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.

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.

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 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).