Fracking Update – September 2013

Discussion on Fracking
The petitions has been handed in to the council and Beatrice and Chris Broome went to the first meeting on how the council can create a policy document on how to make Sheffield Frack Free. It was reported that it was a very positive meeting and they welcomed our input and practical suggestions. This first meeting was more to share knowledge and understanding of what fracking would mean to Sheffield. Friends of the Earth documents have now been circulated to the council which they can read before the next meeting. The next meeting will be more to discuss the questions regarding fracking so that we can begin to formulate the policy. It was suggested that we all think about what we would like to put in the policy document aimed at making Sheffield frack free. We can also look at the policy implemented at Brighton which is already frack free. There is also information from the Tindall centre.

Frack Free South Yorkshire.
John and Richard went to Maltby where there is a proposal to frack for Coal Bed Methane. They have formed a working group and done some very positive work and it was proposed that we do more if possible to support them. The petition that we asked people to sign whilst on the stall at Ecclesfield stated frack free South Yorkshire which is an expansion from the original which was just for Sheffield. It was also suggested that Beatrice asks the council to put frack free South Yorkshire on the agenda.

We will try to link up with other groups in South Yorkshire and the east-west corridor including Manchester and Liverpool to create a Frack Free belt across the north.

Calow in Chesterfield is also affected by plans for fracking and the Sheffield Star has reported plans for Doncaster

Global Frack Down
On the 19th October Friends of the Earth have suggested that we do a demo or stunt to highlight fracking in line with Dirty Energy month. The main thrust of this is the F word is a dirty word, keep it away from here. There was a suggestion that we do two stunts. One in Rotherham in front of the council offices to show solidarity with the people from Maltby. The second to create a stall in Sheffield council offices. Trisha suggested the we make a model of a fracking rig. Beatrice and Trisha could coordinate the stall; Richard to lead on the one in Rotherham. We need to get some literature to give out at both of these.

Fracking News
In a round of fracking news, Lord Stern described David Cameron’s claims that fracking could cut British gas bills as “baseless economics”, since gas is traded internationally. Stern also complained that serious issues, including the amount of water required for fracking and potential contamination, have not been properly debated. He would be delighted if shale gas were burned instead of coal, but said it would be “very worrying” if it displaced renewable energy. He criticised the government’s refusal to set a decarbonisation target for grid electricity, which he said was damaging investor confidence.

The New Economics Foundation reported that Ministers keep hinting heavily that gas prices would collapse as they have in the US, but the comparison is disingenuous. North America is essentially a gas island, so rising production there naturally causes prices to fall. Britain, on the other hand, is plumbed in by pipeline to a much larger European market easily able to absorb any additional shale gas we are likely to produce.

For reference, last year we consumed some 78 billion cubic metres of gas, of which our North Sea production supplied just 41bcm – down from 104bcm a decade earlier (BP Statistical Review). By contrast, National Grid expects onshore gas production - meaning fracking - to amount to just 3.5bcm, or 6% of our projected demand, by 2030. That’s less than a tenth of our current imports.

Even on the basis of a more optimistic production forecast, the impact would be trivial. Cuadrilla has claimed that shale gas from Lancashire could supply 17-18bcm per year, or 21% of UK demand, by 2030. On this basis, analysts Pöyry found prices would be just 2-4% lower than otherwise – but not necessarily lower overall. In an unguarded moment even Cuadrilla itself admitted its impact on energy bills would be “basically insignificant”.

So if gas bills are likely to rise in line with forecast international energy prices regardless, why else might we want to get fracking? Our quote of the week, from Lord Browne of Maddingly, Cuadrilla’s chairman, is priceless: “This is about getting domestic resources. Domestic gas is more green than imported gas”. The assertion that gas is green is a new one on us. No mention of fugitive emissions of methane, nor of the fact that any production of non-conventional oil and gas globally puts 2C out of reach.

But what if we take Lord Browne at his word, and decide to produce a meaningful amount of shale gas for the sake of energy security? We wanted to know how many wells it would take to replace all the gas we currently import – roughly 37 billion cubic metres last year, or 1.3 trillion cubic feet. By chance that’s not far off the current output of the Barnett Shale in the US. There’s no guarantee the UK geology would be the same, but on that assumption, here goes.

At the average well output in the Barnett Shale in 2003, when productivity peaked, it would take some 3,500 wells to replace current UK imports. However, the average well in the Barnett Shale now produces scarcely a third of the gas it did in 2003, so at today’s productivity, it would take more than 9,200 wells. Whichever starting point you choose, because of the steep annual decline rates in shale gas output, you can add another 400 or so each year just to stand still. At which point you have to conclude this is vanishingly unlikely.