Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The hornet's nest keeps on giving

Ragamala has been good enough to respond once again in our conversation in the comments section of my letter to the Somerset Standard.

He comments:
You have a penchant for facts, Dr Verdon. Can you please say what percentage of the Wytch Field oil reservoirs tapped is onshore? Yes it is called an onshore resource. For the reason that it suits the pro-fracking argument to call it that, and this misrepresentation should be continually challenged as it used, erroneously, to imply support for onshore fracking.
Regarding fugitive methane emissions I stand by my statement that there is no certainty whatsoever about the levels of methane fugitive emissions from shale gas fracking. In the EU report you refer to we have indeed some tables of figures produced, but these are estimate drawn from various widely varying US sources, some now dated, rather than hard fact. And the report makes it clear that the European experience will not necessarily be the same as the US. In other words, there is NO reliable estimate of methane emissions. I am grateful to Dr Vedon for conceding that CO2 emission is a very different thing from greenhouse gas emission or CO2 equivalent emissions, this is a factor which is hidden by much pro-fracking propaganda.
Regarding Cuadrilla's wilful breach of their planning permnission your statement is demonstrably wrong.And the Guardian article you refer to makes no reference to migration at all. What it does say is that Cuadrilla wanted to exceed their planning deadline FOR THEIR OWN REASONS, and decided to go ahead WITHOUT CONSULTING LCC because they had the nod from an employed consultant. This was wilful breach of planning which had no link with migration patterns at all, and I would ask you for a retraction on that.

Frankly I can not see how if Cuadrilla mislead about economic benefit this is any better whatsoever than them being misleading about geological "data". This would only be true from your blinkered perspective. The people of the Fylde are being encouraged to accept fracking turning their land into an industrial area by use of misleading figures on economic benefit. Earlier Cuadrilla issued figures on the likely shale gas available which were wild guesses and even their Australian part parent company is sceptical about these and the resulting viability of Cuadrilla's operation.

Regarding shale gas estimates, can we agree to wait until the new BGS report - expected shortly - is out?
I've never been accused of having a penchant for facts before. My sarcasm detector is off the chart. In science, having a penchant for facts is usually considered a good thing. Anyway, my response as follows:
I guess I should take the backhanded compliment of having "a penchant for facts". Better at least than being accused of "overlooking" or even "blissfully ignoring" facts, as your other comments have alleged. Similarly, this conversation began with me apparently 'totally ignoring' the EU Committee reports, but now you yourself want to argue that the information in the report should be discounted. I can only assume that you've had this change of heart because the data in the report does not support the story you want to tell.

Of course they can only be estimates, but they are made with the best evidence available, so they shouldn't be discounted just because you don't like them. If anything given the more stringent EU regulations, estimated based on the US are likely to be an overestimate. Several different reports and papers have come to similar conclusions, the only one that hasn't, by Howarth and Ingraffea, has been widely criticised even by their colleagues at Cornell as using out of date data and poor assumptions.

Unfortunately, one fact I do not have is the proportion of Wytch Farm that is under Poole Harbour, and what under land. However, this is irrelevant to the issue: For drillers, once the drill is under the ground the process is the same, whether on land or under water. When working at 2km depth, the presence or absence of 10m of water really doesn't matter. What does matter is whether the drill has to be sited on land, or on a rig, and therefore whether it will have to go through the water before drilling into rock. In fact, drilling offshore is far harder than onshore. From all technical perspectives, however, drilling at Wytch Farm, where wells start on land but bend out through rocks that are under the coast at depth, is absolutely no different to drilling on land anywhere else. This isn't some invention for pro-shale-gas opportunism, this is how fields are always defined, and with good reason. I'm not sure why you feel that the fact that part of Wytch Farm is under Poole Harbour means that the safety record there can be discounted - if they'd polluted Poole Harbour that would be a major incident!

Regardless of this, I wasn't aware that Wytch Farm was being used for propaganda purposes. If you really don't like this particular example, which of the other 30 or so onshore UK oil fields (that have produced a combined 66 millions tonnes of oil since 1975) would you prefer to use as an example? I think Wytch Farm is mainly talked about because it is the largest and most well known. I grew up 5 minutes down the road from the Humbly Grove Field (Hampshire), but wasn't even aware of it until I studied to become a geologist. You can see where they all are via this map:


The planning permission time limit breached by Cuadrilla was there because to protect bird life. Apologies for stating migrating, when I should have said over-wintering, birds aren't a strong point of mine. And I've already stated that from a public relations perspective it was a very silly thing to do, and if I were LCC I'd want to know it wouldn't happen again. But to jump from that to banning all shale gas anywhere forever is quite a leap to make.

I've not seen any data on the economic benefits of the geophys survey - either those claimed by Cuadrilla or actually measured (I'm not an economist, so I wouldn't know how you'd go about measuring that). Typically these things cost several million at least, though obviously much of that would go to the specialist companies involved rather than local people. It will indeed be interesting to see the latest numbers from the BGS. The current number being bandied about is in the region of £1.5 trillion, although until that's made official we shall, of course, have to wait.
I really should stop feeding the trolls and get back to my day job.......

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