Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Another day, another shale gas report

Another day, another shale gas report to dissect. Today's offering comes to you courtesy of Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. The report claims to take an "impartial, evidence based approach". It does anything but, so once again it falls to me to point out the more egregious errors.

The best place to start is on the very first page, which shows two schematic images of the fracking process. In both cases the scale of images is such that the depth of the well is smaller than the height of the drilling rig, implying that fracking is taking place at a depth of less than 100m, rather than the actual depth, typically 2 - 3km.

Similar images are provided on page 4, and nowhere are images with the correct scales shown. The images are so out of scale that the "impartial, evidence based" claim immediately cannot be taken seriously. The moment you see an image like this, you know what to expect.

To the non-expert, the degree of the error in these images might not be immediately apparent, so I did a little photoshopping to demonstrate. Imagine if you were reading a report on whether it was safe for commercial airliners to overfly cities at altitude, and on the first page of the report was the following image, I don't think it would be taken that seriously by air safety experts:

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

German Success...?

A big week for Germany in the news. And no, I'm not talking about 7 - 1!

New rules for hydraulic fracturing have been announced in Germany. This has been widely reported as "Germany bans fracking", but the devil may be in the detail - indeed some groups opposed to fracking have referred to it as a "fracking enabling law". This is because it appears that fracking will be allowed at depths below 3,000m, and "where drinking water is not in danger". It is not clear whether this means in areas where no potable groundwater is present, and/or "if the liquid being used cannot contaminate water".

The laws are due to be further discussed in the Autumn, where hopefully some of these ambiguities will be addressed.

Fracking is not new to Germany. Most of Germany's existing natural gas production, from Lower Saxony in the north of the country, requires hydraulic stimulation to be economic. These are not shale rocks, but "tight sandstones", with low permeability requiring fracturing to improve flow rates. The figure below shows the number of frack-jobs performed in Germany over the last few decades.

It's not clear whether the proposed ban would include these existing reservoirs.

There's a wider point to be addressed here. I'm often told that we should follow Germany's example in terms of energy policy. Germany's "energiewende" policy has promoted renewable energy sources extensively, resulting in something of a boom for this technology. Indeed, in recent weeks breathless reports announced that Germany had produced 50% of it's electricity needs from solar.

These headlines need some context - this was 50% of electricity over a short period on a summer day that, being a public holiday, saw particularly low demand. Also, electricity only represents part of our total energy consumption profile - we also use energy for transport, domestic heating and cooking, and in industry. In my opinion, the efforts made by Germany in this regard are deserving of praise. However, the additional costs have had an impact on domestic energy prices:

As always, we must keep the bigger picture in mind. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy provides a more sober analysis. Considering total energy consumption, renewable energy sources only provided 10% of Germany's total energy consumption in 2013. That still compares very favourably with the 3.9% we managed in the UK last year.

Ultimately, the reason we develop renewable energy sources is to reduce our CO2 emissions. How do Germany and the UK compare in terms of CO2 emissions? In 2012, Germany produced 810,000kT of CO2, while the UK produced only 490,000kT. Of course, this isn't a fair comparison, because there are more Germans than British. However, even when you take per capita emissions, in 2012 Germany produced 9.7 tonnes per person, while the UK produced 7.7 tonnes per person. It still might be an unfair comparison, because the German economy is generally considered to be stronger than ours. However, even when you consider emissions per unit GDP, the Germans were only able to produce $3,621 of GDP for each tonne of CO2 emitted, while the UK managed to produce $4,284 of GDP for each tonne of CO2.

Given that we in the UK get our energy cheaper than in Germany, and yet produce fewer CO2 emissions, I really don't know why it is that we are so keen to emulate the Germans (their football team excepted, of course).

How can it be that Germany produces more than double the amount of electricity from renewables than we do, and yet have higher CO2 emissions. The clue is in how energy is generated when the sun isn't shining. The picture below gives a clue.

This is an open cast lignite mine. They are big enough to spot easily on google maps, and the machines used in the mining are some of the largest vehicles ever made. Whole villages are being forcibly moved to allow the mines to expand. What is more, the fuel they produce, lignite, is one of the dirtiest burning fuels available. So why does the UK have lower CO2 emissions? Because we burn more natural gas in our mix compared to the Germans, and the CO2 reduction provided by a significant switch from coal to gas exceeds that provided by a small increase in renewable energy.

In conclusion, I find the current situation in Germany to be a little crazy. You can strip-mine your way across the country-side, forcibly moving whole villages, to produce the most CO2-intensive fuel possible. Yet if you want to drill a 6-inch hole in the ground to a depth of 2km, using about a football-pitch-worth of land, and pump some water down said hole for a few hours, to produce a fuel that is the least CO2-intensive of all the fossil fuels? A technique that has been used in some form in Germany for decades? Well, that is not allowed. The mind boggles, as my father would say.

I'd still trade it all for their football team though...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Image (video) of the Day: How near-surface microseismic monitoring works

As part of the monitoring requirements for their new wells in Lancashire, Cuadrilla are installing near-surface microseismic monitoring arrays. Geophones are buried to depths of 50 - 100m. They are capable of detecting the small "pops" and "cracks" as the shale is fractured, allowing the operator to map where the fractures are going as the stimulation progresses.

This video explains how the technique works, and how it is used both to allow operators to maximise the efficiency of their operations, and to minimise any environmental risks.

The video is made for an American audience, and I think to UK eyes it comes across as a little slick and "corporate", but it's well worth a watch.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Spotlight on SMEs: Remsol

In "Spotlight on SMEs" I draw attention to small and medium sized enterprises involved in developing UK shale gas. These aren't the operators, whose names are well known, but they provide vital services to ensure that shale gas extraction is done safely and efficiently. It is in this supply chain that shale development can give a significant boost to the UK economy.

This week's SME is Remsol, a waste management service involved in treating and disposing of waste flowback fluids after hydraulic fracturing has taken place.

Remsol was founded in 2002 by Lee Petts, a waste and environmental management expert living in Preston, Lancashire. The firm initially cut its teeth dealing with waste from the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing industries. They have built a reputation for solving complex and difficult waste problems, sometimes in unconventional ways.

As case example comes from Tessenderlo, a Belgian chemicals manufacturer. A production process had gone awry at its Widnes plant, contaminating 400 tonnes of hydrochloric acid with chlorinated toluene. The conventional waste industry approach would be to take it away, neutralise it and then dispose of it. However, this would prove to be prohibitively expensive, and couldn't be completed within the necessary timescale (only 3 days). Remsol succeeded in finding a buyer who was able to utilise the acid, despite the small concentration of chlorinated organic material, and arranged for all 400 tonnes to be shipped off site over a 2-day period.

Being based in the NorthWest, Remsol were aware of Cuadrilla's hydraulic fracturing plans at an early stage. Initially, Remsol wondered whether treated waste water from other industrial applications, instead of fresh mains water could be used as a cheaper alternative. Understandably, however, Cuadrilla wanted to have complete control over what they were injecting in order to guarantee safety, so this was a non-starter.

However, after their fracking tests in 2011, Cuadrilla's flowback fluid was found to contain small quantities of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM). United Utilities made a commercial decision not to process the flowback water at their Davyhulme site, so Cuadrilla were in the market for someone who could process flowback water containing NORM, which lead them back to Remsol.

Through their contacts in the UK nuclear sector, they identified a process that has been used to remove low levels of radioactive material from waste water for over 40 years - a process similar to a slightly more complex 3-stage chemical separation and filtration process conducted at about a dozen waste treatment facilities around the UK. In collaboration with some of these operators, they demonstrated, first in the lab, then at plant-scale trials, that the process was able to remove more than 90% of the NORM particles, reducing the radioactivity of the wastewater to a level lower than that found in your average bottle of mineral water.

Their early successes with Cuadrilla mean that Remsol are gearing up to play a key role as the industry develops. The flowback disposal issue is one that resonates with the public, and they've been engaging with local people in the Northwest to address fears in a calm and rational manner. "Radioactivity" is a word that can scare people easily, and it's important that the levels of radiation in flowback fluids are put into perspective with the amounts of radiation we are exposed to as we go about our daily lives. They've also listened some of these concerns - the issue of road traffic, for instance - so are using larger tankers to reduce the number of journeys needed, and developing onsite clean-up facilities, so that the fluid can be recycled and reused. This significantly reduces the amount of water required, as well as reducing tanker journeys.

The purpose of "Spotlight on SMEs" is to draw attention to UK companies involved in the shale gas supply chain. When I contacted Lee, he had this to say about the importance of UK companies getting involved:
"For shale gas to succeed, the industry needs to make good on its promises about local jobs and supply chain roles.

To deliver the maximum economic benefit for the country, we need to see a mostly British supply chain (that pay corporation tax here) comprised largely of SMEs - because it will be smaller firms that have to take on new staff in order to grow and meet demand, thus boosting jobs - with priority given to companies based in the areas where shale gas activity takes place.

It's important that we show there is already a well-developed SME supply chain in place that has both the desire and skills to perform the necessary work to the required standard. If we don't, I think there's a real risk that the big oil field services companies like Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes will come to dominate the supply chain space, along with the global environmental consultancies, civil engineering giants like Babcock, Carillion and AMEC, and water treatment firms like French-owned Veolia - companies that are all big enough to take on a lot of the work without taking on new people, and that will perhaps pay their taxes in countries other than Britain."

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

"5 Fracking Myths Busted" - Busted

A new anti-fracking initiative, Talk Fracking, is currently touring the country. Their website has a thin veneer of balance, claiming to seek an "open debate" on fracking, but you don’t have to scratch too deeply to see their true motivation.

I’ll consider one particular video in detail, which claims to have “busted” all of the reasons to support shale development in the UK.

Before addressing the substance of the video, however, I will address the style. Talk Fracking say that they want to open up a balanced debate on fracking. Yet the video has this strange, childish, mildly insulting caricature of an “industry representative” to present the pro-fracking case. If you’re looking for a balanced debate, putting up insulting straw-man caricatures of your opponents is hardly the best way to start.

Now, to the content. The first “myth” is the impact (or not) that shale gas will have on energy prices. My view is that the only realistic position to take is that we simply don’t know what impact it’ll have on prices. It also depends heavily on whether the rest of Europe also develops shale gas. I suspect that the impact is unlikely to be dramatic as we’ve seen in the USA. Some studies have indicated it will have little impact, while others have suggesteda possible price reduction of up to 25%.

The Talk Fracking video argues that fracking will “keep a monopoly of energy with the big six companies”. In fact, Centrica’s farm-in to Cuadrilla’s Lancashire acreage aside, current operators in UK shale have no connection with the big six, so I’d really like to know how shale development strengthens their monopoly. In reality, the big six monopoly is unlikely to be affected whether or not we develop shale gas. However, one of the most fundamental rules of economics is that producing more of something can only have a downward impact on prices.

The second “myth” is the impact of shale on jobs and the economy. The latest figures on this come from EY, which comes up with similar numbers to the 2013 IoD report. EY estimates 6,000 direct jobs, 39,000 supply-chain related jobs and 19,000 induced jobs. As we have seen in in my “Spotlight on SMEs”, there are a lot of UK businesses that stand to benefit from shale development - in the supply chain and providing ancillary services - beyond those working directly for Cuadrilla and IGas.

The Northwest Energy Task Force now has over 400 business supporters who see the benefits of shale development in Lancashire. This includes the Chairperson of “Stay Blackpool”, which represents over 200 hoteliers and guesthouses. The “induced” jobs created in the hospitality trade may not count as far as Mr Mobbs and Ms Rothery are concerned, but I bet they count to the people holding down these jobs.

This is exactly what we have seen in the USA: the economic benefits of shale development extend far beyond the drillers themselves. Hotels are booked out all year round. Restaurants are full. There are jobs created in haulage and construction.

Finally, note the sleight of hand where Ms Rothery switches attention to sex workers in the jobs total. Rest assured, the IoD and EY reports don’t consider sex workers in its jobs figures.

“Myth” 3 is energy security.  Joseph Corre invites us to “ask yourselves what energy security really means for you”. I would suggest that it means that when you press the light switch, the lights come on. We saw over the winter, when storms affected power supplies for several days, the level of disruption that resulted. Keeping the lights on is no laughing matter.

We’re already in a situation where electricity generation capacity is getting perilously close to the margin. The National Grid are looking for volunteers to receive payments in return for being the first to be switched off in the event of outages. At best, this is additional cost on our bills. At worst, put yourselves in the shoes of a high-energy industrial user, such as a factory. Would you be likely to invest in the UK knowing that you might be asked to shut down if demand spikes? Energy security has impacts across the economy, even if it’s just a buzzword for Mr Corre.

Current projections suggest we will be importing 76% of our gas, at a cost of over £15 billion per year, by 2030. The question is not whether or not we will burn gas, but where that gas will come from – domestic shale or imported. Even Caroline Lucas accepts this. If gas is imported, that £15 billion is lost from our economy – it creates no jobs and pays no tax. If gas is produced domestically, the jobs and tax stay at home, benefitting the UK economy.

Any yes, Dame Westwood is correct that we don’t presently import gas from Russia. However, Talk Fracking want to have their cake and eat it. The impact of shale development on UK prices will be modified by the fact that we are part of an interconnected EU market. However, they then ignore these interconnections when it comes to considering the impacts of events in Eastern Europe. Much of the rest of Europe does import much of its gas from Russia. As they are so fond of pointing out, we are connected to this market. So we are impacted, even though none of the gas in our pipelines actually comes from Russia. 

Moreover, we are importing substantial amounts from Qatar instead. There are environmental implications of liquefying gas and shipping it halfway around the world as well, and the middle-east is hardly the best place to be sending £15 billion a year if we can really help it. Producing domestic gas is a better option than importing Qatari LNG, for a whole host of reasons.

“Myth” 4 is the “gold standard” regulatory system in the UK. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure exactly what counts as “gold standard”, and who gets to decide whether something meets that standard. But it’s pretty safe to say that regulations in the UK are significantly stronger than they are in the USA. Anyone who thinks otherwise simply cannot be familiar with the industry.

I’m not sure how what has happened in the banks or our supermarkets has any bearing on shale gas development. It’s not the same people regulating these very different industries. I’ll admit that I have no idea the regard to which our food industry is held, but prior to the banking crash I remember hearing more about light touch regulation than gold standard regulation. But apparently “the banks went bad” is a good argument to ban fracking.

Liz Arnold goes on to regurgitate the SLB Oilfield Review, which examines well integrity in the Gulf of Mexico. Anyone who thinks deep-water GoM data is relevant to onshore drilling either doesn’t understand drilling or is intentionally looking to mislead. Anyone who argues that the numbers in the SLB report show wells “leaking” either doesn’t understand well construction or is intentionally looking to mislead. When someone is presented as an expert, flown over from the USA specifically for her expertise, I lean strongly towards the latter conclusion.

Wells are constructed with multiple layers of steel and cement to isolate the well from surrounding rocks, preventing gas from getting into shallower layers. Sometimes, one of these barriers develops an issue of some kind, but this does not mean that gas is able to leak from the well. Actual well leakage is very rare. King and King summarise the issue better than I can, so I’ll quote: 
while individual barrier failures (containment maintained and no pollution indicated) in a specific well group may range from very low to several percent (depending on geographical area, operator, era, well type and maintenance quality), actual well integrity failures are very rare. Well integrity failure is where all barriers fail and a leak is possible. True well integrity failure rates are two to three orders of magnitude lower than single barrier failure rates.”
Ms Arnold also makes the erroneous claim that well integrity issues have allowed frack fluid to leak into shallow aquifers. In fact, fracking fluid is dense, and therefore unlikely to rise from deep formations. So even if a well has experienced a total loss of annular integrity, you wouldn’t expect to see frack fluid in shallow formations. This has been the case in the USA – even where methane migration has been attributed to well integrity, such as at Dimock, or in the Duke PNAS paper, no evidence for fracking fluid chemicals has been found.
Finally, the best place to look when considering the efficacy of existing regulations in the UK, whether they are gold standard or not, is to look at the existing onshore industry and its environmental impact. Over 2,000 wells have been drilled onshore in the UK, over 200 of which have been hydraulically stimulated in some manner. No significant environmental impacts have been noted.
While modifications to the regulatory system might be appropriate to address the increases in frack fluid volumes and the number of wells associated with shale gas development, I think in general past experience points to a regulatory regime in which we can place confidence.     

The fifth and final myth is that of gas being a bridge fuel. It is true that greens where advocating gas as a fuel decades ago, because its CO2 footprint is substantially lower than that of our dominant fuel, coal. This argument still holds true today: and is recognised by the IPCC, which states that 
"In mitigation scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq concentrations by 2100, natural gas power generation without CCS acts as a bridge technology, with deployment increasing before peaking and falling to below current levels by 2050 and declining further in the second half of the century (robust evidence, high agreement)."
While in the press conference associated with the report's release, the IPCC spokesman said
"We have in the energy supply also the shale gas revolution, and we say that this can be very consistent with low carbon development, with decarbonisation. That's quite clear."
I would like to know whether the organisers of Talk Fracking dispute the IPCC’s conclusions, and if so, why?

In the closing stages of the video we learn that Talk Fracking's position runs far deeper than just shale gas extraction – in fact, Talk Fracking believe that our whole model of industrial civilisation, and all the developments we’ve made in the last 200 years, needs to be changed. I’m not about to be drawn into an argument over the benefits or issues with this sort of debate – resource use and limits to growth are hugely complex issues. However, I don’t think that this as a reason to abandon shale gas development will chime with the wider public. If Talk Fracking’s true manifesto goes far beyond the fracking issue to a wholesale reorganisation of our economic system, then I believe they should be honest about this to the general public.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Image of the Day: Permitting Workflow

This flowchart represents the various steps that an operator must take before they are allowed to drill a well. Something to show whenever anyone tries to claim that drilling is not regulated.

You'll notice the different coloured boxes, representing engagement with various government and environmental bodies, including DECC, county council minerals planning departments, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, the BGS, and even the Coal Authority.

This chart, and the length of time it can take to work through it, shows why the recent Lords report discussed streamlining the regulatory process. The aim is not to remove any regulatory requirements in terms of how the well is drilled or the environmental impact monitored, but to improve coordination between the various organisations such that the above process takes less time to complete.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Spotlight on SMEs: Ground Gas Solutions Ltd

In the first "Spotlight on SMEs" post, I showcase an SME (small/medium enterprise) that has already worked with Cuadrilla and IGas to assess the environmental impact of their sites.

Ground-Gas Solutions is an environmental monitoring consultancy that currently employs 15 people, although that number is expected to rise quickly in support of a growing shale sector. The main office is based in Manchester, but they have people working all around the UK. GGS specialise in monitoring ground and air pollution around industrial sites. GGS was founded in 2009 by Simon Talbot and John Naylor, who have previous experience in landfill monitoring and contaminated land investigation. 

While GGS serve a number of sectors, their services are already proving useful to shale gas operators. While environmental monitoring is not a new thing, GGS have developed novel sensors capable of monitoring the concentrations of potential pollutants like methane, hydrogen sulphide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continuously, rather than at discrete and irregular intervals. The image blow shows how a sensor is set up in a borehole to detect potential pollutants moving through the ground.

Spotlight on SMEs: the UK companies benefitting from the shale gas development

Most people reading this blog will be familiar with the operators involved in developing UK shale - the likes of Cuadrilla, IGas and Dart. Most will also be aware of the buy-ins from the bigger players like Centrica, GDF Suez and Total.

However, the operators are only a part of the whole story. There is a whole supply chain needed to get shale development off the ground in the UK. Much of the work done by the operators is in fact contracted out to these suppliers, which are often UK-based "Small and Medium Enterprises", which are often referred to as the "life-blood" of our economy.

There are a lot of great British SMEs out there who have found that the skills and services they offer are proving useful to operators looking to extract shale gas in the UK. I'm a geoscientist, not an economist, so I tend to focus on the geoscience issues around shale, rather than the economics. That said, I think the assumption is often made that the only people to benefit from UK shale will be the operators: the handful of shareholders who own Cuadrilla, IGas et al. In fact, there is a whole supply chain of SMEs that will reap the benefit if shale is developed in the UK. This was made clear in the recent Lords report on the economic impacts of UK shale gas.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A tale of two letters

Updated 17.6.2014

I've just spotted that Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, Cornwall, is one of the signatories on the anti-fracking letter in the Times.

The Eden Project is currently planning an Engineered Geothermal System (EGS) to provide power and heat to the site. As any geologist will tell you, an EGS system requires "fracking" to create fractures in the granite rock to allow hot water to circulate. Or as the Eden Project describe it,
"Two boreholes, each around 25cm wide, are drilled into the rock to a depth of about 4.5km. This is done by pumping water down one borehole until the natural fractures in the rock are opened and water can flow."
In his own words, Sir Tim believes that "there is substantial evidence showing that fracking causes water stress and risks water contamination and soil contamination, earth tremors — and is a threat to human, wildlife, bird, fish and livestock health". I would love to know how he can think this and yet be happy for fracking to take place right next to the Eden Project.

Updated 6.6.2014 (see below)

Shale gas is back in the news this week with proposals to change laws for underground drilling access (more on this to come). In addition, two letters with numerous signatories have been published, one in the Times and one in the Guardian. I'll declare my conflict of interest in that you'll see my name towards the bottom of the Guardian letter.

For the sake of posterity, I thought it would be instructive to post the two letters next to each other, including the signatories, noting very different backgrounds between the signatories of the two letters.

Firstly, in the Times:


The government’s plans to introduce fracking will change the UK for ever. David Cameron and the energy minister Michael Fallon have both told us to get ready for fracking. Already more than 60 per cent of the country will be licensed for fracking, and planning rules are being changed to allow for central government to override community objections.

The government says that fracking is safe even though it is banned in several European countries and US states. There is substantial evidence showing that fracking causes water stress and risks water contamination and soil contamination, earth tremors — and is a threat to human, wildlife, bird, fish and livestock health.

This technology will not bring down fuel bills and will not provide a jobs boom, but it has the potential to leave a damaging environmental legacy for future generations.
We urge the government to suspend fracking immediately while a genuinely independent, balanced and thorough public debate is held into the potential dangers this industry holds for the UK.

Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry), Dr Damien Short, Professor David Smythe, Professor Graham Warren, Professor Erik Bichard, Dr Hugh Montgomery (Professor of Intensive Care, UCL), Professor Lawrence Dunne, Dr David P Knight, Richard Murphy, John Christensen, Bruce Kent, Dr David Lowry, Dr Laura Adams, Chris Venables, Michael Mansfield QC, Bob Marshall-Andrews QC, Bianca Jagger, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, James Hansen, Mike Hill, Dr George Manos, Baron Rea of Eskdale, Vivienne Westwood OBE, Andreas Kronthaler, Katharine Hamnett CBE, Stella McCartney, Bella Freud, Alexandra Shulman, Lily Cole, Georgia May Jagger, Helena Bonham-Carter, Stephen Frears, Sue Jameson, James Bolam MBE, Ken Loach, Steven Berkoff, Jude Law, Miranda Richardson, Russell Brand, Sadie Frost, Frankie Boyle, Dr Pauline Kiernan, Liza Goddard, David Yates & Yvonne Walcott Yates, Jeremy Hardy, Greta Scacchi, Baroness Beeban Kidron, Lee Hall, Sam Branson, Tracey Seaward, Mark Tildsley, Michael Elwyn, Jenny Platt, Tim Preece, Alison Steadman, Geoffrey Munn OBE, Josh Appignanesi, Jonny Harris, Debi Mazar, Matt Lucas, Alan Carr, Noel Fielding, Lliana Bird, Dr Noki Platon, Juergen Teller, Willie Christie, Oliviero Toscani, Andy Willsher, Mary McCartney, Bryan Adams, Dr Andy Gotts MBE, Yoko Ono, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir John Eliot Gardiner CBE, Isabella de Sabata Gardiner, Danielle de Niese, Thom Yorke, Nick Grimshaw, St Etienne, Adrian Sherwood, Geoff Jukes, Jeff Barrett, Chrissie Hynde, Bobby Gillespie & Andrew Innes (Primal Scream), Asian Dub Foundation, Robert del Naja (3D, Massive Attack), Debbie Hyde (All Good Radio Show), Carl Barat, Paloma Faith, Sir Anthony Gormley OBE, Rachel Whiteread CBE, Cornelia Parker OBE, Tracey Emin CBE RA, Bob & Roberta Smith, Gavin Turk & Deborah Curtis, Sadie Coles, Anne Rothstein, Saskia Oldewolbers, Jamie Reid, Mona Hatoum, Michael Landy RA, Gillian Wearing RA OBE, Mark Wallinger, Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey, Jimmy Cauty, Joe Corre, Triodos Bank, Jeremy Leggett, Trillion Fund, Sir Tim Smit KBE (Eden Project), Ben Hopkins (founder benhopkins.co ltd), Lush Cosmetics, Dale Vince OBE (founder Ecotricity), Vince Adams (founder Respect Organics), Dietmar Hamann, Jeanette Winterson OBE, Neil Gaiman, Mark Haddon, Mark Ellingham, Mariella Frostrup, Rosie Boycott, Chris Stewart, George Monbiot, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, Dana Nuccitelli, Nicholas Shaxson, John Pilger, Will Self, Deborah Orr, Jonas Grimas, New Internationalist, Guillem Balague, Daryll Cunningham, Alan Moore, Philip Carr-Gomm, Alistair Beaton, Fergus Henderson, Mark Hix, Sam & Sam Clark, Geetie Singh, Guy Watson (founder, owner Riverford Organics), River Cottage, Hop Fuzz Brewery, Gabriele Corcos, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Salmon and Trout Association, Greenpeace, Bill McKibben, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Young Friends of the Earth, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Gaia Foundation, Fuel Poverty Action, Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester (founder, Farms not Factories), End Ecocide EU, Manuel Cortes (General Secretary TSSA), Stephen Hedley (Assistant General Secretary RMT), Chris Baugh (Assistant General Secretary PCS).

Secondly, in the Guardian:

Since the Industrial Revolution almost 250 years ago, Britain's economic prosperity and national energy security have depended on having access to abundant supplies of domestic energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas.

In 2004 the UK became a net importer of natural gas for the first time. Over the last three years, according to industry experts, output in the North Sea has fallen by 38%.

After nearly 30 years of near-abundant supplies of natural gas from the North Sea, we have become more exposed and vulnerable because of our increased reliance on foreign imports of energy to meet our power-generation needs. In 2014 UK government ministers said they expect Britain to be importing nearly three-quarters of our gas needs by 2030. But it does not have to be this way for ever.

According to the independent British Geological Survey, the Bowland Basin, which covers significant parts of north-west England, currently sits on top of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If we extract only 10% of this valuable resource, that is enough to boost our domestic supply to meet existing demand by at least a further 25 years, according to geoscientific experts.

Globally high prices for commodities and recent innovations mean this is now economically and technologically possible. As geoscientists and petroleum engineers from Britain's leading academic institutions, we call on all politicians and decision-makers at all levels to put aside their political differences and focus on the undeniable economic, environmental and national security benefits on offer to the UK from the responsible development of natural gas from Lancashire's shale.

Professor Richard Selley (Emeritus Professor of Petroleum Geology, Imperial College London), Dr Ruth Robinson (Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences, University of St Andrews), Professor Ian Croudace (Director of Geosciences Advisory Unit, University of Southampton), Dr Lateef Akanji (Coordinator of Petroleum and Gas Engineering Programme, University of Salford), Dr Godpower Chimagwu Enyi (Lecturer in Petroleum and Gas Engineering, University of Salford, Manchester), Professor Ghasem Nasr (Director of Spray Research Group, Petroleum Technology Research Group and Leader of Petroleum and Gas Engineering, University of Salford, Manchester), Professor James Griffiths (Professor of Engineering Geology and Geomorphology, University of Plymouth), Associate Professor Graeme Taylor (Senior Lecturer in Geophysics, University of Plymouth), Professor Ernest Rutter (Professor of Structural Geology, University of Manchester), Professor Mike Bowman (Chair in Development and Production Geology, and President of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, University of Manchester), Professor Stephen Flint (University of Manchester), Professor Jonathan Redfern (Chair of Petroleum Geoscience, University of Manchester), Dr Kate Brodie (Senior lecturer, University of Manchester), Dr Rufus Brunt (University of Manchester), Professor Kevin Taylor (University of Manchester), Dr Tim Needham (Needham Geoscience and visiting lecturer, University of Leeds), Professor Paul Glover (Chair of Petrophysics, University of Leeds), Professor Quentin Fisher (Research Director of School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds), Dr Doug Angus (Associate Professor of Applied and Theoretical Seismology, University of Leeds), Dr Roger Clark (University of Leeds), Professor Wyn Williams (Director of Teaching: Rock and Mineral Magnetism, University of Edinburgh), Dr Mark Allen (University of Durham), Dr Howard Armstrong (Senior Lecturer in Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham), Dr Martin Whiteley (Senior Lecturer in Petroleum Geoscience, University of Derby), Professor Jon Blundy (Professorial Research Fellow in Petrology, University of Bristol), Dr James Verdon (Research Fellow, University of Bristol), Professor Adrian Hartley (Chair in Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen), Dr David Iacopini (Lecturer, University of Aberdeen), Dr Nick Schofield (Lecturer, University of Aberdeen), Professor David Macdonald (Chair in Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen), Dr Andrew Kerr (University Cardiff), Professor Andrew Hurst (Professor of Production Geoscience, University Aberdeen), Dr Sina Rezaei Gomari (Senior Lecturer in Petroleum Technology and Engineering, Teesside University), Professor Agust Gudmundsson (Chair of Structural Geology, Royal Holloway), Dr David Waltham (Royal Holloway), Professor Joe Cartwright (Shell Professor of Earth Sciences, Oxford University), Professor Peter Styles (Professor in Applied and Environmental Geophysics, Keele University), Dr Steven Rogers (Teaching Fellow, Keele University), Dr Ian Stimpson (Senior Lecturer in Geophysics, Keele University), Dr Jamie Pringle (Senior Lecturer in Engineering and Environmental Geosciences, Keele University), Dr Gary Hampson (Director of Petroleum Geoscience MSc course, Imperial College London), Professor John Cosgrove (Professor of Structural Geology, Imperial College London), Professor Howard Johnson (Shell Chair in Petroleum Geology, Imperial College London), Professor Dorrik Stow (Head of Institute of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University), Dr Gillian Pickup (Lecturer in Reservoir Simulation, Heriot-Watt University), Dr Zeyun Jiang (Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University), Dr Jingsheng Ma (Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University), Dr Gerald Lucas (Edge Hill University), Professor Charlie Bristow (Professor of Sedimentology, Birkbeck College, University of London), Dr Paul Grant (Lecturer, Kingston University).

Update 6.6.2014: A third letter
We've heard from anti-fracking groups, and from academic geologists who believe that shale gas can be extracted safely, and will generate significant economic benefits. Seems only fair that we also hear from the operators themselves - UKOOG wrote a response to the Times letter:


I agree with Paul McCartney and the others who signed the letter on fracking (June 2nd) that we need to talk about fracking, and any debate should take account of all the facts as presented in the recent studies in the UK by eminent institutions and individuals including the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, Public Health England, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, and Professor David MacKay and Dr Tim Stone. All conclude that in a properly regulated industry the risks from fracking are small. We are happy to discuss the merits of shale with anyone who comes to it with an open mind. On this basis, Sir Paul, hopefully "We can work it out".

Ken Cronin (UKOOG).

Thursday, 29 May 2014

New paper: Estimates of error in micro-earthquake magnitude estimation

With excellent timing, on the same day as the new BGS report into the shale oil potential of the Weald Basin, a new paper, written by two co-workers at Bristol Uni and myself, has been released in Geophysical Prospecting. In it, we examine the uncertainties in estimates of event magnitude made on small earthquakes.

This paper is significant for shale gas extraction in the wake of DECC's traffic light system (TLS) proposal for fracking operations. Under the TLS, operational decisions during the fracking process must be taken on events as small as magnitude 0.0 (the amber level), with complete cessation of activities for events larger than magnitude 0.5.

As most people are aware, a magnitude 0 event is very small, at the limit of what can be detected using conventional seismographs (see our efforts at Balcombe, for example). Expensive downhole microseismic monitoring systems are required to robustly detect smaller magnitudes.

The TLS pre-supposes that earthquake magnitudes at this low level can be accurately determined. The purpose of the TLS was to provide a simple-to-understand system to re-assure the public. Uncertainties in event magnitude estimation could undermine this, generating more controversy, not less.

We show in our paper that event magnitude estimations at these low levels can be very uncertain: you can get different answers depending on what methods you use and assumptions you make. It doesn't take too much imagination to think of a scenario where one group reporting on a fracking operation concludes that an induced earthquake was just below the TLS threshold, but another group using a different method finds that the earthquake did exceed it. The current debate over shale gas extraction is febrile enough as it is, can you imagine the recrimination and the confusion that such an eventuality would generate?