Time to give the chop to fracking: Fraxit now!

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First US shale gas arrives at Ineos plant in Scotland September 2016

First US shale gas arrives at Ineos plant in Scotland September 2016

On Tuesday the US Environmental Protection Agency released a definitive study concluding that hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water at each stage in the shale gas production process. Do we really want to see 16,000 or more shale gas wells drilled in the British countryside carrying the same and other risks, ask professors Peter Strachan and Alex Russell?  They assess the case for fracking in the UK against six “stress tests” and conclude that it fails in each case. “Let’s Fraxit now!”

Plans for onshore shale gas extraction – or rather high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) or fracking – are proving to be somewhat explosive in the UK. Politically there is a north south divide on the wisdom of engaging with fracking, with the Conservative controlled south hell bent on pushing it at all costs and the Scottish National Party (SNP) north dancing a ‘dinna ken’ highland jig around the issue, much to the chagrin of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

Following the publication of six reports on 8 November the Scottish Government has now announced that it will launch a consultation in January 2017, with a final decision likely to be reached in the second half of 2017.

At a recent Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas meeting (see this article for a report), six “stress tests” were discussed on which a decision should logically be based:

  • social licence or public support
  • economic benefits
  • indirect economic effects
  • public health and environmental impacts
  • climate impact
  • energy security

We believe that fracking fails on all counts and should be banned in Scotland and across the whole of the UK, even if this seems more unlikely in England at this moment (see here).

Stress Test 1: Fracking has no social licence

The fracking industry’s Achilles-heel is that it lacks any meaningful public support, even in the US. A recent Gallup Poll undertaken there found that: only 36% favour fracking, with 51% opposing it.

Dare an increasingly unpopular UK Government continue to support its business funding links at the expense of the public when even its Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Public Opinion Tracker published in October 2016 found that: only 17% of the general public support fracking.  In comparison: 79% support renewables. 

Another opinion poll undertaken by ICM (for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers) two years ago found that nearly half of those surveyed would be unhappy to have a fracking play within a 10-mile radius of their homes.  Proximity is an important issue in the UK. In Scotland fracking wells will be located close to densely populated areas.

In addition to being famous for its castles, whisky and fare, one of Scotland’s unique international selling points is the scenic beauty of its mountains, rivers and wider natural environment. A natural environment that is free of toxic water, land and air

A survey by BMG Research reported in the Herald newspaper last month found that 54% of Scottish respondents said that they supported a ban on fracking and fewer than a fifth were opposed to the ban.

Francis Egan, Chief Executive of shale gas producer Cuadrilla, revealed at a recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that his company has found it extremely difficult to get to the point of drilling even one well. This has taken around four years, he said.  In the same timeframe he said the US shale industry has drilled some 120,000 wells.

Drilling anywhere near that number of wells in Scotland and England, would amount to the UK becoming one giant gas field.  Lower estimates suggest that around 16,000 wells will be drilled, which in terms of the tiny landmass of the UK is very significant indeed.  Wells will be fracked near and perhaps even under people’s homes, their places of work, and the schools that their children attend.

Stress Test 2: Fracking benefits are small, costs large

In the US fracking is proving to be a boom and bust industry. At a recent Oil and Gas UK Business Breakfast, Martin Gilbert the Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management also said that fracking is a debt-laden industry.

We can expect the same to happen here if we allow fracking. Last month’s KPMG “Economic Impact Assessment and Scenario Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas” report, written for the Scottish Government, revealed that, “If oil and gas prices were to remain at historically low levels, it would be unlikely that Unconventional Oil and Gas resources could be developed economically.”

Taking the lower measurements of economic contribution of Unconventional Oil and Gas to Scotland up to 2062, it is astonishing how low these are:

  • Total spend: £1.5 billion;
  • Spend in Scotland: £0.5 billion;
  • Total additional economic impact: £0.1 billion;
  • Additional jobs created: 470; and,
  • Additional tax receipts: £0.5 billion.
Economic effects fracking Scotland

Source: KPMG

Perhaps these negligible economic benefits should be of no surprise. A plain speaking letter written last year by more than 800 people holding public office in New York State, US, to Lancashire County Council, England, stated that:“We are sure that the fracking industry will promise jobs and prosperity. We urge you to treat these claims with deep skepticism. The experience in the US is that these claims are false and vastly overstated.”

In terms of impact on jobs, in Australia it has been found that for every 10 new gas jobs created, 18 agricultural jobs were lost.

In addition, the New York State letter outlined some of the other immense costs attached to fracking: “Meanwhile, local communities are faced with significant costs including road and infrastructure damage, emergency response, heightened crime rates, and lingering contamination and pollution.” 

Stress Test 3: Fracking is toxic to the wider economy

Fracking will prove toxic to other economically important sectors. Drawing on experience from elsewhere it may well damage tourism, the agricultural, food and drink sectors, and even the banking sector.

In addition to being famous for its castles, whisky and fare, one of Scotland’s unique international selling points is the scenic beauty of its mountains, rivers and wider natural environment. A natural environment that is free of toxic water, land and air. Any major fracking push will undoubtedly damage Scotland’s brand and the wider economy long term.

To date there has been little discussion on the impact on the finance and banking sectors. However, the aforementioned KPMG report did state, “Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland will also rely on an ability to obtain appropriate funding (debt and/or equity) to support exploration and extraction.”

Both the UK and Scottish Government have scored brownie points in the past by claiming to be family-friendly in their approach to making policy decisions. Here is an acid test for them

The recent financial crisis witnessed in the US fracking industry will undoubtedly impact on the banking sector’s appetite to invest up to $100 billion over a 20-year period to make the industry meaningful in the UK.  Since the start of last year, more than 60 North American oil and gas companies have gone bust, with liabilities totaling $22.5 billion. According to one report, “even if crude prices return to $50 to $60 a barrel, half of the shale companies will be unable to stay in business”.

Closer to home The Telegraph has recently reported that Cuadrilla had very little revenue in 2015, recording losses of almost $18 million. Yet the independent news site Drill or Drop revealed that Cuadrilla’s directors were paid more than $1.5 million in 2015, with the highest paid director receiving a pay packet of more than $700,000.

With such losses the question arises, will the fracking industry ever generate any tax revenue for the Treasury? It would be possible to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility for their best guess but why bother given the inaccuracies of their previous oil and gas forecasts?

Stress Test 4: Fracking fails spectacularly on public health and the environment

Based on the US experience, and there is no evidence to suggest it would be any different here in the UK, fracking fails spectacularly when it comes to public health and impact on the natural environment. Following the publication of a high quality report by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, one of their Commissioners said: “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

It is clear that government, business, and researchers (medical, natural and social scientists) are only just starting to understand the wider impacts on people and the environment.  The scientific literature that is available has mostly been published since 2013.

Further to the comprehensive evidence documented by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation one recent article that reviews the now rapidly expanding field of public health and environment impacts produced some damning results.  For the sake of brevity the results are:

  • 84% of the literature on health revealed public health hazards, elevated risks, or health impacts;
  • 69% of the literature indicated positive associations or actual evidence of water contamination; and,
  • 87% found elevated air pollutants and atmospheric concentrations of pollutants.

This article, “Toward an Understanding of the Environmental Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development” and the literature upon which it is based, is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the risks associated with fracking. A filmed presentation of the findings and the methodology that underpins this article can be viewed at the 2016 Shale Gas and Public Health Conference.

A second study clearly indicates the dangerous, and arguably unacceptable nature of the chemicals used in fracking.  Undertaken by the Yale School of Public Health and published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” it found that numerous carcinogens involved in fracking have the “potential” to contaminate water, land and air.  The research team examined an extensive list of chemicals.

Nicola Sturgeon should meet the challenge head on and show the outside world that Scotland really has the claim to being an independent free thinking nation, not controlled by short-term unethical fixes, or dominated by self-serving resource consuming nations like the US

Both the UK and Scottish Government have scored brownie points in the past by claiming to be family-friendly in their approach to making policy decisions. Here is an acid test for them. Research has shown the most vulnerable section of society through their potential exposure to the carcinogenic pollutants used in fracking are children, with leukemia being a major concern. So a question for Theresa May, Greg Clark, and Nicola Sturgeon: What is more important to you, the dividends that will be paid to shareholders in oil companies or the health of children of ordinary people?

The science behind the public health and environment impacts of fracking is now starting to emerge, with more public and privately funded research needed.  But what should concern the general public is that insufficient weight appears to being attached to these issues.  What peer-reviewed medical evidence that is available appears to being overlooked to facilitate fracking. 

Stress Test 5: Fracking threatens the climate

Fracking without Carbon Capture and Storage  (CCS) technology is a show-stopper. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report “Unconventional Oil and Gas: Compatibility with Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets” concludes that emissions from fracking, would be “significant” and “inconsistent” with climate change emission targets.

Research by Professor Nick Cowern and Dr Robin Russell-Jones submitted to the UK Climate Change Committee identified a key problem with fracked gas: from a climate change perspective, fugitive methane emissions make shale gas worse than coal by a factor of two.  

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.  It has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 87 times greater than an equivalent mass of CO2 on a 20 year timeframe.  These researchers have further noted, “that overall half of the rise in atmospheric levels of methane seen globally since 2007 is due to oil and gas, notably shale extraction in the US”.

Fracking is a gangplank for climate chaos.  As such, where does this leave our commitments to the Paris Agreement?

Stress Test 6: Fracking is creating energy insecurity 

Onshore fracking, rather than being a panacea to the multifaceted energy conundrum confronted by UK, is more likely to exacerbate its dire energy plight. 

First, fracking fails lamentably to address the looming 2020 energy crisis for a multitude of reasons, including the obvious fact that a UK shale revolution could never happen quickly enough. It would only take one untoward incident – be it contamination of an aquifer, leakage of methane on a grand scale, flooding from one of the huge number of required decontaminating standing storage units for polluted water from the wells or even a fracking-induced earthquake – to totally derail the entire UK fracking venture. There has to be a better way to keep the lights burning and our homes warm.

Second, by placing too much focus on fracking at the expense of other energy options the UK Government is creating energy insecurity.  It is a threat to the offshore oil and gas industry and the renewables sector. Fracking in the US has caused the loss of thousands of UK North Sea-related jobs. It is unimaginable that a UK Government should add to that woe by aping US fracking folly.

Third, the focus by the UK Government on “gas” as a bridging fuel is derailing the UK’s transition to a lower carbon economy.  Is the UK really serious about taking a world lead in showing the way forward for others to follow? Or has a short-term fix blinded Westminster to taking an ethical approach to its energy policy?

Scotland says Fraxit, England should too

The SNP pledged in their 2016 Manifesto, “We will not allow fracking or Underground Coal Gasification in Scotland unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that it will not harm our environment, communities or public health.”

Based on this statement, the publication of their six expert reports on fracking and other evidence (including that presented in this article) the SNP Government at Holyrood should, with pride, take an ethical approach and ban onshore fracking.

Nicola Sturgeon should meet the challenge head on and show the outside world that Scotland really has the claim to being an independent free thinking nation, not controlled by short-term unethical fixes, or dominated by self-serving resource consuming nations like the US.

As it happens, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s environmental watchdog, has just released an exhaustive study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in the US. According to the accompanying press release, in the study “EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.”

Is this what we want to see happen in the UK as well?

Ban fracking now and put Fraxit into the world lexicon. 

Editor’s Note

Peter Strachan (@ProfStrachan) is Professor of Energy Policy, Robert Gordon University. Professor Alex Russell is Chair of the Oil Industry Finance Association.  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not those of the Robert Gordon University or Affiliates.

Comments

  1. Garry Altstaetter says

    I am an American and Texan. I do not think UK should do any fracking. You should just buy oil and gas from the USA. It would be great for us!!! We would love to sell you our gas and oil, it will help our economy and we love to have your pounds in our pockets instead of yours. (Honestly, you should take advantage of UK natural resources and improve the lot of UK citizens, to do otherwise is to go further down an UK economic hole).

  2. says

    In addition to what Mr. Altstaetter says…

    This is idiotic:

    On Tuesday the US Environmental Protection Agency released a definitive study concluding that hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water at each stage in the shale gas production process.

    Fracking is a common well completion procedure that has been in use for over 50 years. Fracking only occurs during the well completion operation. It does not impac t “each stage in the shale gas production.” The very sentence is moronic as is the EPA report, which provided no examples of fracking impacting drinking water.

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/12/14/more-fracking-lies-from-the-epa/
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/12/14/more-fracking-lies-from-the-epa-part-deux/

  3. says

    An excellent article from two respected academics which has predictably riled the pro-fracking fraternity. They seem to be reduced to the old canard that fracking isn’t what everyone else calls fracking – it’s just the act of hydraulic fracturing so the rest is somehow irrelevant. How very funny.

    The EPA reversal must have upset them too it seems.

    Well done Strachan and Russel!

  4. Julian Smith says

    Do either of you (Garry Altstaetter or David Middleton) have any experience of the situation regarding shale deposits in West Lothian and Central Scotland? I live on the Fife shore of the Forth and worked in West Lothian all my working live. There was a shale mining industry for 100 years in West Lothian. The geology is complex with folding and faulting of strata. Oil was extracted from the shale, yielding between 15 and 40 gallons per ton. It was never a very profitable industry and latterly depended on government subsidy to keep going. Conditions for the workers were poor and it has taken decades to kind of recover from the desolation of the countryside. In 2014 the British Geological Survey had no data on the likely gas content of Central Scotland shales, let alone gas yield. The legacy of fossil fuel extraction in central Scotland is appalling. Poverty and deprivation are still only too much in evidence. Even in Grangemouth, the home of Ineos, there are few, if any, amenities resulting from profits from the petrochemical industry there. How can we possibly have confidence that the frackers will not further devastate this area at the heart of the country? Unless you both live in Central Scotland and have knowledge of Shale there, I don’t think you are qualified to comment on this subject.

  5. bailey61 says

    Over 800 peer reviewed papers now show links to fracking impacts on water, air quality, public health and the environment. The latest EPA report on fracking and water impacts only serves to reiterate the science.

    In fact, the report specifically mentions chemical migration from fracked wells that lack integrity: something that we have been assured could never happen.

    Fracking is also incompatible with our Climate Change objectives , and is certainly not the “greener” transition fuel from coal that the industry would like us to believe.

    Fracking looks set to be banned in Ireland, and has recently been banned in Victoria Australia. The Australia Institute report which used the CSG industry funded research found “The results show that expectations of economic benefits largely failed to eventuate and most other industries reported being worse off due to the unconventional gas industry push into their region. http://www.tai.org.au/content/unconventional-gas-bad-news-business-and-jobs-report

    Fraxit cannot come fast enough.

  6. Garry says

    This article is pretty poor.

    The EPA studied fracking for 5 years, looking at over 38000 wells and 950 research papers looking at the geology and engineering. It came straight out and disproved all the anti fracking hyperbole such that they’ve had to stop all their previous ‘will cause catastrophe everywhere and must be banned globally’ nonsense. Now they just say it ‘might’ or ‘can’ impact things at ‘every stage’ – meaning if a car crashes its all ‘frackings’ fault.

    We don’t do that with any other industry or service. If the person that comes out to change your phone line crashes their car into a lorry carrying solvents for making dishwasher parts we don’t blame broadband or dishwashers.

    All it shows is the lengths anti fracking groups have to go to to make it look like something bizarre is happening, that they have to blame anything at any point anywhere in any process on fracking. Its silly.

    Look, we live in a global economy where everything is connected to everything else.

    The points here are, as ever, only touching on the information Professor S wants to use to make his argument – never taking the whole subject into account. Why oh why does he does this. It is very bad science.

    1. Social License.
    It has taken years of anti frackers telling local people it will kill all their children and poison the whole world and still we get 50% not caring either way and support of 20-25%. Its amazing support has held up so well given the free for all and all the misinformation. If you look in the US support for fracking is highest where it is actually done, and the places that ban it are the places where it has never been done and with the highest number of far left voters. Its political, not scientific.

    2. A report says that if oil and gas prices stay at their historical low it won’t be very profitable… Put aside that in another sentence Prof S wants to try and support the offshore industry when those same low prices threaten it even more… These low prices are threatening OPEC and OPEC has stated it will reduce output – all done after that research was published – and all completely ignored by Prof S because it hurts his ‘scientific’ argument. These low prices are not expected to be around in 6 months, never mind 2 years.

    3. This is down to local planning. You only need to look at local statistics in the US to see tourism booming in fracking areas so it isn’t true that they cannot go hand in hand. It is true that local planners must consider these issues, but then local planning permissions require that they do.

    4. Something like 2 million frack jobs performed. Hundreds of thousands of wells. 9 million people living within a mile of a fracked well in the US. Lots of research saying it ‘might’ or ‘can’ impact things. Much of it funded by anti fracking groups we might add.. Yes. It ‘might’ and ‘can’. Just like everything else in the world. Few industries are powered by magic and fairy dust. Fracking is an industry and it must be regulated at every stage and the regulations followed, just like steel, or ship building, or pretty much everything else. The reality is that even in the US, with regulations far far poorer than ours, actual incidents where measured values are outside of regulations recommended or safe levels are very far and few between, and have been much much rarer in the US over the past few years since they changed their regulations and monitored better.

    5. To my mind the most serious issue. However, Prof S is being very selective in which research he quotes here and it is far from the settled picture he is pretending exists. Research studying methane emissions in the US are in areas that are far from like-for-like examples with UK regulation and are very often out of date even for the changing US regulations that are being passed even these last few weeks. Methane emissions are a serious issue, but the argument should be about regulations. As for statements that it is worse than coal or twice as bad as coal, this is cherry picking the worst examples. US state agencies as well as the EPA (which Prof S seems happy to quote as a resource when it suits him..) do not use these figures and metastudies show them to be outliers.
    Carbon capture is a technology that is vital to solving climate change and without it there is virtually zero chance of meeting the 2 degrees target, never mind the near impossible 1.5 degree one which was put in without any engineer or politician having any idea of how to do it without pretty much just saying to everyone to turn everything off.

    6. This is supply and demand. Shale is changing the world. For consumers it has held back global inflation and made all of our fuel cheaper. For oil producers it has been very hard, but this has been down to the success of shale.

    Either way, Western countries can ban stuff as much as they like. Some of us are pretty rich and we are happy importing alot. Of course it is pretty much always just one political group trying to use something to increase its own power. Same thing here.

  7. Malcolm Jones says

    I will say this yet again , as I have , to many people and organisations , that when 3rd Energy were about to drill a test well on Brompton Moor to the North East of Kirbymisperton , I came across a man out walking who told me he had just flown in from Tanzania to oversee the drilling .
    On asking him whether the operation involved shale fracking , he said ‘ No it’s not shale fracking , we are drilling 7500 feet into Limestone and fracking the Limestone to join up the gas pockets so that the gas will flow easily to the well head ‘.
    So there we have it , they were drilling into the Limestone beds which border the southern edge of the North York Moors . I presume that the gas come from the shale beds below and peroculates fissures in the limestone into naturally formed pockets which would normally could hold water . This may be the very water which is drilled for to provide drinking and irrigation water .
    Given that the type of shale in the area is ‘greasy shale ‘ and , as I have been told by those against fracking , does not easily release gas , then surely a gross deception is being practiced by the drilling companies in order to disguise the fact that they are fracking not shale but Limestone in the full knowledge that this process will contaminate water sources

    • roy hartley says

      Malcolm,
      this is nonsense. All drilling has to be approved based on a drilling plan submitted to the appropriate authorities. The objectives have to be defined and all daily activities are checked to ensure that there is no deviation. A field development requires a complete Field Development Plan to be approved by various authorities. Gas fields in the Vale of Pickering have produced since 1994 from a naturally fractured dolomitic limestone. The limestone does not contain potable water.

  8. Roy Hartley says

    Professor I do not agree with your interpretation of the USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report. It did state that fracking can impact on drinking water in some circumstances but we knew that before the study started 5 years ago. The question is does it? or is the process managed adequately to prevent serious impacts occurring? The fact is the EPA did not find any evidence to suggest that fracking is a serious risk to groundwater. So a report five-years in the making does not support your statement. It does provide a large scientific database for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources to make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities.

    I looked up the “Quality” New York State Report you reference. I have read it before and I have a different definition of quality. Its sources have been discredited. Most famously the work of Mackenzie on birth defects in Colorado. Dr. Larry Wolk, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health warned that health officials “disagree with many of the specific associations” in the study, which rely on “miniscule” statistical differences. The researchers also ignored “many factors” besides natural gas development in their research.

    Despite this the New York State report states that it didn’t have any evidence to link hydraulic fracturing to health impacts. Its claims are limited to the point that I make above, it is that there are impacts associated with fracking, but this claim applies to every human activity e.g driving a car – look up http://www.howpollutedismyroad.org.uk
    London is said to be one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Air pollution has been linked to life-shortening lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes. It is estimated there are over 4,000 extra deaths each year in London from particulates and health costs are estimated at up to £20 billion a year.

    You claim that fracking is a boom and bust industry. There is no doubt that the spectacular success of the US industry was instrumental in reducing the price of oil from $100/b in the period to mid 2014 to around $50/b now. This has left a number of companies in financial difficulties. However the US shale rig count remains above 500 and investment in technology remains high. I have just finished reading an article about investment in re-use of produced water. This technology will remove one of the major difficulties with the public, the trucking and disposal of produced water.

    If the UK economics are not attractive shale wells will not get drilled. I am not sure why you consider this an argument against allowing investors to invest if they wish to do so. The oil shale industry and presumably many others exist because some investors proved the perceived wisdom to be incorrect.

  9. Julian Smith says

    I put the same question to Roy Hartley as I put previously. Are you familiar with the legacy of fossil fuel extraction in central Scotland! The true costs are never taken into account. Who cleans up afterwards? Who pays compensation for decreases in house prices? Who pays increased house insurance costs? When operations end the companies have left behind a scarred and polluted landscape. Profits have never been used for the benefit of the local area. We are still dealing with the effects of the shale mining, the coal mining and the open cast mining and electricity generation. The geology of the area is complex and unsuited to UGE. The area is quite densely populated. People do not want to live in a gas field.
    Have a look at this document for an up to date assessment of the various forms of Fracking.

  10. roy hartley says

    Julian, to answer your first question while I await a link that works, Yes I am familiar with the legacy of fossil fuel extraction in Scotland. I know that James ‘Paraffin’ Young patented the technology to distil paraffin from coal and shale in 1850. The first commercial oil works in the world were built at Bathgate in 1851 and by the 1900s nearly 2 million tons of shale were being extracted annually, employing 4,000 men.
    I know also that at approximately the same time (1850) the Pole Ignacy Lukasiewicz developed the kerosene (distilled from oil) lamp and the first modern street lighting.
    Up to this time rich people could afford beeswax candles and oil lamps using sperm whale oil, but the poor went to bed when it got dark. Famously in 1853, doctors at the Lviv hospital unable to perform an emergency operation by candle light were successful after sending a messenger for Łukasiewicz and his new lamps.
    Young and Lukasiewicz transformed human society especially for the poor. Unfortunately since society had different values in the 1850’s industrialists did not carry out an Environmental Survey before building factories and mines. You imply the legacy of the 1850’s is bad but there are many who disagree with you.

    I have visited several of the bings in West Lothian. I have found the public cycling, jogging, walking dogs, pot-holing, flying kites etc. etc. You imply that they are a waste land, to the contrary they are of great historical importance; Greendykes and Five Sisters are protected as designated Scottish Industrial Heritage Sites.. Addiewell North is a Scottish Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve, Oakbank is part of Almondell Country Park and the bings together make up a major habitat in West Lothian’s biodiversity plan. Approximately 100 plant species flourish, including wormwood, creeping buttercup and the common spotted orchid as well as birches, hawthorns and alders. Animal life, as well as foxes, runs to hares, red grouse and skylarks.

    To abandon oil and gas wells, several cement plugs are set downhole each is pressure tested, the wellhead is cut off below ground level and a plate welded across the top of the well. The surface well site is completely removed and the site returned to agriculture. There is usually some aftercare specified but within 2 years it is difficult to find the site and there is no evidence of surface pollution.

    It remains one of my ambitions to visit the oil shale museum in Livingston. I notice that it has a scientific article on “Shale Gas and the fracking debate”.

    Please re-post your link, I will be interested to read it.

    • Julian Smith says

      The link has been “thrashed” by the admin of this page as it is “improper”, whatever that all means. It came from Physicians for Social Responsibility New York. Now, half a century after shale mining stopped, nature has taken back the landscape. But when I was in my teens cycling round West Lothian, delivering the accounts my father had prepared for various small businesses in the area, it was much more of an industrial wasteland. Cross the river to Fife and witness the coal bings and abandoned open cast workings and the extent of destruction becomes more obvious. In another 50 years nature will probably have reclaimed this as well. Did I mention the radioactive particles on the shores of the Forth due to the reckless disposal of aircraft instruments by setting fire to them or the risk of radioactive contamination from derelict nuclear submarines stored at Rosyth or the suspicion of adverse health effects from dumping ash from Longannet in lagoons at Valleyfield or the face cut polythene pellets which have been allowed to escape the filtering process at Grangemouth that are washed up on the shores here? The whole area is contaminated enough without the risk if adding to it by embarking on a process that has demonstrably created problems in other parts of the world. If former mining towns were even modestly affluent or enjoyed facilities paid for out of the profits of mining or electricity generation, or if all profits from Fracking were to be given to the local communities, or if Jim Ratcliffe were to come and live in Grangemouth and sell his yacht to raise money for a civic centre there, I might take a different view, but the facts are that this area still suffers from poverty and deprivation and is making heroic efforts to improve with very little help from outside and the share of the profits offered to the community is derisory and in no way compensates for the noise, disruption and risks that would result.

      • Karel Beckman says

        Mr Smith, why don’t you check your links before you insert them? You use links that don’t work, as I have told you also through the email.

          • roy hartley says

            Julian,
            I have now had read your link – its not an impartial scientific document – its a compendium of anti-fracing health studies put out by two anti-fracing Groups, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY).

            Their claims are dubious. For example, a featured July 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University claimed that in Pennsylvania, asthma attacks are related to fracing, although no casual link was postulated. Subsequent analysis of publicly available Department of Health data showed however that heavily-drilled counties within the study area have far lower age-adjusted rates of asthma hospitalizations than the nine counties in the study area that have no shale gas production at all!

            The same team of researchers claimed in a separate study that premature birthrates were higher in counties closest to shale wells, but analysis by others showed that at 11% of births they the same as the national premature birth rate.

            Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection published data on emissions showed reductions of sulfur dioxide (73%), nitrogen oxide (46%) and fine particulate emissions (23%) during the 2008 -2012 fracing boom.

            The link makes much of the Aliso Canyon gas storage blowout in California. It is claimed to be a key component of fraced gas infrastructure – but this is not so. Aliso Canyon is a former gas field converted to underground natural gas storage. It is used to meet peak demand from consumers. I do not know of any fraced gas fields in California. We also have gas storage in the UK and as you know we do not have any fracing.

            You have to do the hard work and research the claims made by others. Always check the background to claims by either side in the fracing debate – you can usually trust the advice provided by Responsible State Authorities.

      • roy hartley says

        Julian,
        This is nonsense. I lived in Fyfe for 4 years. There are indeed abandoned open cast workings and bings but I never saw anything that would lead me to describe it as a wasteland. As I pointed out in a previous post old mining areas become nature reserves and SSSI’s remarkably often. It is not correct to claim that there are no benefits accruing to the current inhabitants. They have, defence, police, fire, medical, roads and educational services just as all other inhabitants of the UK do and presumably pay less per capita than those who live in currently thriving areas of the UK. They also have access to a minimum income and the ability to find work elsewhere. It would be great if a Central Government could provide jobs exactly where work is required by waving a wand but life does not work like that.

        • Julian Smith says

          Rarely is it good to begin a post with the words “This is nonsense”. And your diatribe has taken us a some way from the thread, while giving an insight into your political philosophy. But, for the record, I’ve lived in Fife for 36 years and worked in West Lothian for 35. It is perfectly possible not to see the results of past industry if you don’t look too closely. It is possible to skirt former mining villages without going in to them. But in the last 3 years I’ve walked every street in a number of them and seen up close how little lasting benefit there has been and noted how slowly things improve.
          My point is that the industrial track record is poor. There is no indication that Fracking will be anything other than a short lived phenomenon that will enrich everyone connected with drilling with little benefit and a great deal of risk to everyone else.

          • roy hartley says

            Julian,
            I lived in a Fyfe ex-Mining Village in the 1980’s and at that time all the houses were heated by coal fires (no gas main connection). The pervasive smell of sulphur took me back to my youth. Although, it is noticeable that outside of the East Neuk, Fyfe is not wealthy, It is not in my opinion possible to describe it as an industrial wasteland. I loved the villages and countryside.
            My family were Durham coal miners or railwaymen. I was brought up to believe that a Government’s main task is to provide jobs. That remains my political philosophy. Coal mining in the UK was a Victorian Industry that staggered into the 1980’s. It obviously had (and still does have) legacy environmental issues, however in 2006 when I last cycled around Durham I could not even find any waste pits (removed by the Government). The only one I could find is the specially built replica at Beamish open air museum. It is not legitimate to compare Fracing with legacy mining issues. Fracing does not remove millions of tons of earth and pile them up in a heap. The real issue with fracing is truck movements. Much is made of the health issues but after 16 years of large scale fracing in the USA there is little evidence of any health issues.
            The ‘excellent’ report noted by the two Professors cannot reasonably be described as ‘excellent’, it is a minimalist record of chemicals that ‘could’ cause cancer. There is ample evidence that the US Regulatory Agencies control fracing adequately – the complaints of the gas companies about over-regulation are adequate proof of that.
            It is in my view perfectly possible to find Brownfield and Greenfield sites in the UK and drill multiple wells from them. Whether there will ever be a social license for that remains to be seen – but if it does take off it will provide jobs and income to men and women who need them and I think that is important!

  11. Louise Montgomery says

    This is a great piece of work detailing a range of the different risks posed by fracking that are often written off as campaigners hysteria.

    From the previous comments it looks as though there are discrepancies, as there usually are, over the authority of reports including those that detail risks to health and the environment. However, even if the documentation is discredited as inconclusive, or disregarded on the promise that tighter regulations will limit such risks there is still the issue that shale gas is a fossil fuel. It is a fossil fuel regardless of whether it is deemed to produce less emissions (carbon or methane) than, for example what is often sighted by fracking proponents, coal. This ‘necessary evil’ or ‘transition’ argument is one that promotes shale gas as a cleaner form of energy and therefore acceptable. This is a dangerous stance to take which ignores/ or misunderstands the real and ever increasing risk of anthropocentric climate change, the commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement, those targets set by the Scottish Government and only diverts money and effort away from the clean, free and infinite renewable energy sources – to say the very least.

    Thank you for this article!

    • roy hartley says

      Louise,
      There is a good article on carbon emissions on https://www.carbonbrief.org/what-global-co2-emissions-2016-mean-climate-change.

      Of the 9.9bn tonnes of carbon in the form of CO2 emitted globally from fossil fuels in 2015, 41% came from coal, 34% from oil, 19% from gas, 5.6% from cement production and 0.7% from gas flaring.

      Information on US energy use can be obtained from eia.gov, the US Energy Information Administration. Natural gas’ share of total U.S. electrical generation has increased 76% since 2005, and natural gas is now the main fuel source for electricity generation. As a result, US energy-related CO2 emissions have declined 12% since 2005. This change is linked to the availability of cheap gas from fracing.

      Between 2006 and 2014, natural gas prevented 1.25 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted by US power plants. By comparison, US renewable energy prevented the emission of 789 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. So in the short term natural gas is a huge benefit if your aim is to reduce CO2 emissions – which I think it is.
      I also have to point out that every energy source has a cost there are none that are clean, free and infinite. Windmills, solar power and hydroelectric schemes need to be built, metals and aggregate need to be mined and transported, rivers dammed and factories built to provide the parts and then the National Grid has to be modified to make sure it can all be integrated and that there is sufficient back-up when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

      In the UK we have a national gas grid and can readily build gas generation plant of whatever size required where required to fit into the national electricity grid.

  12. Professor Peter Strachan says

    Thanks to everyone who supported our #BanFracking Thunderclap on Sunday. Social Reach > 2.8 million people and it was Trending. My final Twitter Moments (don’t forget to click on link and share): ⚡️ “People Are Rejecting Fracking EVERYWHERE! #BanFracking” by @ProfStrachan. Thanks again!
    https://twitter.com/i/moments/818272430728900609

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