that  more than 1,000 square kilometres of the West Country have just been licensed for onshore oil and gas exploration including the Somerset-Wiltshire border, the Forest of Dean and the Somerset coast from Clevedon to Minehead despite none of these licenses being in the shale prospective area. At the time of the 14th Onshore Licensing Round UK Methane were still sitting on the Mendip PEDL so it couldn’t be put forward for consideration.

Despite what Andrea Leadsom has said there is nothing stopping the Bristol-Somerset coalfield being licensed yet again in the next licensing round for exploration of CBM. It is worth noting that the safeguards to shale gas fracking in the Infrastructure Act 2015 do not apply to CBM including surface drilling in protected areas such as AONBs and World Heritage Sites and fracking at depths as shallow as 200m.

So this good news story rings rather hollow. Nothing has changed except a larger area of Somerset is now licensed for oil and gas exploration than ever before.

Do legal safeguards relating to fracking for Shale Gas apply to Coalbed Methane in Somerset?

Safeguard: A measure taken to protect someone or something or to prevent something undesirable

The Infrastructure Act 2015 contains a list of twelve onshore hydraulic fracturing safeguards.

The list of safeguards is quite long (see below) and includes a condition that “prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of less than 1000 metres”, a condition prohibiting “associated hydraulic fracturing” from taking place in groundwater protection source areas and other protected areas such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty  and a condition ensuring that methane in ground water will be monitored for 12 months prior to commencing “associated hydraulic fracturing”.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has confirmed to FFCV that the definition of “associated hydraulic fracturing” in the Petroleum Act 1998 and the Infrastructure Act 2015 DOES NOT APPLY to Coalbed Methane (CBM).  It follows therefore than none of the legal safeguards in the Act apply to CBM either.

The government’s definition of associated hydraulic fracturing “means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale” and does not include coal where coalbed methane is found.  On this issue DECC have said “To confirm, this definition does not apply to CBM“.  CBM is the primary unconventional gas of interest in the Bristol-Somerset coalfield.

MP for North East Somerset, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, voted for the Infrastructure Act and has said in letters to concerned constituents:

J R-M: “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

This is an obtuse way of saying that fracking will not occur in the top 5000 feet depth from the surface (although this is not actually correct as the Act says 1000m which is 3280 feet).  According to DECC this does not apply to CBM in Somerset. The Government’s Planning Portal states that CBM extraction “is likely to be achievable between 200 and 1500 metres”. There would appear to be no legal safeguard prohibiting fracturing of coal for CBM at depths as shallow as 200m either outside or inside the Mendip Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

J R-M: “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

According to DECC this does not apply to CBM in Somerset. This is because the protection is contingent on the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing not the definition of protected areas such as AONBs.

J R-M: “The length of time during which companies must monitor the environment at a fracking site before work commences has also increased from a voluntary three-month period to a mandatory twelve month period

According to DECC the condition to monitor methane in groundwater for 12 months before fracturing does not apply to CBM in Somerset. This is because the protection is contingent on the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing which doesn’t apply to CBM.

J R-M: “There is a provision for compensation payments to affected communities”

According to DECC this won’t apply to CBM as the Act only applies to shale gas. Any payment would therefore be voluntary under the industry’s code.

J R-M: “I voted for the Bill as I am confident that the risks are tolerable

In relation to coalbed methane in Somerset Mr Rees-Mogg does not appear to know what law and safeguards apply or do not apply, so how can he assess the risks of coalbed methane production in his constituency?

According to the Somerset Guardian Mr Rees-Mogg has urged local residents to ignore ‘scare stories and scaremongering‘ around fracking and has ‘dismissed the concerns voiced by opponents‘. He has also said that “lack of information about the locations, size and scale of exploration works was in part to blame for the anxiety” whereas the location, size and scale of exploration work is well known because the American Coalbed Methane industry has described it in some detail – see the GeoMet report – and is the cause of much anxiety!

Resources

Feeling anxious?

Fracking safeguards that don’t apply to Coalbed Methane in the Bristol-Somerset coalfield?

The Infrastructure Act 2015 and changes to the Petroleum Act 1998 have a number of onshore hydraulic fracturing “safeguards” which only apply to Shale Gas, including:

(a) a condition which prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of less than 1000 metres;

In addition to this are a set of conditions, including:

  1. The environmental impact of the development which includes the relevant well has been taken into account by the local planning authority
  2. Appropriate arrangements have been made for the independent inspection of the integrity of the relevant well
  3. The level of methane in groundwater has, or will have, been monitored in the period of 12 months before the associated hydraulic fracturing begins
  4. Appropriate arrangements have been made for the monitoring of emissions of methane into the air
  5. The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas
  6. The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within other protected areas
  7. In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has (where material) taken into account the cumulative effects of— (a) that application, and (b) other applications relating to exploitation of onshore petroleum obtainable by hydraulic fracturing
  8. The substances used, or expected to be used, in associated hydraulic fracturing— (a) are approved, or (b) are subject to approval, by the relevant environmental regulator
  9. In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has considered whether to impose a restoration condition in relation to that development
  10. The relevant undertaker has been consulted before grant of the relevant planning permission
  11. The public was given notice of the application for the relevant planning permission

Plus two further conditions:

(a) that appropriate arrangements have been made for the publication of the results of the monitoring referred to in condition 4 in the table [above];

(b) that a scheme is in place to provide financial or other benefit for the local area.

What is “associated hydraulic fracturing”?

The Acts define “associated hydraulic fracturing as:

Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which —

(a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

(b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

NB DECC have confirmed that this definition DOES NOT APPLY to Coalbed Methane.

MEP’s Dud Fracking and Energy Polls

In the West Country we have six Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to represent us on issues including the development of unconventional gas and renewable energy. The South West MEPs include members of the Conservative, UKIP, Labour and Green parties. No matter what their political affiliation we should expect them to form their opinions on the basis of credible evidence and represent our best interests accordingly. Let’s have a quick look at how two of the South West MEPs form, reinforce and communicate their opinions:

Ashely Fox MEP (Conservative) conducts his own online polls including the questions Should Britain be accessing it’s shale gas reserves? and  Is onshore wind power worth investing in as part of a diversified energy sector? He then publishes an annual summary of the survey results including the percentage of respondents who answered in different ways and matches the results with his own views.  However, he provides no information on what measures were taken to ensure that the surveys are representative or how many respondents answered each question.

The result for Mr Fox’s shale gas question was 92.9% in favour and 7.1% against. 

The result for Mr Fox’s wind power question was 73.7% against (not worth investing in) and 26% in favour and 0.3% Don’t Know. 

Are these poll results indicative of public opinion nationally or in the South West or are they just self-selecting and self-serving nonsense? In stark contrast to Mr Fox’s poll results a national poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times shows that in May 2015 43% (Fox 7%) of respondents were against the development of shale gas and 32% in favour. Similarly the same YouGov poll shows that the public still supports onshore wind development with 61% (Fox 26%) of respondents supporting the industry.

So, are Mr Fox’s poll results representative or just self-serving? Mr Fox supports fracking and is a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. ashley@ashleyfoxmep.co.uk

Here is another take on this issue – Fracking support falls as Tory government promises to ‘deliver shale’

Dr Julia Reid MEP (UKIP) doesn’t have her own polls but rather favours sound-bite videos of her speeches in the European Parliament to communicate her views. Dr Reid doesn’t let her scientific qualifications get in the way of UKIP’s climate science denial based energy policy. In this one minute video she says “Since 1995 global warming has not been happening” ignoring the fact that it is a well established scientific fact that global warming has not stopped and that more than 90% of warming is in the oceans not the land surface air temperature.


Here is a more authoritative 1 minute video on global warming from the Royal Society.

A visual depiction of how much global warming heat is going into the various components of the climate system for the period 1993 to 2003, calculated from IPCC AR4 5.2.2.3.  Note that focusing on surface air temperatures misses more than 90% of the overall warming of the planet.

A visual depiction of how much global warming heat is going into the various components of the climate system for the period 1993 to 2003, calculated from IPCC AR4 5.2.2.3. Note that focusing on surface air temperatures misses more than 90% of the overall warming of the planet. (Source http://www.skepticalscience.com)

Climate Myth – What has global warming done since 1998?

Strangely Dr Reid seems to accept what the UN has to say about ozone depletion and the need for global action but rejects what the UN, the world’s Science Academies and NASA have to say about human made global warming.

Dr Reid supports fracking and is on the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. julia.reid@ukip.org

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.