A Northwest MP wrote to Claire Perry MP in her capacity as Minister for Clean Growth and Energy. In his letter he raised concerns about shale gas extraction on behalf of his constituents. Ms Perry responded with a letter containing the usual government platitudes.
The letter is notable for two things. Firstly, her reassurance that…there are strong protections in place to ensure the planning concerns of affected local communities are addressed both in decisions made by councils and, where relevant, in the planning appeal process. Interested parties have statutory rights to contribute their views during each step in the planning process – in the production of the Local Plan or neighbourhood plan; at the planning application stage; and in response to any appeal by the applicant against a local authority decision – in the knowledge that the decision maker is required to have regard to their views in reaching a decision.
This is interesting given her recent outing to Westminster Hall where she struggled to justify the government’s attempt to remove precisely the protections that she refers to here.
The letter is also notable for the “shale gas myth buster” which she attached in the hope that the MP in question and his constituents would find it useful. This attachment is possibly the most appallingly badly researched, badly written and misleading propaganda that I have ever seen from a government minister (and that is quite an achievement). Shall we take a look at it? I think we should! Here is what it says with a commentary after each point:
Shale Gas Myth Buster
Myth: #1 We no longer need gas
Fact: Last year 40% of our electricity was provided by gas and over 85% of the UK population use gas for heating and cooking. We also need gas as to make petrochemicals which are used in everyday items such as plastics, fertilizers, synthetic fibres. cosmetics and medicines.
Refracktion Commentary: This is a classic straw man. Nobody intelligent is claiming that the UK does not need gas so there is no need to bust a myth which does not really exist.
Gas will be in our energy mix for some decades to come, but in order to meet our commitments to climate change mitigation we need to decrease our use of gas and other fossil fuels. Clearly this will be challenging given the extensive use of oil and gas in 21st century economies, but the alternative is unthinkable.
Ms Perry seems to be implicitly advocating business as usual here, which is a frightening proposition from a minister whose brief would appear to include “clean growth”.
Myth #2: Using gas is incompatible with our climate change commitments
Fact: Every scenario proposed by the Committee on Climate Change to meet our legally binding carbon reduction commitments includes demand for natural gas. A mix of gas and renewables will enable us to meet our climate targets and the Government continues to invest billions into renewable energy through the Contracts for Difference programme.
Refracktion Commentary: Whilst gas is indeed included in Government scenarios, Ms Perry’s interpretation of “gas” as “shale gas” is either ignorant or deliberately misleading. Equally, shale gas is not taken into account in either of the government’s recent reports into security of supply as other sources of gas supply are deemed adequate.
The Business Minister, Lord Henley, is on record as confirming this:
“Whilst the government is optimistic about the potential for shale gas in the UK, given the industry is currently in an exploratory stage, it is not yet known how much of the UK shale gas resource will ultimately be recoverable. In order to provide a conservative estimate of supply, supply forecasts used in CEPA (2017), assume no shale contributions in the forecast period. We will update these forecasts moving forward and any shale projects that do come forward will be in addition to supply already forecast”. Gas Security of Supply, October 2017
“In agreement with BEIS, we have assumed no GB unconventional gas production (e.g. shale gas) over the period studied. Such production is possible but data from exploration wells is needed to develop reliable estimates”. A Review of gas security of supply within Great Britain’s gas market – from the present to 2035, March 2017
Even the late Stephen Tindale, one of shale gas’s most prominent advocates wrote in 2014 that shale gas “is not low-carbon enough for long term decarbonisation, unless it is burnt in power stations with carbon capture and storage (CCS).”
We do not have any prospect of commercial scale CCS in the timeframes required for decarbonisation, partly because the government withdrew its support from research into CCS.
The Government may “continue to invest billions into renewable energy through the Contracts for Difference programme” but it is doing its best to kill off small scale domestic solar industry .
So yes, it may be true that “A mix of gas and renewables will enable us to meet our climate targets”. It just doesn’t have to be shale gas.
Myth #3: Shale gas extraction will industrialise the countryside and our national parks
Fact: There will be no hydraulic fracturing in National Parks. In 2016 we confirmed that shale exploration wells will not be able to be drilled in protected areas. A shale gas site is typically the size of a football pitch. Drilling only takes 4-8 weeks and once the wells are drilled the large equipment is taken away. Wells can be returned to their pre-drilling state in as little as 3 years.
Refracktion Commentary: Where to start with this one? First of all, we have another straw man as most people are now aware that fracking companies will not be allowed to drill in “protected areas”. Of course, industrialisation is not just drilling and a pad on the edge of a National Park might still require huge numbers of HGVs to trundle though these parks while the pad operator drills beneath the park from a pad sited on its edge.
But then we are told that “A shale gas site is typically the size of a football pitch”. At this point we have to ask where Ms Perry got her “myth buster” from. Was it UKOOG or Cuadrilla? This lie has been exposed more times than I can remember. A football pitch is between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares in size. Cuadrilla’s pad at PNR is 2.6 hectares with a further 7.4 hectares of associated groundworks. Anyone repeating this lie is either incredibly badly informed or deliberately setting out to mislead. We have to ask: “Which of these applies to Ms Perry?”
She then states, “Drilling only takes 4-8 weeks and once the wells are drilled the large equipment is taken away.” This duration may be true in production, although drilling 2 wells at Preston New Road has taken around a year. However, what is not stated here is that is if there are 40 wells on a pad and they each take 4-8 weeks to drill then the drilling will go on for 3.5 years to 7 years. That presents a rather less rosy picture doesn’t it. Cuadrilla by the way are on record as saying they may have up to 60 wells per pad so that would be 5 to 10 years. Presumably Ms Perry doesn’t regard arrays of compresser trucks as “large equipment”.
Finally, she reassures us “Wells can be returned to their pre-drilling state in as little as 3 years”. If by “pre-drilling state” she means covering the well head with grass while leaving the well full of contaminated flow back fluid, then this might indeed be possible. However why a company would do this when a well is expected to produce for 20- 30 years is a bit of a puzzle isn’t it?
In fact, the wholesale industrialisation of previously prime agricultural land is one of the key arguments against the proliferation of shale gas developments. This may become especially important as Brexit means the UK economy may have to increasingly rely on home grown food
Myth #4: Noise from shale gas sites will disrupt communities
Fact: Noise is carefully managed and regulated by the Local Authority. The planning process considers and regulates noise impacts to local people and authorities can impose restrictions. Shale gas operators will also use noise abatement fencing to further minimise any noise
Refracktion Commentary: Currently the problem of noise associated with fracking developments is considered as part of the planning process by local mineral planning authorities. However, Ms Perry is currently doing her best to make sure that such controls are wrested from the hands of local authorities by using Permitted Development and Nationally Important Infrastructure regulations. Given that there is no specified minimum setback distance between shale gas operations and the “receptors” in near-by housing, this issue cannot simply be dismissed with platitudes about “noise abatement fencing”.
Myth #5: Extracting shale gas will contaminate the water supply
Fact: The Environment Agency will not permit any activity where there is a risk of contamination of our water supplies. Furthermore, high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is banned at depths of less than 1000m. This depth is far below drinking water supplies which are typically found up to about 250 metres deep.
Refracktion Commentary: Logic suggests therefore that the EA will forbid all fracking. However, assuming she actually means a likelihood rather than a risk, then she’d better be hoping we don’t experience the problems that have now been admitted in the USA. The most likely route of contamination is not via a fracture but from damage to a well bore caused by seismic activity such as was experienced at Preese Hall in 2011. In that event, although the well-bore was deformed it apparently did not leak (although this has been questioned). Given this the depth of fracking compared to the depth of aquifers is irrelevant. Ms Perry does not appear to be aware of the shallow “Secondary B” aquifer in the Fylde
Myth #6: Shale gas extraction is incredibly water intensive
Fact: A typical shale well uses less water over a decade than a golf course uses in a month and a coal-fired power plant uses in 12 hours. Companies will only be allowed to use water for hydraulic fracturing if there is enough supply locally without effecting drinking water supplies or the environment.
Refracktion Commentary: OK so now I think we can deduce that Ms Perry is sourcing at least some of her content from UKOOG. The golf course myth has been repeated endlessly by shameless politicians, but in fact Royal Lytham are on record (page 23) as saying that they use 5000m3 of water per year. Cuadrilla’s short test wells at PNR will use up to 31,000 m3 in a couple of months. Do the maths.
The final sentence about “effecting” drinking water supplies is from the EA but it is interesting to compare this statement with the threats of hose pipe bans from United Utilities this summer. You may not drink from your hosepipe, but that doesn’t stop fracking companies getting preferential treatment over your hosepipe it seems.
We can also see here what happens when you don’t check whether there is any internal consistency in the statements that you make. How do we reconcile a shale gas well using water for 10 years when according to the Myth 3 it will be “returned to its original state” within 3 years?
Myth #7: Shale gas causes earthquakes
Fact: The risk of an earthquake from shale gas extraction is very low. The Oil and Gas Authority regulates for seismicity and requires operators to stop activity if any seismicity in measured, even if it is lower than tremors caused by a rollercoaster.
Refracktion Commentary: The incidence of earthquakes in UK shale gas fracking so far is 100%. Professor Mike Stephenson – Director of Science and Technology – British Geological Survey stated on Radio 4 that “What you have to be able to do when you decide you want to hydraulic fracture is make sure there are no faults in the area. That’s really very very important”. The Fylde, where Cuadrilla intend to frack shortly, is a heavily faulted area.
There is a traffic light system designed to mitigate the potential impact of seismic activity. It has a threshold of a magnitude >0.5 ML, so operators will not stop if “any” seismic activity is measured, but only if it exceeds this threshold. We have heard that operators are lobbying to have this level increased.
In the USA and Canada earthquakes associated with fracking rather than re-injection of waste water are infrequent, but as the Alberta 4.4 magnitude quake showed they do have the potential to be destructive. It would appear that the EA is also planning to allow re-injection of waste fracking fluid, so the incidence of earthquakes may be rather higher than is suggested here by Ms Perry.
Myth #8: Shale gas extraction requires the use of nasty chemicals
Fact: The chemicals that will be used in the UK are non-toxic and won’t harm the environment and are similar to those found under a typical kitchen sink. Under EU and UK regulation operators are required to publish all of the chemicals they are going to use on site.
Refracktion Commentary: I just checked under my sink and I was unable to locate any hydrochloric acid at 30% concentration or any biocide. (These are the two chemicals used by Cuadrilla so far). Using my laptop I I was able to locate an ASA ruling on Cuadrilla’s claim that “Cuadrilla’s fracturing fluid does not contain hazardous or toxic components” which breached their code on misleading advertising and substantiation.
Myth #9: Local communities don’t get a say in the decision
Fact: Local communities must be fully involved in planning decisions and any planning application ‐ whether decided by councils or government ‐ will continue to require a full consultation with local people.
Refracktion Commentary: Well it would be nice if this were true, but not only has the government of which Ms Perry is part overridden the decisions taken by Lancashire County Council as regards fracking at Preston New Road (and potentially at Roseacre), they are now planning on further hamstringing local opposition by bringing shale gas exploration within the Permitted Development regime and making production Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, this removing decisions from County Council planning committees.
Please visit this page https://www.frackfreeunited.co.uk/permitted-development-and-nsip/ to see what you can do about these proposals.
Myth #10 Shale gas extraction is harmful to human health
Fact: The UK has world class regulation to ensure that shale exploration can happen safely, Regulators. Operators and Government are working closely together to ensure there is no risk to public health from any shale gas extraction or associated works.
Refracktion Commentary: If you wanted any evidence that this list is not intended as a scientific rebuttal of anything but is merely propaganda then you have it in the statement “Regulators. Operators and Government are working closely together to ensure there is no risk to public health from any shale gas extraction or associated works”.
It is clearly impossible for them to ensure that there is “no risk” as the risks patently obviously do exist. While some of the impacts in the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking” may be the result of practices in the US which are forbidden in the UK currently, many are not. From silicosis in workers exposed to frack sand to respiratory problems from particulate emissions and a host of other potential vectors for harm, the risks do exist. For a government minister to send out a document that talks of there being “no risk to public health” from fracking is irresponsible in the extreme.
Frankly it is embarrassing for the government that one of its ministers should see fit to send a sheet so full of factual errors and misinformation in response to an MP who is the expressing genuine and valid concerns of his constituents.
Claire Perry should be absolutely ashamed of herself, for putting out this “click and paste” (as she would term it) drivel but based on her brazen performance at the Westminster Hall debate I somehow doubt that she will be.