Tag Archives: Dept for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)

as the rush to ‘fracking’ quickens, could the message be any clearer?

It is “highly probable” that shale gas [fracking] test drilling triggered earth tremors in Lancashire, a study has found.

But the report, commissioned by energy firm Cuadrilla, also said the quakes were due to an “unusual combination of geology at the well site”.1

reads the BBC news update on plans to begin fracking in Lancashire.

In short, the British Geological Survey have recently determined that the epicentres of two earth tremors (in April and May) were located approximately half a kilometre from one of the fracking wells, which at least establishes the next to certain cause; although the same report, that was, remember, “commissioned by energy firm Cuadrilla”, then helpfully dismisses concerns from environmentalists on the basis that the combination of geological factors were rare, and that:

“If these factors were to combine again in the future local geology limits seismic events to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a worst-case scenario.”

In response to which, The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assures us:

“The implications of this report will be reviewed very carefully – in consultation with the British Geological Survey, independent experts, and the other key regulators, HSE and the Environment Agency – before any decision on the resumption of these hydraulic fracture operations is made.”

Although it’s not that a few earth tremors are really much of a problem in any case, but rather, minor symptoms of a deeper malaise. Fracking is itself the problem, and one that rather perfectly illustrates why so many things are wrong today.

In the future we will ask, “how did we come to this?” To the deliberate injection of billions of gallons of highly toxic fluids into our precious land, especially as we already know that these poisons are leached back into rivers, into the soil and, perhaps most worryingly, directly into our water supplies. Plainly, this is madness. But what’s crazier is that in our topsy-turvy world, such a hugely inefficient and polluting ‘new technology’ continues to be promoted and justified as a ‘green alternative’. And to get a clearer idea of what a disgustingly dirty and highly dangerous process fracking is, I point you to earlier posts here and here (which have relevant links throughout).

Meanwhile, in America, the birthplace of fracking, the government now seems intent to press ahead with 20,000 or more gas wells in the Delaware River Basin; a watershed which serves New York city.

Josh Fox, the film-maker who produced the acclaimed documentary Gasland, is leading the call for sanity:

The crucial decision to frack or not to frack the Delaware is in the hands of President Obama and the Governors of Delaware and New York. We need you to take charge and push them to do the right thing.

I have travelled all over this world, in over 30 states in the USA, to Africa, to Europe, Asia and Australia and one thing is clear: Fracking is not only one of the most destructive forms of extreme energy development, creating water contamination, horrific and hazardous air pollution and a health crisis, it is a world wide scourge that pushes us farther away from the renewable energy future that we need.

Now the fight comes back to my home, the Delaware River Basin, where it started for me. But this fight isn’t about me. It’s about the drinking water for 16 million people that the Delaware River provides.

Click here for the Save The Delaware campaign site.

As a single measure of just how sick our political and economic systems have become, you’d be doing well to find a better one than the rise and spread of fracking. It shows how money and influence can entirely trump all legal restriction and regulation. Of how our governments serve corporations first and last. Whilst the latest response from the UK government also reminds us of the sad truth that we (like the Greeks and the Italians) already live in a kind of ‘technocracy’ with decisions on whether or not to now proceed being left entirely in the hands of ‘experts’.

Clean water and breathable air are basic human rights, and in any civilised society, these, at very least, ought to be guaranteed. But increasingly they are not. Could the message be any clearer?

1 From a BBC news report entitled “Fracking tests near Blackpool ‘likely cause’ of tremors”, published on November 2, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458

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why we don’t need 400 holes in Blackpool Lancashire

I read the news today, oh boy…

An energy firm which has been test drilling for controversial “shale gas” in Lancashire has said it has found vast gas resources underground.

Cuadrilla Resources began testing for gas on the Fylde Coast in March, using a technique known as “fracking”. […]

Cuadrilla hopes to drill as many as 400 wells over the next nine years and up to 800 over 16 years if gas extraction is successful.1

Click here to read the full BBC article.

I have already posted an earlier article which details the process of fracking and the long-term environmental devastation it has already caused across America and beyond.

Basically, if you were ever looking to systematically pollute vast tracts of land, then you’d struggle to beat the process of fracking. It goes like this: take huge quantities of freshwater, mix in a secret and highly toxic cocktail of chemical ingredients, and then inject it into the ground under high pressure. The results are impressive, as this recent article in The New York Times shows:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.2

Click here to read the full article.

And here is a short documentary film made by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecological Film Unit, who looked into the effects of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin, North-East America:

A word of caution though, because if you feel angered or worried about any of this, then do be careful how you raise your objections. Some in America, who have expressed opposition, are now being treated as eco-terrorists:

As for Britain, exploratory drilling around Blackpool was suspended due to earthquakes, and an announcement is expected in the next thirty days as to whether permission will be granted for further fracking:

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had to ensure any operations which went ahead were properly regulated.

“We welcome the news that Cuadrilla believe there to be good quantities of gas contained in the shale covered by their licence,” he said.

From the same BBC news report.

The DECC spokesman also told the BBC that “nothing will temper the government’s firm and unbending commitment to safety and environmental protection”. Nothing that is, except money and influence perhaps…

Cuadrilla Resources is owned by its management team and two substantial investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC. And the Managing Director of Riverstone is Lord John Browne of Madingley.

Prior to his appointment at Riverstone, Lord Browne, who was also a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs, had spent 41 years working for BP, having been appointed as Chief Executive in June 1995. Indeed, he was the immediate predecessor to the much reviled Tony Hayward, who assumed the position of CEO after Lord Browne’s forced resignation from BP in May 2007. So could Lord Browne have been culpable in any way for what was to occur just a few years later in the Gulf of Mexico?

In July 2010, just a few months after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Tom Bower wrote this about Lord Browne:

Last Monday, amid the elegant surroundings of Dartmouth House in London’s Mayfair, Lord Browne of Madingley, the dapper former chief executive of BP, gave a lecture about ‘inspiration and vision in business’.

At ease in front of 60 hand-picked guests, the ultra-smooth tycoon shrugged off all personal responsibility for the company’s unfolding catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

He brushed aside critical questions about the poisoned legacy he bequeathed his beleaguered successor Tony Hayward.3

In his article, entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, Bower continues:

After his appointment as BP boss in 1998, Lord Browne swiftly transformed the firm from a dying oil corporation with just two fields – in Alaska and the North sea – into the world’s second largest behemoth.

By re-focusing on so-called ‘elephants’ (the big oil reservoirs) and ruthlessly cutting costs, his mastery of financial engineering used BP’s rising share price to launch audacious take-overs of failing oil companies, especially in America.

His success earned worldwide plaudits.

After re-branding BP as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ – the world’s most environmentally friendly oil company – he boasted during visits to Washington that BP was not only the largest producer of oil in America, but also the most successful explorer in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most difficult places to extract oil. […]

Success depended on BP earning high profits, which could be used to set up a merger with Shell. Lord Browne went for broke by cutting costs.

His philosophy was ‘more for less’: operations would be completed at a cost that was 10 per cent cheaper than the previous time, and so on.

Taking his cue from New Labour, targets became the Holy Grail. In July 2000, he announced that production would annually grow over three years by 5.5 to 7 per cent, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Angola.

This optimism was hailed and BP’s share price soared. But, in fact, BP’s growth turned out to be only 2.9 per cent and BP could hit its targets only by more ruthless cost-cutting.

Hundreds of engineers were sacked. Budgets for safety and maintenance were slashed. Skilled oil men resigned in disgust.

Bower’s catalogue of criticisms and failures goes on and on. Click here to read more.

1 From an article entitled “Shale gas firm finds ‘vast’ gas resources in Lancashire” published by BBC News on September 21, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-14990573

2 From an article entitled “Regulation Lax as Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers”, written by Ian Urbina, published in The New York Times on February 26, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?pagewanted=all

3 From an article entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, written by Tom Bower, published in the Daily Mail on July 3, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1291663/Return-Lord-Oil-Slick-Why-Cameron-handed-Lord-Browne-key-job.html

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fracking all over the world

Have you ever heard of fracking? If you have, then are you’re probably aware that fracking is a method for natural gas extraction that is already widespread across America, with rigs set up across 32 states . Perhaps you also know that permission has been granted for fracking in parts of Europe and Africa. So are you aware that we may soon see the go-ahead for fracking in England too…?

A few miles inland [from Blackpool Tower] a gawky newcomer in the flat landscape makes a rival gesture towards the skies. It’s a drill rig attempting to usher in an era of its own; an era of cheap and plentiful gas to set the UK’s energy policy alight.

The firm involved, Cuadrilla, promise that their fracking technique is safe. Their CEO, Mark Miller is a veteran gas man from the US. He admits that careless fracking in his homeland has caused problems, but says: “People compare us to the worst operators in North America. Things are different over here because we use practices that are foolproof. We make a bullet-proof well where you can’t get any leakages. It’s called Industry Best Practice. We don’t take any short cuts over here.”

Cuadrilla currently have permission to do test drilling and the Environment Agency confirm that they will need to apply for a full licence if and when the time comes for full scale production.

Environmentalists want a delay in fracking until a major review of the practice by the US Environmental Protection Agency has been carried out — maybe sometime next year. The government believes its own safety regulations are strict enough.

So far, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) appears to be cautiously welcoming the advent of shale gas in the UK.

I met Philip Mitchell, chairman of Blackpool Green Party by the banks of the picturesque River Wyre in this little-visited corner of rural England. “I’m worried about the risks,” he told me.

“Risks to human health; to ground water and drinking water; and to the environment due to the huge amounts of waste this produces and the huge amount of water it consumes. Also I think the impact of drilling rigs on the countryside will be totally unacceptable to the British people. I think this is something we’ll live to regret.”1

Click here to read full article from BBC News.

Fracking, or Hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas from shale. A borehole is drilled and then a cocktail of highly toxic and volatile chemicals, including benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, are added to huge quantities of freshwater, and pumped into the ground.2  Thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole”, the precise make-up of the cocktail used is allowed to be kept as a trade secret:

The industry lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress with its claims that the “fracking fluid” should be considered “proprietary” and exempt from disclosure under federal drinking water protection laws.3 Led by Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the industry obtained this exception in the law along with favorable treatment by political appointees and regulators in the “Environmental Protection Agency.” As a result of the “Halliburton loophole” to the law, drilling companies have not been required to divulge the cocktail of chemicals that are in the fracking fluids used at each of the proposed or continuing drill sites across the country.

Taken from sourcewatch.

So should we be worried? Here are some extracts from a recent article published in The Engineer :

Scientists are warning that plans to use a new method of gas drilling in the UK could contaminate water supplies.

A report released today [17 Jan 2011] from Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre calls for a moratorium on shale gas drilling until further research is done.

Mining company Cuadrilla Resources is preparing to carry out drilling that could involve ‘fracking’ – fracturing rock with water and chemicals to release gas trapped inside – following initial tests at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire.

The Tyndall report warns that horizontal fracking carries risks of contaminating groundwater and surface water with the fracturing chemicals and with methane, as well as putting pressure on water and land resources in the UK.

It adds that there is little publicly available information on these risks or the chemicals used in fracking, but notes that substances stockpiled in the US for the process include toxins and carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene.4

With fracking rigs now operating across huge stretches of land, there is also the ever-increasing danger of contamination due to blowouts. Here’s a report of an accident that happened only last month:

Chesapeake Energy suspended the use of a controversial natural-gas production technique in Pennsylvania on Thursday as it worked to contain a well blowout that spilled toxic fluid into a local waterway”.

President Barack Obama has made natural gas the cornerstone of his energy policy, in part thanks to the huge reserves unlocked by the use of fracking. Shale gas now accounts 23 percent of U.S. natural gas production, rising from a negligible amount in 2004.

But environmentalists and residents complain that fracking can pollute water supplies, raising calls for increased regulation on natural gas production.

“This is the kind of incident that is likely to shine a spotlight, again, on the fact that despite repeated assurances from industry and regulators in Pennsylvania, things there keep somehow going wrong,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.5

But if you’ve never heard of fracking, then you may still be wondering how anything with such a pointedly stupid name could possibly be worth worrying about. Well, the bigger truth about fracking is so astonishing, so shocking and so absurd that you may need to see it in order to believe it – which is the reason I am recommending a documentary called Gasland. Here is a précis:

When filmmaker Josh Fox received an offer of $100,000 from a gas company to lease his land for drilling in May 2008, he decided to investigate. Setting off across America and speaking with other rural residents about their experiences of fracking, he was soon confronted by toxic streams, dying livestock, neurological diseases, and kitchen sinks that burst into flames.

Fox learns that the process of fracking requires huge fleets of tankers, with between 400 and 600 needed to supply the freshwater alone. He also discovers that the contaminated water returning to the surface, known in the trade as “produced water”, is simply dumped into “flowback pits” and allowed to evaporate, so that the volatile additives are thereby released into the atmosphere as well as the groundwater.

Click here to watch the full documentary Gasland

In the film, Fox also speaks to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whistle-blower Weston Wilson, and environmental scientist Dr. Theo Colborn 6, who is one of the foremost experts on health and environmental effects of the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Colborn tells him:

“Every environmental law we wrote to protect public health is ignored.”

On April 14th 2010, Colborn also expressed her concerns about fracking on Democracy Now!

Fracking has already caused widespread, long-term and very serious environmental damage by polluting water systems throughout America, and yet many people have still never heard of it. Now, as permission is granted for operations to begin in other countries — including Britain — the devastation it brings is also spreading, poisoning more land and destroying more lives. Sad proof, if any were needed, that corporate irresponsibility knows no bounds when it comes to risking human health and the environment in the pursuit of profit.

1 From BBC News article entitled “UK shale plans target cheap gas” by Roger Harrabin published on April 1st, 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12922196

2 A breakdown of some of the additives is available from Department of Environmental Conservation for New York State report “Natural Gas Development Activities and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing” www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/ogdsgeischap5.pdf

3 “Central to that development is the use of fracking fluids. Largely unregulated, they’ve been employed by the energy industry for decades and, with the exception of diesel, can be made up of nearly any set of chemicals. Also, propriety trade laws don’t require energy companies to disclose their ingredients. “It is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke,” says Ron Heyden, a Halliburton executive, in recent testimony before the COGCC. Despite its widespread use and somewhat mysterious mix, fracturing fluid was deemed in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Agency as safe for the environment and groundwater.” from “A Toxic Spew? – Officials worry about the impact of ‘fracking’ of oil and gas” published in Newsweek on August 20th 2008. www.newsweek.com/2008/08/19/a-toxic-spew.html

4 Extracts from an article entitled “Evidence from the US prompts calls to stop fracking” by Stephen Harris published in The Engineer on January 17th 2011. www.theengineer.co.uk/news/evidence-from-the-us-prompts-calls-to-stop-fracking/1006915.article

5 Extracts from an article entitled “Driller halts Pennsylvania fracking after blowout” by Edward McAllister for Reuters on Thursday April 21st 2011. uk.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-chesapeake-blowout-idUKTRE73K5OH20110421

6 Theo Colborn is Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Florida. She is also the President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

Her awards include the: Chatham College Rachel Carson Award, Norwegian International Rachel Carson Prize, United Nations Environment Program Women Leadership for the Environment Award, International Blue Planet Prize, Society of Toxicology and Environmental Chemistry Rachel Carson Award, Center for Science in the Public Interest Rachel Carson Award, Beyond Pesticides Dragonfly Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment.

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