Unprofound Thoughts on Fracking 466


I hope I don’t pretend to have expertise on everything. On fracking I have none. My entirely amateur views on the subject are that the major risk appears to be pollution of aquifers. The UK seems too seismically stable for earthquakes or volcanoes to be a serious concern. I am not terribly worried about the local environmental consequences of the installations – human activity of all kinds detracts from the natural environment in a sense. This spot was doubtless a great deal more pleasing aesthetically before Dundee was built upon it. But then Dundee has a great deal more human utility.

It is also plain to me that humans are going to have to burn fossil fuels for a while yet, despite the very obvious fact that we also need to put much more energy and resource into developing renewable alternatives.

So I am not opposed to fracking in principle, which I know will upset some people. But nor can I understand the hurry. Fracking is being undertaken on a very large scale in the United States and elsewhere. Onshore fracking is not actually a new technology at all, but its widespread use is new. Given concerns especially about the effects on underground water supplies, why don’t we just wait for thirty years and see how it turns out elsewhere? That should give time for a good accumulation of evidence.

The hydrocarbons are not going anywhere – they will still be there in thirty years time and I predict will be a good deal more valuable. So my entirely unprofound, non-fundamentalist and dully pragmatic view on fracking is that there should be a thirty year moratorium. Then we can think about it.


466 thoughts on “Unprofound Thoughts on Fracking

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  • Andy Myles

    In addition to your argument you have to ask why, as we know that the only safe, long term answer to climate change is in the form of renewable energy sources, why are the UK Government so utterly determined to direct markets to investing in fossil fuels and nuclear? It is economically perverse in the extreme.

  • Minimalist

    So are you leaving a small gap for off-shore fracking without saying as much then? Practically speaking money has to be found to pay for all the free NHS prescriptions. And the North Sea Cod,Haddock & Monkfish Welfare Brigade may only open their gobs if they have a better idea.

  • MJ

    “The UK seems too seismically stable for earthquakes”

    As I recall the very first test drilling in Morecambe Bay caused an earthquake in Blackpool. I don’t see the point of testing if you don’t heed the results.

  • haward

    and meanwhile we depend on Mr Putin and the Emir of Qatar? Or , worse , EDF , the nationalised French generator we already massively subsidise and with whom we have agreed further eye popping subsidies?

  • haward

    oh yes. The Blackpool earthquake. The one that caused no damage and no injuries. Dreadful affair.

  • DoNNyDarKo

    They are already using similar technology to squeeze old oil wells dry so to speak.They are going to start liquifying the coal under the Forth and sucking it out as there are still huge amounts.Again similar technology is going to be used to force the coal out and to the surface.The Wellesley,Michael,Francis and Seafield all closed.The Michael was sealed because of fire, 2 men on our street losing their lives.So by all means use the technology to save money and lives and even the lifetime of a well.
    Fracking for gas however has only bad press.It is expensive ,it pollutes ,it even poisons,and it is gone very quickly.The places in the UK where it has been going on already,have experienced seismic events.What is the hurry and why all the secrecy ? They’ve whipped new laws into place removing any rights of the property owners.There was a consultation done on the effects of Fracking which has largely been kept secret.It’s more money for the boys and damn the consequences.By the time the damage is done,the public will receive the bill.

  • Dunc

    why don’t we just wait for thirty years and see how it turns out elsewhere?

    Because by then it will have become plain that it’s hopelessly uneconomical except in the most advantageous circumstances. The fracking “boom” is more about sucking up cash from unwary investors than anything else, and that’s not an opportunity anybody wants to pass up.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    By all means extract every last hydrocarbon by whatever means possible, and burn it. Preferably inefficiently, while signing away householders’ rights and constructing small industrial sites to decorate the landscape. There will be no effect on the climate – Lord Lawson and the Koch brothers say so. Buy a huge car and keep burning!

    PS- I have no children.

  • Peacewisher

    The current government seems to want to restore the 1950s tradition of selling our assets to US multinationals; this started with Cadbury going to Kraft and continues particularly with public services “marketization”. The current push for Fracking in a completely unsuitable terrain (compared to the wide open plains in the US) is just another example of that. There are plenty of better alternatives to fracking for the UK.

  • Clark

    Recent test drilling has revealed underground micro-organisms to a depth of several kilometres. If these were all piled at the surface the layer would be several metres thick. We do not yet know what roles this living matter plays within the rest of the biosphere, so poisoning it would be utterly reckless.

  • craig Post author

    Clark

    Unconvinced. Is there any evidence these whatever they have have been damaged by offshore oil drilling, where fracking has been going on for years? Oil and water are both perfectly natural substances already found in the ground.

  • Marland

    Huge amounts of water are required for the fracking process, so it has a big effect on water supplies – maybe not a problem in Scotland (until the next drought comes along … but who is going to shut down a fracking site once it has started?).

    Most of the US companies are highly leveraged, having required huge amounts of loans and investments at start-up, and economically on a knife edge with the usual shareholders wanting their bigger cut – thesecompaniesb can only make money if they continue to open new sites and these quickly become unproductive. So, yes, wait even just 10 years and I think the whole thing will provide a totally different perspective.

    Scottish scientists developed a new ‘clean coal’ technology – why hasn’t this been further developed, given the huge amounts of coal still left in the ground after the Thatcher blight???

  • Peacewisher

    @Craig: If you haven’t read James Lovelock, I seriously recommend you to do so. Plenty of good hard scientific evidence for his theory.

  • MJ

    “Scottish scientists developed a new ‘clean coal’ technology – why hasn’t this been further developed, given the huge amounts of coal still left in the ground”

    Indeed. In the days before North Sea gas came on line we used coal to make gas. Another good use for Britain’s abundant coal reserves, which won’t involve destroying the foundations of our island, depleting and poisoning our water supplies or releasing tons of methane into the atmosphere.

  • lucythediclonius

    @MJ Earthquakes are on a logarithmic scale there was an earth tremor in Lancashire but it barely registers compared to a real earthquake .Dams and all sorts of processes cause far greater disruption but it is still on a very small scale compared to natural forces .

  • Abe Rene

    I think we should put much more effort into developing renewable sources of energy. The reason for the reason for hurrying in fracking is probably economic – American or other tycoons wishing to be first to gain the rights to Britain’s underground hydrocarbon resources. Politicians may also wish to avoid an energy crisis (the prospects of which I am sure the tycoons’ lobbyists enthusiastically promote). Nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

  • Abe Rene

    (Corrected)
    I think we should put much more effort into developing renewable sources of energy. The reason for hurrying in fracking is probably economic – American or other tycoons wishing to be first to gain the rights to Britain’s underground hydrocarbon resources. Politicians may also wish to avoid an energy crisis (the prospects of which I am sure the tycoons’ lobbyists enthusiastically promote). Nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

  • Helena Brown

    Not sure I like fracking, too much imposition by this Tory Government for me and I noticed this morning some wee man outside a Petrol Station doing their bidding saying that the price of Petrol had gone down because of the surplus of oil due to fracking in the States. We are not about to have a General Election are we?
    What is really worrying me is setting alight the coal seams under the Forth to get gas, seems some Knit wit has thought that was a good idea. Considering those coal seams terminate in Fife and I live there, enough said.

  • Paul

    Reliance on non-renewable resources is in itself a bad thing.

    If we were using fracking to help transition to a more sustainable way of doing things, there would be some point, but all we’re actually doing is keeping our foot on the accelerator that much longer as we head for the wall.

    The reason we’re doing this at all is not because it’s a wonderful new technology (It isn’t. It’s been known about for decades, but has generally not been employed) but because we’ve picked all the low hanging fruit. Oil companies are drilling the deep ocean and nature reserves, not because they’re evil, but because the easy to obtain stuff is now in decline.

    What’s left is both more expensive to find and extract – costs that will ultimately be passed on to society at large – and requires more energy to exploit, thus reducing its EROEI.

    Fracking, and other unconventional sources will push the day of reckoning back by a few years. Maybe even a decade or two. That’s all. We could use that window of opportunity to reshape our societies, but we won’t.

  • Ex Pat

    NUCLEAR INDUSTRY DISINFORMATION

    > @Craig: If you haven’t read James Lovelock,

    James Lovelock is one of four muppets that are regularly trotted out to blindly spout nuclear power propaganda – Stewart Brand being another. According to Amory Lovins they have not done the reading and they are oblivious to those that have or to rational argument. He’s being _very_ magnanimous, imo.

    In Lovelock’s case it may be senility. Brand’s case just looks like disinformation, which may also be Lovelock’s motivation. Funny how that works, eh?

    Now where have we seen that before? Oh, yes. US Neo-Con neoliberal US Empire liars for nearly every news major topic – the USUK Muppet Stream Media / Disinformation Panopticon. No change there, then! ; ) – Operation Mockingbird – Mk XXII still going today apparently – Spartacus Schoonlnet –
    http://spartacus-educational.com/JFKmockingbird.htm

    Amory Lovins has repeatedly comprehensively demolished any smidgin of a case that the Nuclear industry liars might have. “It’s completely uneconomic!” Without the enorumous subsidies from governments. Which is why Wall Street has not invested in it for decades. On strictly commercial terms, the disposal costs are utterly unsolved and the liabilites are the destruction of complete countries. See Japan for details. In addition each reactor generates 500 lbs of plutonium every year of operation.” Which is why the USUK Fascist Empire is so blindly in favour of it, contrary to facts, to evidence and to reason, no doubt. – Amory Lovins – Rocky Mountain Institute –

    http://www.democracynow.org/2008/7/16/amory_lovins_expanding_nuclear_power_makes

    In addition there are some very funny videos by the father of the German renewable energy revolution – Hermann Scheer – pointing out that the German and other countries’s Nuclear industries lie and lie and lie.

    Hilarius – Hermann Scheer on the Nuclear Industry liars – “They lie and lie and lie!” Well they would do, wouldn’t they! – What a surprise. Shocked, Shocked to find gambling going on! ; ) – Maria Gilardin – There was a very nice bit of video of Scheer in the courtyard of a Palo Alto hotel. Now it may be only mp3. – TUC radio – search for Scheer –

    http://www.tucradio.org/new.html

    As usual Maria Gilardin was there years before Democracy Now!

    – Hermann Scheer – Democracy Now! –

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/10/15/hermann_scheer_1944_2010_german_lawmaker

    FRACK OFF !

    As others have said fracking is a similar scam – shake down the rube investors / Persuade the USUK muppets that there is no such thing as peak oil – or that 100% renewable energy is not only possible, but politically imperative. / Help the US Dollar defy gravity for another seven days / See Hermann Scheer’s four plus books in English for details. Previously available for pennies a copy. No longer. Because he’s right / makes an excellent case “The type of politics we get depends on the form of energy we choose. Choose nuclear or oil and we get war – to protect long, exposed supply chains. Choose very widely owned renewable, as Germany has done, and they – and we can – get democracy! Funny how that works, eh? ; ) – Amazon.co.uk –

    Another Anti-Fascist reason to be cheerful – if you admire Germany’s energy policy and laugh at Ca-Moron’s decision on ‘more nuclear’ – what a US Empire tool! –

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Energy-Imperative-100-Percent-Renewable/dp/1849714339/

  • MJ

    Helena Brown: I wouldn’t pay too much attention to wee men outside filling stations. The recent fall in the oil price has nothing to do with fracking and everything to do with Saudi Arabia dumping large quantities of cheap oil onto the market. It’s part of a concerted effort to damage Russia economically. Russia is responding by dumping large quantities of US dollars.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Indeed. In the days before North Sea gas came on line we used coal to make gas. Another good use for Britain’s abundant coal reserves, which won’t involve destroying the foundations of our island, depleting and poisoning our water supplies or releasing tons of methane into the atmosphere.

    Methane. It’s a more powerful greenhouse gas in the short term (7-8 years to disappear), but in the long term reacts to CO2. Cows produce it too. Coal to gas only makes sense if the gas coke isn’t burned. If it is, you might as well burn the coal itself. Which produces more CO2 per ton than any other fossil fuel.

  • Pete

    THe problem with this and related issues is that two entirely seperate things have been conflated into one word- “environment”. Many so-called environmentalists are actually just “conservationists”, ie they want to “conserve” everything exactly as it was the day before their own house was built. They equate “environment” with “what I see hear and smell when I take my dog for a walk.”

    Whereas actually the most important parts of the environment are invisible- underground water being an obvious example. Craig is correct- if other people are so mad keen to get on with fracking, we can’t stop them, but let’s wait for the long term outcomes to become detectable.

    As a rule of thumb, we should be very wary of going into any situation that we don’t know how we would get out of. Suppose fracking does poison the aquifers- how would we un-poison them? And what would we (including livestock and crops) drink in the mean time?

  • glenn_uk

    “Oil and water are both perfectly natural substances already found in the ground.”

    True, but the poisons used in the fracking process are not. It is realised, I trust, that the liquid used in fracking is rather more toxic than drinking water?

    I appreciate you’re not an expert on these subjects, so why not pay heed to the views of those who are? James Lovelock was mentioned – a good start, but avoid industry stooges at all costs. They’ll still tell you that smoking/ cancer links are not proved yet, and global climate change is nothing to do with us (if indeed it’s happening at all).

    You can watch a documentary about it (admittedly, from one angle) here:

    http://viooz.ac/movies/20372-gasland-part-ii-2013.html

    You can hear the other side of the story from governments, MSM, industry stooges, climate change deniers and their useful idiots, and so on.

    Seriously though, “the ground seems pretty stable” is not much of an argument, with all respect.

  • Jay

    @ Paul. Beautiful.

    . It’s not just fracking, technology could be used to advance a sustainable organic approach to living. I guess you already know that.

  • geomannie

    I have in front of me a BGS map showing UK earthquakes from 1990-1996. The map shows a class of earthquakes termed “induced” which means that they were generated my human activity. These cluster in the English Midlands around the former deep coal mining areas. Magnitudes are 2-2.9, i.e only just perceptible.

    My point is that there is nothing new in small anthropogenic earthquakes: we have been generating them for as long as we have been deep-mining coal. I don’t remember these earthquakes being a particular problem in the past, so why should they be considered a major problem now?

    I have only ever experienced one earthquake in my life, a 3.9 in Cairo. It was so underwhelming that most in my office didn’t even notice. Fracking induced quakes will be small (typically <2.9) and most people will never from a heavy laden number 20 bus going by your house is more damaging than a magnitude 3.

    Some actual values for anthropogenic quakes are published here https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/dei/ResearchBrief_InducedSeismicity_final.pdf. Fracking seems pretty benign compared to other sources of induced seismicity.

  • Sofia

    “Why don’t we just wait for thirty years and see how it turns out …”

    Yes.

    And lets spend that time finding out what we are dealing with.

    What are the long-trem environmental and social costs and beneifts, what are the principles involved in an activity that produces long term damage and chemical pollution of Earth’s aquifers?

    Also lets examine the whole issue in terms of energy, finance, employment, policing and civil rights.

    There already exists a mountain of evidence from North America where fracking has been going on a number of years.

    Water

    A renewable and variable, but finite natural resource.

    Can only be replenished through the process of the water cycle, in which water from seas, lakes, forests, land, rivers, and reservoirs evaporates, forms clouds, and returns as precipitation.

    2.5% of all Earth’s water is Freshwater.

    Freshwater essential to life.

    Liquid Water in the human body; 50-75% .

    Hydrated Water Compounds in human body; 30-40% .

    Human Skeleton: when the bound water is removed, either by chemical desiccation or heat, 50% of weight is lost.

    Ground water accounts for over 95 percent of the nation’s available fresh water resources, and is the drinking water source for half the people in this country.

    Although, there is wide variation in residence times associated with ground waters of a specific depth class, there is a tendency for shallow ground waters (<4.5 ) to be associated with younger ages (15-) are consistently associated with modeled residence times greater than 100 years.*

    Already in most places occupied by humans more fresh water is consumed than is naturally restored.

    Pre-fracking, in the US, 80 percent of the most serious hazardous waste sites have adversely impacted the quality of nearby ground water.

    Reduced fresh water availability from surface and underground sources and can cause severe damage to surrounding and associated environments and societies.

    Bearing all this in mind, can we regard as “local” something as fundamental and impossible to contain or control as earth’s precious groundwater?

    * Here’s an detailed US study: http://sofia.usgs.gov/publications/papers/timescaleint/results.html

    Afterthought.

    Given the almost infinitely useful organic compounds we construct from hydrocarbons I wonder what our descendents are going to say about a culture that burned them all up.

    “Duh?”

  • YouKnowMyName

    Fracking, using current technology, does recover (some of) the micro-encapsulated oily deposits that are in the strata underground by industrial pumping ‘unknown – but unpleasant stuff’ underground, eventually this will become petrol which will be taxed, dutied etc then presumably become global warming & sub-micron particle pollution (PM10’s and below) that reduce the life of city-centre dwellers by around 5 years, on average.

    I have installed at home a few years ago a solar-panel driven air-source-heat-pump (reverse cycle air-conditioning) which takes 1kW electricity and generates around 3kW equivalent of heat, down to external temperatures of around minus 20 degC. This heats most of the downstairs of a modest home, not quite the whole house. It is good!

    In sensible places like Germany they widely use similar but better technology, using ground-sourced-heat-pumps, typically injecting water/brine sustainably under the home – using around 3 kW of pumps – returning potentially infinitely 12kW of heating effect. (random pdf example here http://www.calorex.com/ee_pdf/GSHP_Spec_V.1.pdf ) shows efficiency up-to 240% with +15degC under the home. A modern UK home might work well with a 3.5kW GSHP for all heating & domestic hot water needs. The extra-energy output is (currently*) VAT & Duty free. *Spain tried to levy VAT on solar panel local-usage but was blocked by the European Union.

    I think you can either have Fracking under your home, or GSHP, but they are mutually exclusive. Which do you prefer?

    [p.s. Global Warming doesn’t exist according to US Government, except The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have just stated their response to the non-existent threat! “USACE climate and global change adaptation goal is to develop practical, nationally consistent and regionally tailored, legally justifiable and cost-effective adaptation measures, both structural and nonstructural, that will reduce vulnerabilities and improve resilience to these challenges The entire portfolio of USACE Civil Works water resources infrastructure and programs, existing and proposed, may be affected by climate change and require some form of adaptation.“]

    much more waffle at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/About/History/EconomicImpactsofClimateChangeProgram.aspx
    but the summary is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working as though Global Warming is real and a threat to their projects.

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