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 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,, 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).


  1. Yours is an excellent letter, signed entirely by scientists and engineers, unless I missed someone. The other letter is signed by a broad range of "celebrities" with no description (many who I have never heard of) and a few scientists and lobby groups. I suspect that you would be hard-pressed to get many celebs to sign up to fracking.

    By the way have you seen this - Do you think it will be the big break-through?

  2. Interesting to see that even with the publication of the letter in The Guardian's letters section, their Environment section didn't mention it and went with the Royal Mail stamps featuring sustainable fish. I think that speaks volumes about its attitude to science that contradicts dogma.

  3. Interesting also to see the follow up letters in the Guardian, from Prof Tim Atkinson and others. Atkinson's letter pointed out that Richard Selley had spent months canvassing for support for his view among peers, mostly unsuccessfully.