Reply to IGas/Idle Talk (April 2014)
This article is intended as a reply to various comments made by IGas about the development of “unconventional gas” in the North East Bassetlaw area and more generally that were summarised very briefly in Idle Talk (Village Magazine of Mattersey & Mattersey Thorpe), April 2014, p13 http://www.matterseypc.co.uk/Idle_Talk_-_April_2014.pdf.
The first thing to say is that short, one or two sentence statements, cannot accurately express some of these issues. In this article we give internet references for those who want to look into the issues in more depth but are still only skimming over quite complicated issues.
Secondly, many of the problems of unconventional gas were not touched on at all in the North East Bassetlaw Forum meeting when it took place or in the Idle Talk brief summary of issues. For example, gas field development is associated with the development of a lot of pipelines, as well as compressor stations and installations to clean the gas of impurities. The pipelines and installations and their operations also raise issues like noise, 24 hour operation with light pollution, venting, flaring, leaks and spills which are not been touched on in the issues mentioned but have major implications for the health and wellbeing of local people.
The third thing to say is that what will happen in the future is largely speculative – no one knows for sure. However we can use the experience of Australia and the USA to illustrate possible dangers.
The fourth point is that it is important to get clear the development of unconventional gas fields goes through various stages of development and the first stages, that of exploration, are bad enough but nothing like as unpleasant as the later ones. Exploratory wells will not have anything like the same level of impact as the later development of a gas field.
The fifth point to be clear about when bandying about numbers is that there is a difference between a well and a wellpad. A well pad may have from 6 to 24 or even more wells drilled from it. Each well will go downwards in parallel from a pad but then fan out horizontally in order to gain maximum coverage in a shale gas layer (or coal bed methane layer).
Thus when iGas makes claims about the quantity of water per frack then each frack will occur at each well – but there can be several fracks per well, many wells at each pad and there will also be many pads in a gas field. Thus references to how much water or how much activity are associated with each frack, or with each well, can be very misleading. There can be several fracks associated with each well and there will certainly be many wells at each pad and many well pads within a short distance of each other too.
This brings us to the issue of water. The amount of water needed to frack a well is described by iGas as “only” requiring the water needed by a golf course for 6 months. This is a lot when you take into account that a small gas field might involve 20 wells each of which might be fracked several times – and also when you take into account the specific water situation in North East Bassetlaw where there are restrictions on further abstractions from the aquifer. If this water is sealed in tanks they will be big tanks and lots of them – because the minimum per frack returning to the surface as produced water would be about one Olympic swimming pool in size and it is worth asking if this is going directly into these tanks or into holding ponds first?
Disposal would then have to be by road or by pipeline to some other destination. (Where?) This has heavy vehicle traffic and/or infrastructure and landscape implications (See later comments on vehicle movements). In Lancashire the Environment Agency gave permission for radioactive water to be dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal – perhaps because they didn’t know what else to do with it. However, Cuadrilla has now been prevented from resuming fracking activities until they have come up with a safer means of disposal.
DECC estimates that each fracking operation requires between 10,000 ad 30,000 cubic metres of water (www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277211/Water.pdf, p6) – that is upto 750 40-tonne tanker loads of water coming in and half that going out.
Leakage and spills from produced water brought to the surface are a serious problem and has been the subject of academic studies in the USA. See for example http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2014/656824/ which says “Gross and associates have demonstrated that surface spills or leakage into the shallow water formations is a critical event and could account for most water quality issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. Chemicals can potentially leach into groundwater through failures in the lining of ponds or containment systems most of which are constructed near the well sites to temporarily hold flowback/produced water. Between 2009 and 2010, of the 4,000 permitted oil and natural gas wells in Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, there were 630 reported environmental health and safety violations of which half were associated with leaks and spills of the flowback/produced fluids.” (About 8% of the wells).
Also “Gross assessed the profiles of BTEX concentrations over time by repeated sampling of groundwater on/near multiple spill sites either prior to or shortly after remediation began. In total, 90% of groundwater samples collected contained benzene and 30% of samples contained toluene concentrations above their MCLs.”
Chemicals in water
The chemicals that go into fracking fluid vary depending on geological, operational and other conditions. It is difficult to know why one would want to use, for example, slick water in a kitchen sink – chemicals to reduce the friction as the frack fluid is pushed through piping at high pressure, can cause nervous system problems, is a respiratory irritant and can cause cancer. This is just one of multiple chemicals used in the USA, Australia and Canada that are known carcinogens, cause liver and kidney failure, are irritants, cause birth defects and affect the respiratory system.
UK Press Reports on what goes into fracking fluid have been reviewed on the NHS website at http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/12December/Pages/Study-tracks-health-effects-of-fracking-chemicals.aspx . See also http://concernedhealthny.org/statement-by-concerned-health-professionals-of-new-york-in-response-to-a-new-study-on-hormone-disrupting-contaminants-in-water-near-colorado-drilling-sites/ Other sources include http://www.ringoffireradio.com/2013/10/deadly-chemicals-energy-companies-use-fracking/ http://www.weatherford.com/Products/EngineeredChemistry/FracturingChemicals/Hydrocarbon-BasedFracturingFluids/ and http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/conocophillips-releases-list-of-fracking-chemicals-1.2443711
If IGas are to use chemicals that are safe we welcome that – the record of the industry in other countries so far does not give grounds for confidence. As important are the toxic chemicals that come to the surface from the rocks that have been fracked. They would have no control over this and, on the basis of previous experience are likely to include BTEX – Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl- Benzene and Xylene – all of which are highly toxic and carcinogenic.
Wells are lined with steel pipes and wells are sealed in cement.
Indeed they are – but there is a huge literature about why cement seals fail and what can be done about it. Steel pipes also fail – in Lancashire the pipe was crushed when seismic activity took place but did not leak. If it had been stronger seismic activity it might have done. Cement seal leakage has been a problem since the beginnings of the oil and gas industry and the industry have not solved it yet. http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1057 http://gekengineering.com/Downloads/Free_Downloads/Cementing_Chapter_3.pdf
A recent peer reviewed academic study of gas well integrity and leakage globally and in the UK by Davies et al shows some oil and gas fields where as much as 75% of the wells leak. The lowest level is about 2.5% of wells. In the Marcellus shale area of Pennsylvania the going rate is about 6 to 8% of wells right from the start. 2.5% can still be a problem if you have hundreds or thousands of wells. The study also shows that many oil and gas wells onshore in the UK are now abandoned and it is not possible to say whether they are leaking or not. However at least one operational well is leaking – contrary to the iGas claim. https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/refine/Publishedversion.pdf
The magnitude of methane leakage from wells and other installations has now been the subject of many studies – and has implications for explosion and fire risks, water and air contamination and greenhouse gas effects.
“Summing all estimated losses, we calculate that during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane. This is at least 30% more and perhaps more than twice as great as the life-cycle methane emissions we estimate for conventional gas.”
These higher emissions from unconventional shale gas are significantly greater than conventional gas “due to methane emissions with flow-back fluids and from drill out of wells during well completion.” http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/Howarth%20et%20al%20%202011.pdf
Unconventional wells have a greater total length than conventional wells, due to their lateral extensions underground. This greater total length means that unconventional gas wells require more and heavier drilling equipment, longer drilling time, higher probability of drilling problems, and more venting during drilling. In addition, these longer wells require more and heavier fracking equipment, more stages and volume per stage, more plugs and longer drill-out periods. Also significant, these large-scale drilling operations produce more flowback waste and produced water, which in turn means higher volumes of waste for longer periods and more venting and flaring of gas. Much of the escaped methane is released during the well’s preparation, before the well has gone into production. During drilling, flowback, and after each stage of fracking, production of the gas is not yet possible and so the fugitive gas is either vented or flared. Drillers often hit pockets of shallow methane which flows directly into the well. This early methane also must be vented or flared.
The quote about jumping down 1.5 metres is from Durham University research by Richard Davies too. However, geological conditions vary. The Bassetlaw and North Notts area is already an area where there has been a lot of mining and mining is associated with seismic activity so it can be argued that this area is already sensitive to these issues (and the related issue of subsidence) – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070103-mine-quake.html As is often quoted too Ollerton is the most seismically active place in the UK because of mining http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-25824615 http://www.earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk/earthquakes/recent_events/ollerton_earthquakes.html.
When one combines shale gas dewatering for CBM and shale gas fracking there are no grounds for optimism about the level of seismic activity in this area. This is especially as the shale gas companies will be looking for somewhere to put their produced slick water and, together with the cbm companies may want to re-inject the water down into the ground. It is this injection of waste water that has led to seismic activity in Oaklahoma. http://www.livescience.com/43953-wastewater-injection-earthquake-triggering.html
The problems associated with seismicity are not just damage to buildings and infrastructure but damage to wells – as in the “ovalised” well in Preece Hall caused by an induced quake of 2.3 on the Richter scale.
After Preece Hall the BGS were instrumental in recommending a so called “traffic light” system in which drilling is halted for further investigations if seismic activity is detected above a particular magnitude. The BGS argued that 0.5 would be an acceptable level. However the BGS then argued that this 0.5 could be adjusted up to a magnitude of 3.0 maximum later if conditions appear to justify this. This has led communities members at Preece Hall to point out that the 0.5 appears to be a magnitude designed to appease community concerns at first. Later, when the industry has sunk a lot of capital into different landscapes, when there are hundreds of wells with thousands of fracks occurring, the commercial pressure to turn a blind eye will be very powerful.
Many of the higher skilled posts and technical jobs necessary to the industry will not be filled locally but by workers who will come into the area – or will be carried out at a distance in national or even international offices. In the USA a temporary influx of non local workers in the establishment phase of the industry has brought in some business to local hotels and bars – but also increased the costs of local policing and other services. Most jobs will be short term while the industry is being set up – perhaps for 4 to 9 years at the most. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2462625/Fracking-Britain-create-just-THIRD-jobs-Cameron-predicted-according-energy-experts-advising-ministers.html
Claims about jobs should take into account the jobs that will be lost as well as gained (for example many people in NE Bassetlaw are employed in leisure, tourism and agriculture which would be hit. Who wants to go bird watching in an industrial gas field?).
They should also take into account that the alternative to gas, renewables and energy efficiency, would generate employment too. Furthermore many of the jobs would be short term and high risk – silicosis is a common health problem for gas industry workers. What’s more once a gas field is up and running its workers move on. The work is very short term in each location. For work in the North East Bassetlaw area many of the workers would probably be recruited from the bigger cities too.
Number of drilling pads (or wells?).
The Idle Talk article appears to be unclear about the difference between the number of wells and the number of well pads. Well pads have multiple wells drilled from them. The governments Strategic Environment Assessment gives two scenarios for the future of unconventional gas – a low scenario and a high one. These are not predictions but show what the government’s advisers think of as a realistic range of possibilities. The low scenario is of 180 – 360 wells from well pads that may have 6 to 12 wells per pad. The high scenario however is of 1440 – 2880 wells on somewhat larger well pads that may have 12 to 24 wells per pad.
Yet higher estimates can be extrapolated from figures given by Professor Richard Davies of Durham University in written and spoken testimony to a House of Lords committee
In this Davies quotes British Geological Society estimates thus:
“Just to summarise, the BGS presented a number of numbers on the Bowland shale in northern England. The number that is most easily quoted is the 1,300 trillion cubic feet of resources, which means that it is theoretically underground. There is a big difference between resources and reserves that are proven and can be brought to the surface economically. Ten per cent of 1,300 trillion cubic feet is 130 trillion cubic feet, which is more significant than production from the North Sea to date.”
At another point the House of Lords Chair quotes the written evidence of Professor Davies to the effect that “That was the point that you made in your written evidence : that over a trillion cubic feet of production would need between 169 and 714 wells , after the initial process of the exploratory wells has been completed.”
If we therefore use not 1 X trillion cubic feet but 130 X trillion cubic feet the maths would be as follows: between 21,970 ( 169 x 130 ) and 92,820 (714 x 130 ) wells.
House prices are determined by the value of a building plus the value of the location in which it is sited. The value of the location is determined by how much people are prepared to pay for the quality of life there (or lack of life quality as in a gas field) proximity to community facilities, amenities, the beauty of the landscape and so on. Unsurprisingly people are not prepared to pay very much for the privilege of living in an industrialised zone, a gas field with lots of heavy traffic, noise, light pollution, “gas field haze” from air pollution and so on. The fact is that house prices have already fallen by up to 20% in places like Balcombe in West Sussex, Lingfield in Surrey, Cowden in Kent and in Lancashire in the area threatened by unconventional gas development. http://www.paliltd.com/blog/fracking-effects-house-prices
The number of vehicle movements per day is mentioned in a Consultation Document written for and published by the government as part of its Strategic Environmental Assessment . Per well pad there are different activity phases with the following average vehicle movements – initial site access and drill pad construction – 40; drilling rig set up – 40; well pad completion – 10; pipe installation – 50; additional drill pad construction – 10. Then per well, drilling and fracturing – drilling water – 50; casing 10; drill cutting – 108; drilling waste water – 50; fracturing fluid, water – 667 – 1667; fracturing fluid – chemicals – 2; produced water – 3; fracturing fluids flow back 200-1250. These are figures from a document commissioned by and quoted by DECC. (see page 69-70)
A figure of 17 – 51 HGV movements a day per well pad over a 73 to 145 week period is repeated several times in the Strategic Environment Assessment document. It should be taken into account that a gas field is likely to have several multiple well pads. According to the government’s consultants higher figures for vehicle movements are “related in particular to the provision of water for hydraulic fracturing, where the site is not connected to the mains, or is not permitted to abstract water from local sources. This increase in vehicle movement may generate emissions and dust potentially affecting those with respiratory problems as well as noise and vibrations which may cause stress/anxiety to residents principally alongside local transport corridors within rural areas.” The higher figure is therefore likely to apply in NE Bassetlaw because it is likely that abstraction of water from local sources will be denied.
The Association of British Insurers have not stated that house insurance will not be effected by fracking. What they have said is slightly different.
“INSURERS could begin requesting information from homeowners about their proximity to fracking exploration sites if it looks likely that the process could cause damage to property. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said the industry is monitoring fracking exploration and data around any related disturbances but stressed that there is currently very little evidence to suggest the method of oil and gas extraction poses an increased risk.” http://www.cityam.com/article/1391476588/insurers-could-demand-info-fracking-sites#sthash.L3d3N84A.dpuf
In other words they are currently accepting government and industry say-so on fracking but are also adopting a “wait and see attitude” unless and until further evidence emerges. This is not the same thing. At the same time there is anecdotal evidence that some individuals have found getting insurance problematic.
Future Gas Requirements
Future gas requirements is not fatalistically set in stone. It depends on economic conditions and policy decisions and by how much and how quickly governments and public respond to the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can be done through measures to stimulate the development of wind, marine, solar and biogas technologies, through energy efficiency measures and lifestyle changes. There is a huge offshore potential for wind for example.
Site remediation at the end of gas exploitation
By the time the wells are being closed down iGas may have been long gone. The experience of the USA is that if the gas industry gets into economic difficulties it will walk away from wells without paying for them. In business conditions change and the situation at the end of the life of a gas field is not like that at the beginning:
“This is a common cycle in the oil and gas industry; small operators prove up a field, then bigger companies buy up small pieces to consolidate a large field for primary production. When the play becomes marginal, tracts are sold off to smaller companies that may not have the wherewithal to fulfill maintenance and reclamation liabilities.”
As far as the UK is concerned there are no grounds to be optimistic that things will be better. Research by Davies et al found that in the UK, 2152 hydrocarbon wells were drilled onshore between 1902 and 2013 mainly targeting conventional reservoirs. UK regulations,like those of other jurisdictions, include reclamation of the well site after well abandonment – yet despite this regulatory regime “The ownership of up to 53% of wells in the UK is unclear; we estimate that between 50 and 100 are orphaned.” http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/davies_2014.pdf
It took 100 years for British health and safety regulation to get white asbestos banned even though its dangers were known in 1898 – other cases, like the response to BSE showed how slow and fumbling the authorities could be because health and safety regulatory enforcement tends to be strongly influenced by commercial interest groups. The regulations for unconventional gas and industry propaganda have also been largely determined by gas industry interests in the heart of government. http://www.feasta.org/2014/02/11/getting-real-about-regulation-why-it-wont-make-fracking-safe/
Regulatory organisations like the Environment Agency are very short staffed and being cut further. Individual members of staff are usually sincere and doing their best but with very limited resources. The EA is to pay for regulation by fees charged to the industry – so closing down any companies would take away the revenue from which salaries are paid. The Health and Safety Executive works on a philosophy of trusting industry and a visit every few years, if ever. In the North Sea the HSE system for oil and gas field safety has not stopped 34% of gas wells having integrity problems yet this is the model being used by them for onshore development – where conditions are very different.
The government is also relying heavily on the local authority planning system to make safe many gasfield development issues – giving planning guidance that reduces the discretionary power of the local authorities, incentivising those same councils to be lax in their controls by allowing them to keep 100% of gas business rates and by steps to take away some local authority powers altogether.
Because of depletion in the North Sea Britain became an importer of natural gas in 2006 and this has led to UK gas prices being set in the European gas market. In order to have an effect on natural gas prices gas production would need to be on a sufficient scale and extracted as a sufficiently low cost to enable a disconnect from the European gas market by Britain. That would then enable Britain to become self sufficient in gas and have an export surplus to sell in europe. Even under wildly optimistic scenarios this is never going to happen – particularly as gas production in the UK is likely to be much more expensive to extract than in the USA because we do not have the necessary onshore skills and infrastructure here. See the evidence of Bloomberg New Energy Finance Research Team to the House of Lords : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/9886981/UK-shale-gas-revolution-is-wishful-thinking.html