James Hansen’s view on UK’s dash for fracked gas

Dr James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, has just said of UK’s dash for fracked gas – “Well, that’s screwing your children and grandchildren. Because if you do that, then there’s no way to avoid the consequences [of] multi-metre sea-level rise But we can’t do that and that’s what the science says crystal clear. And yet politicians pretend not to hear it, or not to understand it” [hear it all here].  This is rather relevant to Somerset seeing as the whole coast from Clevedon to Minehead is both being licensed for fracking and much of it is close to or below the current high tide level, which is considerably higher in the Severn Estuary than other coastal areas around the UK thanks to its geography.

Legally protected wildlife habitat in the Estuary is already being squeezed between rising sea level and the hard sea defences that snake around the coast, with new habitat having to be created through managed retreat at the cost of tens of millions of pounds – Steart Marsh. The Department for Energy and Climate Change is also having to ensure that sea defences at Hinkley Point are bolstered to prevent them being undermined by the rising tide.

A grotesque tautology is now in play whereby the sea level is already rising and protected wildlife habitat is being lost, having to be replaced at great cost, at the same time the area is being licensed for fracking that will result in more cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, leading to more sea level rise and more habitat loss and expense – all within plain sight of a nuclear power station and the site of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. You really couldn’t make it up. Nor could you make up the job description of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who (thanks to the Infrastructure Act) is now simultaneously responsible for both reducing carbon emissions and maximising the use of domestic fossil fuels without carbon capture and storage, i.e. maximising them.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for the Chew Valley and climate sceptic, has said that it is a choice between “cheap energy” and “living in the stone-age” – a false dichotomy that ignores environmental costs and fossil fuel subsidies. He says that we should only adapt to climate change (I thought he denied it? Ed.) rather than mitigate further change by reducing emissions, suggesting that we take a leaf out the the Dutch book by building the sea defences higher and higher – as the Dutch “have done for hundreds of years”.  He selectively forgets that historically the Dutch drained their land using windmills, an option not available in England as Mr Rees-Mogg has played his part in ending onshore wind – the least costly renewable energy. Another conundrum for the Secretary of State – how to deliver carbon reduction targets at least cost whilst at the same time closing down the least cost renewable option? – onshore wind.

So, as a politician does Mr Rees-Mogg pretend not to hear what science is saying about the climate (“the quasi religious Green movement” with its “environmentalist obsession”), or does he simply just not understand it? Perhaps he is listening too much to Christopher Booker’s climate myths  rather than spending any time engaging with science and people like James Hanson, who not only understands the science but who also advocates a market solution – another thing (surprisingly) Rees-Mogg doesn’t bother with unless massive fossil fuel subsidies are included. Ask a NASA scientist – or any of the 97% of climate scientists who have published and expressed a position on global warming.

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Respond to the Habitats Regulations Assessment

The Department for Energy and Climate Change is currently undertaking a consultation on the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).  The HRA is a legal requirement to ensure that protected habitats will not be impacted by adverse effects on their integrity by shale gas operations, including fracking. In Somerset this mainly means impacts on the protected areas between Clevedon and Minehead and parts of the Somerset Levels. These protected areas are wetlands and are protected by the international convention, UK and EU law – the Ramsar Convention, Habitats Conservation Regulations 2010 and the European Habitats and Birds Directives.  The areas are protected because they are internationally recognised as important sites for biodiversity.

Somerset 14th Round Protected Areas, West

Somerset 14th Round Protected Areas, West

Recent changes to the law mean that fracking can take place underneath all of these areas but the HRA accepts that fracking operations would have a negative impact if they were to take place on the surface inside the protected areas. This is stating the obvious as these are strictly protected areas. After hundreds of pages of inpenetrable maps and analysis the HRA concludes that surface operations could take place anywhere outside of the protected areas without adverse impacts, subject to a few non-biding licence advice notices.  The HRA provides no option not to issue a licence no matter what the environmental conditions.

The government has been advised by their former Chief Scientific Advisor that exploitation of shale gas would lead to additional cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and further global warming unless displaced fuel is not burned. The government can’t stop Qatar selling their gas to others if we don’t buy it. Global warming causes sea level rise and sea level rise is expected to remove three quarters of the intertidal habitat in the Severn Estuary over the next 60 years. Exploiting shale gas will therefore have a very plausible detrimental impact on these protected coastal habitats which the government has a legal obligation to protect. The HRA doesn’t even mention climate change or sea level rise, despite DECC being concerned about sea level rise and flooding in relation to Hinkley Point power station – which is slap bang in the middle of the Somerset assessment area. The HRA also relegates surface contamination from leaks & spillage and potential well failure to a stage of fracking operations that they say is not relevant to the assessment. It clearly is.

The assessment closes at 11:45 am on the 29th September. You can respond to the assessment and make your voice heard.

The HRA documents are voluminous and difficult to understand. You can see Frack Free Chew Valley’s response in summary and in detail by following these links.

HRA Summary

FFCV Response to the Habitats Regulations Assessment

NB The government is filtering the best scientific advice from its Advisors and Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee through the prism of a self appointed industry funded  ‘task force’ and is cherry picking evidence to justify pressing ahead with shale gas no matter what. The issues of climate change and sea level rise are just massive to the future of Somerset and its effects are already being felt. The HRA ignores this and the well known critical drainage situation both on the coast and inland.

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.


Climate Change – where to turn for credible information?

Making new sources of fossil fuels available through unconventional gas and fracking may have a profound impact on our ability to tackle climate change.  Climate Change is not a matter of opinion or a political issue but the policy response of how we mitigate and adapt to climate change is.  It is sometimes difficult to know what to think about climate change given the barrage of misinformation presented in the media which can often be traced back to fossil fuel lobbyists and vested interests. Better then to go to the science academies, such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, for a clear message about climate science. These organisations have produced a Short Guide to Climate Science and a more detailed overview called Climate Change: Evidence & Causes.  If you are too busy then 60 seconds watching this Royal Society film will be a minute well invested:

If you have the time the NASA Global Climate Change Facts pages are also worth a visit. There is no shortage of authoritative information.

To their credit the main political parties (Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour) have signed a joint statement pledging:

You can view their full agreement here.

Not all political parties and candidates agree with NASA, The Royal Society, The US National Academy of Sciences and 97% of climate scientists that the warming trend over the past century is caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and land cover change or that the consequences of climate change are potentially serious for society. Not happy with their policy role some politicians would like to challenge climate science and replace it with their own version. Notably UKIP energy policy states that “there are increasing doubts about the theory of man-made climate change” without offering any credible evidence to back up the assertion and its author says Global warming is “a politicians’ scam designed to centralise power and increase taxes“. From this alternative reality flows a pro fossil fuel, pro fracking policy based on a rejection of what science has to tell us about how our planet works. Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg has broadly promoted UKIP energy and climate policy whilst Conservative MP for North East Somerset arguing that energy policy shouldn’t be based on “quasi-relegious” green fears and “Hydraulic fracturing may be part of the solution but carbon emission targets will not be“. NASA hasn’t commented on these articles.

In the election campaign Mr Rees-Mogg has publicly said that he is a fracking NIMBY when it comes to North East Somerset and so has the UKIP candidate, but they have said nothing about climate change.

If you are interested in climate change denial as a topic there are plenty of resources to help understand what is going on:

Haydn Washington, John Cook, 2011, Climate Change Denial – Heads in the Sand

John Cook, 2010, The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Scepticism

John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, 2011, The Debunking Handbook

(Professor Lewandowsky is currently at Bristol University)

If you are really interested then you have just got time to sign up for the free online course Making Sense of Climate Science Denial organised by the University of Queensland and starting on the 28th April.

About this course

In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.

  • Why the gap between the public and scientists?
  • What are the psychological and social drivers of the rejection of the scientific consensus?
  • How has climate denial influenced public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?

This course examines the science of climate science denial.

We will look at the most common climate myths from “global warming stopped in 1998” to “global warming is caused by the sun” to “climate impacts are nothing to worry about.”

We’ll find out what lessons are to be learnt from past climate change as well as better understand how climate models predict future climate impacts. You’ll learn both the science of climate change and the techniques used to distort the science.

With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.

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.