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SEG Home > Energy > Fracking (& coal bed methane extraction)

Fracking
(& coal bed methane extraction)


Fracking & Coal Bed Methane News

NOTE: We advertise local fracking events on our home page when these occur. The news page on Frack Free Somerset's website provides recent news on issues affecting our area and fracking in general.


Onshore gas exploration stays out of local area for now but National Parks put at risk

The 2nd and final tranche of the 14th landward oil and gas licensing awards was announced by the Government on 17th December 2015. Licences for a total of 159 blocks were formally offered to successful applicants under this licensing round. The blocks that were available for bidding for our immediate area (ST 55, 56, 65, 66, 75 and 76) were not awarded and we suspect that this means they were not applied for. This maintains the position from when the 1st tranche of awards was announced on 18th August 2015.

We are fortunate that in our area there isn't any of the thick Upper Carboniferous (Namurian) shale which has been the main objective for fracking in Northern England. However, there are some areas, (such as Hicks Gate near Keynsham and around The Globe on the A4 at Corston) where coal mining has been carried out in the past. These areas could still be of interest for coal bed methane extraction if licences were awarded here in future.

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Map image from Oil and Gas Authority, 2015

The map above shows the blocks concerned (blocks marked green were licensed in the 14th round and those marked beige were already licensed).

Further information on oil and gas licensing rounds can be found on the website of the Oil & Gas Authority (link).

To the huge disappointment of anti-fracking campaigners, especially coming so soon after the Paris agreement to decarbonise the world's energy supplies, MPs voted on 16th December 2015 to allow fracking under Britain's National Parks. Ministers used secondary legislation (a statutory instrument) to push through the new rules without the requirement for a debate in the House of Commons. MPs voted 298 in favour to 261 against. These new rules will allow fracking deeper than 1,200 metres below National Parks and sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), as long as drilling takes place from outside those protected areas. This is despite the Government having previously pledged not to use fracking to extract shale gas in these areas.

At a time when renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper and likely to require no subsidies within a few years, whilst the price of fossil fuels is likely to increase when the cheaper and more easily recoverable reserves have been extracted, it remains to be seen whether fracking will prove to be a realistic and viable option for the UK.

December 2015, revised/updated May 2017

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No onshore gas exploration in the Saltford-Keynsham area for now

The 1st tranche of the 14th landward oil and gas licensing awards was announced by the Government on 18th August 2015. 27 blocks were announced, with another 132 requiring further environmental assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. In the West Country there are four blocks out for environmental assessment to the SE of Bath and seven on the North Somerset coast between Weston-super-Mare and Minehead, but none in the area between Bristol and Bath.

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Map image from Oil and Gas Authority, 2015

In particular the blocks that were offered for our immediate area (ST 55, 56, 65, 66, 75 and 76) were not awarded. The map above shows the blocks concerned (blocks marked green require environmental assessment and those marked beige are current licensed blocks).

For reasons of commercial confidentiality the Government does not reveal which blocks were applied for but not awarded. There is no reason to believe that blocks in our area were applied for in the 14th licensing round although we cannot be certain. In December 2012 UK Methane relinquished its licence for the block covering their previous plans for Coal Bed Methane test drilling at Hicks Gate, Keynsham.

Whilst this will be welcomed by most in Saltford and Keynsham, the announcement will be seen as bad news in the 27 new licensed areas (that cover about 1,000 square miles) as well as in the 132 licence areas that are subject to environmental assessments which span about 5,000 square miles. Areas of natural beauty, including the North York Moors and the Peak District, have been licensed for drilling. As have swathes of land near Lincoln, Nottingham and Sheffield. The response from Greenpeace to the Government's announcement has been to say that "the consequences could be devastating... extracting gas from rocks beneath our towns and countryside will put water supplies, and delicate wildlife protection zones, at risk. And drilling for more fossil fuels will keep us hooked on dirty energy for years to come, accelerating climate change even more."

Further information on oil and gas licensing rounds can be found at https://www.gov.uk/oil-and-gas-licensing-rounds.

August 2015

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Fracking in our local area and our General Election Parliamentary Candidates

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Members will be aware that SEG, along with other campaign groups and individuals, has been campaigning against fracking in our area. In December 2012 UK Methane withdrew its planning application to drill at Hicks Gate, Keynsham and last year relinquished its PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) 228 that included Saltford and Keynsham.

There has been little public information on progress with the 14th PEDL licensing round that closed on 28th October 2014. SEG has therefore approached DECC and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for news on our area and whether another operator has sought to purchase the license when it was made available for purchase in the 14th round. The response from OGA was that during the 14th Round, 95 applications were received from 47 company groupings. These applications were for 295 blocks and sub-blocks out of the total area available for applications. However, applications made in the 14th Round were currently under assessment and remained confidential for reasons of "Round competitiveness and commercial sensitivity". Therefore, they are currently unable to identify individual applicants under the 14th Round or to confirm whether or not new application(s) for the area of PEDL 228 have been received or are being considered.

Information on blocks that are to be relicensed under the 14th Round will be published on the gov.uk website at https://www.gov.uk/oil-and-gas-licensing-rounds, following the conclusion of the awarding process. No timing was given.

In responding to that reply SEG reminded OGA that B&NES Council has made it clear on several occasions that it has no intention of granting planning permission for onshore drilling/fracking in its area, partly in connection with the hot springs for the Roman Baths, and the local community is strongly against this, as UK Methane discovered. Furthermore all three Parliamentary candidates for the main parties (Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) are against fracking in North East Somerset.

April 2015

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Government to allow fracking under protected sites

In pushing through final amendments and enactment of the controversial Infrastructure Bill during February, the Government will after all allow fracking companies to drill horizontally under protected areas such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs - Saltford is overlooked by the Cotswolds AONB), groundwater protection zones and Sites of Scientific Special Interest (SSSIs) if the wells start just outside their boundaries.

This is seen by those concerned about the potential environmental risks associated with fracking as a reversal of the Government's acceptance of new environmental protections put forward by Labour MPs in January. Government Ministers took the line that given their size and dispersion, it might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under protected areas in all cases without unduly constraining the industry.

A spokesperson from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Nick Clack, said: "The government claimed to have introduced strong legal safeguards on fracking to protect the countryside and communities. Now ministers have undermined that claim and further eroded public confidence."

February 2015

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Lancashire Planning Officers say "No"

On 21st January Planning Officers at Lancashire County Council recommended in their report to Councillors that planning permission for Cuadrilla to drill at two sites near Blackpool (at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood) should be refused due to the night-time noise, traffic and loss of local amenity that would arise. The hearing at County Hall was due to start on 28th January but on 23rd January Cuadrilla asked the Council to defer its decision whilst it amended/changed its plans. On 28th January Councillors on the planning committee reluctantly accepted legal advice and deferred the decision for 8 weeks. Environmental campaigners locally (e.g. Frack Free Lancashire) and across the country continue to watch with interest.

January 2015

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Fracking: Infrastructure Bill watered down

Changes accepted by Government Ministers in the House of Commons on 26th January during the Infrastructure Bill's report stage and third reading mean fracking in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and in areas where drinking water is collected will not be permitted. The Green Belt as such was not listed as having that additional protection from fracking also (this means communities defending their Green Belt from fracking will continue to rely on existing "protection" afforded by the National Planning Policy Framework).

A Labour amendment (New Clause 19) was added to the Bill that imposed 13 tests to be met before fracking could proceed including the completion of an environmental assessment, independent inspection of the integrity of wells, substances used must receive approval from the Environment Agency (see also next paragraph), and the need to notify residents in an affected area on an individual basis.

A legislative clause proposed by the Government that sought to change the trespass law and introduce a new right to use deep-level land, which would allow fracking companies to drill beneath people's homes and land without their permission and to leave any substance or infrastructure in the land was removed.

The Infrastructure Bill has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons and will return to the House of Lords for consideration of amendments. Progress of the Bill can be found here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/infrastructure.html.

January 2015

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Environmental Audit Committee calls for halt to fracking (26.1.2015)

The Government's planned shale gas revolution is running into increasing opposition and difficulties with only 11 new exploratory wells for shale gas and oil due to be drilled in 2015 before the impact of plunging oil prices has fully begun to make shale gas even less economically attractive.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons reported on 26th January that "shale fracking should be put on hold in the UK because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health."

Joan Walley MP, chair of the Committee, said:

   "Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health."

   "We cannot allow Britain's national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields. Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites. The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people's homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today [26.1.2015]."

January 2015

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Government's shale gas projections "very speculative and optimistic"

Professor Jim Watson, research director at the UK Energy Research Centre and author of a recent report on the potential for shale gas in the UK, was reported in The Guardian as saying "Given the low number of wells that have been drilled in the UK, and the very low level of experience of shale gas production here, it is far too early to say how much shale gas could be produced."

He also said "The Prime Minister's statement that shale could provide gas for the UK 'perhaps for as long as 30 years' is therefore very speculative and optimistic." He predicted that it was unlikely the UK would have a significant shale industry until the early 2020s and even then the UK would still need to import the majority of its gas.

January 2015

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Government trying to fast-track fracking plans

The Government wants to change the law to allow fracking firms to drill under homes through the Infrastructure Bill by fast-tracking its plan through Parliament at a faster rate despite the claim from Greenpeace that 74% of British people don't agree with changing the law so that fracking companies can drill under our homes without permission. MPs will debate and vote on the issue on 26th January.

Thanks to public pressure, fracking bans are already in place in France and Bulgaria. Just last month New York joined the list of US states that have taken action to stop the industry. But the PM's plan can't get the go ahead without approval from MPs - and at Westminster, a backlash is starting. The Scottish National Party and the Green Party have spoken out against the PM's plan. Amongst Labour and the Lib Dems voices of dissent are on the rise, whilst Conservatives are feeling increasingly nervous as we approach the May 2015 Election.

Teams of volunteers from Greenpeace, 38 Degrees and Friends of the Earth have visited several MPs at their offices - handing over the petition face-to-face. Letters have been sent to every Westminster MP, telling them who has signed the petition in their constituency and calling on them to vote down the Government's plan.

Over 227,000 people asked their MPs to vote against the Government's plan. The petition website is at: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/fracking-vote-2.

UPDATE: On 26th January the clause to change the trespass law and introduce a new right to use deep-level land, which would allow fracking companies to drill beneath people's homes and land without their permission and to leave any substance or infrastructure in the land was removed by Ministers from the Infrastucture Bill during its Third Reading.

January 2015

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Fracking in Somerset?

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Somerset PEDL map July 2014. Reproduced courtesy of www.frackfreesomerset.org

UK Methane have renewed their PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) 227 for a further year. PEDL 227 covers Ston Easton and adjacent areas of the Mendips. However the other three PEDLs in Somerset (225, 226 and 228 - including Saltford) have been relinquished but can be purchased by other companies in the latest, 14th, licensing round (licensing closing date 28th October 2014).

In their relinquishment report for PEDL 228, UK Methane conclude that "the licence was still potentially prospective and that a number of potential drill sites were identified". They also report that B&NES Council made it "increasingly difficult to attain planning permission following on from the Europa Oil and Gas Limited refusal of planning for an exploration borehole in green belt land in Surrey. This limited the potential to get planning permission for an exploration borehole on the licence".

Frack Free Somerset organised an 'Autumn of Awareness and Action' with public events during November in the PEDL 227 area.

We shall monitor the situation and publish information on the PEDL area that covers Saltford, PEDL 228, when further information becomes available to us.

October 2014 - updated December 2014

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Stop Fracking in Somerset petition

The Stop Fracking in Somerset petition addressed to Somerset County Council and Tessa Munt MP for Wells (who opposes fracking) can be found at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-fracking-in-somerset.

The petition states:

We call on Somerset County Council to reject all planning applications for exploration, appraisal or production of shale gas and other unconventional gas. This is the only opportunity for local people to have any say in whether their area gets fracked. Once planning permission is granted all decisions about the exploitation of our area will be taken by central bodies in London (the Environment Agency/DECC/HSE).

Fracking companies do not have to disclose exact details of the chemicals they will inject into our land (25-75% of which will remain there), because they are "commercially confidential". It will be impossible for local people to make proper representations about the planning application if they don't know what the chemicals are, so it will be impossible for the planning application process to be carried out fairly and in accordance with natural justice. It will necessarily be procedurally unfair and unreasonable (and perhaps also an infringement of the Human Rights Act).

June 2014

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Queen's speech announces fracking plans

The Queen's speech to Parliament on 4th June 2014 announced the Coalition Government's plans to change the law so that fracking companies can drill under our homes without permission. However such plans require MPs' votes so Greenpeace has arranged a petition to our MPs that states:-

"74% of the public in Britain are against changes to trespass laws that would allow fracking companies to drill under homes without permission. I urge you to oppose government plans to change the law and vote against them when you have the chance."

The petition can be found at: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/fracking-law .

To raise awareness of the issue and their petition, Greenpeace protested outside the Prime Minister's Oxfordshire home over fracking. They erected a fence and a large sign that said "We apologise for any inconvenience we may cause while we frack under your home - Frack&Go, your friendly local frackers".

June 2014

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Shale industry faces global reality check

An interesting article on the BBC website posted on 7.4.2014 highlights how those governments looking to shale gas as a quick fix for high energy prices and security of supply seeing the US example where energy costs have tumbled on the back of shale oil and gas. But they may have unrealistic expectations and shale may not be the answer they hoped it to be.

According to the article, the barriers to a shale revolution outside the US are considerable and numerous including:-

  • more public opposition in Europe which is more densely populated than the US where people are far more familiar with oil and gas operations;
  • environmental regulation is far stronger in Europe than in the US;
  • questions about the suitability of the geology in many countries (for example the technology that had proved so successful in the US did not work on Polish geology) and the lack of infrastructure and pipelines;
  • US shale industry took 25 years to develop after huge investment from the US Government in research since the 1980s (European Commission wants the industry itself to make that investment...); and
  • there are also questions about the ultimate impact of shale on energy prices in Europe, which operates as an integrated market across the continent.

Property rights are also key, according to Prof Paul Stevens, senior research fellow at the think tank Chatham House. In the US, homeowners often own the minerals under their land, so they can negotiate a price and hand over the rights to an energy company. In Europe, the state tends to own mineral rights, and no-one is going to let an energy company to simply ruin their land.

The article can be found from this link to the BBC website: www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26735000.

April 2014

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Government increases incentives for onshore shale gas

On 13th January 2014 the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that local authorities will be able to keep 100% (double the usual 50%) of the business rates they collect from shale sites, and urged opponents to "get on board". This commitment could be worth up to 1.7 million a year for a typical site. It will be directly funded by central government.

Spokespersons from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have described this as bribery to sell an unpopular policy and highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking.

January 2014

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The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas 2014 (video)

The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas (2014) is a documentary video commissioned by Frack Free Somerset and made by talented director Marco Jackson. It first went live in October 2013 and has been updated since then. It can be viewed on Youtube from this link: The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas (select latest version).

January 2014

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EU Parliament ruling on shale gas: new fracking projects must pass environmental test

The European Parliament has proposed that exploration and hydraulic fracturing extraction activities for non-conventional hydrocarbons should be subject to environmental impact studies, in adopting an amendment to existing EU legislation on 9th October 2013. MEPs also suggest measures to prevent conflicts of interest and to ensure that the public is informed and consulted.

"We are revising this key legislation to align it with Europe's new priorities, such as soils, resource use and protecting biodiversity. Hydraulic fracturing raises concerns. We lay down clear criteria to avoid conflicts of interest and involve the public", said lead MEP Andrea Zanoni (ALDE, IT).

Current legislation covers natural gas projects that extract at least 500,000 cubic metres each day. Many shale gas projects yield less, due to the rock fracturing process, and hence are not subject to an impact assessment requirement. MEPs want this requirement to be mandatory, whatever the quantity extracted, for all exploration and exploitation of non-conventional hydrocarbons (shale gas and oil, coal gas, etc.), including shale gas projects, for the phase in which the hydraulic fracturing technique is used.

October 2013

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Fracking - Is this the Future of UK Energy?

Test Equipment Specialist company INLEC UK has published a blog on the topic of "Fracking - Is this the Future of UK Energy?" and during October 2013 asked our Chairman Phil Harding (in a personal capacity) two questions:

(i) What impact could fracking have on the village of Saltford?
and
(ii) Why is fracking so controversial?

You can see Phil's responses on the blog at: www.inlec.com/blog/2013/09/fracking-is-this-the-future-of-uk-energy/.

September 2013

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RSPB unhappy about Fracking

The following is an extract from a statement from the RSPB's Head of Climate Change Policy, Harry Huyton, made on 20th August 2013:

   It [fracking] may not pollute water sources and it may not lead to us overshooting our climate targets.

   But the unquestionable fact is that we just don't know. This is untested technology in the UK - a very different prospect to the US where fracking is now widespread. Developers do not need to fully investigate the impact drilling will have on the local environment. And the Government has not explained how extracting more fossil fuel from the ground will help us meet our climate targets.

   These are the central questions we are raising. But this debate is really another example of a deeper, underlying challenge our environment faces in the UK.

   The choice between renewed backing of fossil fuel extraction in the UK or continuing the transition to low carbon, renewable energy is a fundamental one. Too often, however, the currency of the debate is money. The Prime Minister recently talked about how "we cannot afford to miss out" on the benefits of fracking, for example, whilst the Environment Minister Owen Paterson talked of shale as a 'God-given' windfall. Fracking opponents often take a similarly human-centric approach, arguing about house prices and aesthetics.

   These are important considerations, but their dominance in Government's thinking is a reflection of how disconnected politics has become from our natural environment. It has been argued that our dire economic straits make cashing in on our natural resources necessary, but recession is not an excuse to shed our values. The biggest single piece of wildlife protection legislation in this country was developed during the Second World War, yet today's leaders appear to be clambering over themselves to reel in environmental progress at the mere whiff of economic benefit.

[END OF EXTRACT]

August 2013

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Councils lose powers for opposing onshore gas developments

To the concern of environmental and other campaigners, under planning guidelines published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 19th July 2013, local councils will no longer be able to investigate issues such as seismic activity, flaring and venting as well as the potential impact on ground water supplies before granting planning permission for new wells. Responsibility for regulation will now fall to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

The new guidance 'Planning practice guidance for onshore oil and gas' (ISBN: 978-1-4098-3960-6) includes the following statements:

Paragraph 54. "Whilst all applications must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, it is unlikely that an Environmental Impact Assessment will be required for exploratory drilling operations which do not involve hydraulic fracturing unless the well pad is located in site which is unusually sensitive to limited disturbance occurring over the short period involved."

Paragraph 65. "Mineral planning authorities [i.e. the local council] should not consider demand for, or consider alternatives to, oil and gas resources when determining planning applications. Government energy policy makes it clear that energy supplies should come from a variety of sources. This includes onshore oil and gas, as set out in the Government's Annual Energy Statement..."

Paragraph 66. "Mineral extraction is essential to local and national economies. As stated in paragraph 144 of the National Planning Policy Framework, minerals planning authorities should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy, when determining planning applications."

Paragraph 79. "A financial guarantee to cover restoration and aftercare costs will normally only be justified in exceptional cases. Such cases include:

  • for very long-term new projects where progressive reclamation is not practicable and where incremental payments into a secure fund may be made at appropriate stages in the development of site operations; and
  • where there is reliable evidence of the likelihood of either financial or technical failure, but these concerns are not such as to justify refusal of permission."

Paragraph 80. "However, where a minerals operator is contributing to an established mutual funding scheme, it should not be necessary for a minerals planning authority to seek a guarantee against possible financial failure, even in such exceptional circumstances."

Paragraph 81. "Minerals planning authorities should seek to meet any justified and reasonable concerns about financial liabilities relating to the restoration of the site through agreeing a planning obligation or voluntary agreement at the time a planning permission is given."

July 2013

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Ston Easton and Compton Martin first?

At the public debate "Fracking in B&NES" held on 14th March 2013 at the Friends Meeting House, York Street in Bath, the Director of UK Methane, Gerwyn Williams, confirmed press reports that his company was thinking of exploratory drilling in Ston Easton and Compton Martin, subject to planning permission. However, he said that due to the slow progress in B&NES he was concentrating on South Wales first.

The debate, attended by an audience of approximately 100 local residents and environmental campaigners, was largely a question and answer session between representatives of UK Methane (MD Gerwyn Williams and Geologist Oliver Taylor) and Frack Free Somerset (Dave Clark, Guy Watts, Helen Moore and Louise Somerville-Williams) followed by questions from the audience. A vote taken at the end of the debate showed that an overwhelming majority of those present were against fracking for shale gas in the B&NES area.

Gerwyn Williams said he wished to be open and transparent with his plans for this area and would be willing to participate in further public discussions.

March 2013

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National Day of Action on Fracking, 1st December 2012: Bath

photograph

On Saturday 1st December, members of SEG joined forces with Transition Keynsham and Frack Free Frome to take part in some street theatre in the centre of Bath, with a make-shift toxic-fluid leaking scaffold rig. Glasses of toxic substances were offered to Christmas shoppers to show the possible side-effects on land and water from fracking.

Much positive feedback was given by the public with only a few who showed any real support for fracking but, unfortunately, no-one wanted to stay and discuss it under the 'rig' with our hi-visibility, hard hat-wearing frackers.

December 2012

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Saltford Environment Group submits evidence to Energy & Climate Change Select Committee

Following discussions and correspondence with our local MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the Chairman of the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee, Tim Yeo, SEG submitted written evidence "Onshore Gas - A Community Perspective" on 15.11.12 to the Committee's investigation into "The Impact of shale gas on energy markets". The paper is published by the Select Committee on its website and can be found from this link: SEG evidence ISG 32 (external site) or can be downloaded as a pdf from SEG's website here: Onshore Gas - A Community Perspective (pdf).

November 2012

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Can 'unconventional' onshore gas assist the transition to a low carbon future?

As part of the debate about the extraction of onshore gas, a short paper has been produced exploring whether the extraction and use of onshore unconventional gas resources, i.e. shale gas and coal bed methane (CBM), can assist the transition towards a low carbon economy once concerns about land and water contamination and other local environmental impacts have been fully addressed alongside robust regulation. The paper (by Phil Harding) can be downloaded here:

   Onshore gas to renewables (Sept 2012) (pdf - opens in new window).

Note: In helping to inform the debate, publication of this paper on SEG's website does not necessarily represent the views of SEG or an endorsement of the extraction of onshore gas in our area.

September 2012

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'Frack Free Keynsham & Saltford' stall in Saltford

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Informing the community about the dangers of fracking: 'Frack Free
Keynsham & Saltford' stall outside the Co-Op in Saltford, 18 August 2012

August 2012

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Background

CONTENTS:-

Fracking

Coal Bed Methane (CBM)

Unconventional gas extraction in our area

Mr Pinch's Well - A lesson for today?

Saltford

Coal Bed Methane (CBM) drilling at Keynsham held back for now...

Fracking

Extreme Energy is a term used by campaigners to describe the process whereby energy extraction methods grow progressively more intense over time as the resources that are easier to extract are depleted. The process is a result of our unsustainable consumption of energy and is important because extraction effort is strongly correlated with damage to both society and the environment. Unconventional gas is the term used to describe unconventional reserves of gas like shale gas and coal bed methane.

Fracking is the term used to describe hydraulic fracturing to release hydrocarbons (in particular shale gas, natural gas that is trapped in impermeable shale rock) which can then be brought to the surface as a non-renewable energy source.

For each well, after drilling a vertical then horizontal well, drillers use a 'perforating gun' to enable huge quantities of water plus sand and chemicals to be forced down the well pipeline under high pressure at around 3,000m (10,000ft) below ground level. The fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the hard shale rock with the sand acting as a propping agent to keep the fractures from closing and to allow the gas to flow back up to the well head. Most but not all of the fracking liquids (water and chemical additives) are then returned to the surface for removal.

The potential environmental impacts are a major cause for concern especially as such problems could be very difficult or impossible to rectify. These impacts include: toxic contamination of groundwater and soil, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface or between wells, surface contamination from spills, and flow-back or subsequent failures in the well linings.

With regard to failures in well linings (sooner or later all well linings leak), failure in the cement barrier surrounding the steel casing can allow methane gas and other contaminants to migrate to aquifers at different, shallower, depths from where the original gas extraction occurs.

There are also concerns about the visual impact on important landscapes from drilling rigs and the large amount of 24-7 heavy lorry traffic required for the delivery and removal of huge volumes of fracking liquids during the drilling and fracking procedures.

The most significant of all these concerns is that the toxic cocktail of chemicals used in the process or released from deep underground has the potential to contaminate the land and water supplies for generations to come. An unwelcome legacy that may not reveal itself until long after the gas company has left the area and well linings start to fail.

Coal Bed Methane (CBM)

Coal Bed Methane (CBM) is the gas found in coal seams at shallower depths (typically 100 - 1500 metres below ground) than shale gas. Exploration and production of CBM can lead to water and land contamination. Different techniques for extraction of CBM are used compared to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas but there are several similarities and fracking can be introduced into later stages of the gas production process to increase gas flows.

To extract CBM, companies drill down to undisturbed coal seams to access trapped methane gas. The gas is trapped by water pressure so a continuous stream of ground water must be pumped out to free the gas. The 'produced water' contains a cocktail of chemicals, which can include nitrates, nitrites, chlorides and other salts, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, other minerals, metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury and high levels of total dissolved solids. Once production is underway, CBM wells can be connected by a network of roads, pipelines and compressor stations.

Campaigners across the UK and overseas question whether these environmental risks should be taken to retrieve a non-renewable energy source that will contribute to further emissions of greenhouse gases. Many would like to see the UK decarbonise its energy supplies through the more rapid deployment of renewable energy sources, not out-dated fossil fuels.

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Unconventional gas extraction in our area

Large tracts of Somerset (including Saltford) have been licensed by the Government to oil and gas companies for shale gas or coal bed methane exploration and development through the sale of PEDLs (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses). Any such exploration and development would be subject to planning permission being granted first.

B&NES Council's position on unconventional gas extraction in the region was summed up by the resolution the full Council passed on 11th July 2013. The Council's resolution stated that:

"This Council... has serious concerns about the potential impact of unconventional gas exploration and extraction, as well as geothermal exploitation, within Bath and North East Somerset, in particular relating to:

a. the vulnerability of the hot springs which supply Bath's spa water and the potential risk to the supply of hot spring water;
b. its potential impact in an area significantly covered by Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a World Heritage Site;
c. the importance of protecting the reservoir water supply in the Chew Valley."

... believes the Council should seek to adopt whatever measures available to control, and if appropriate prevent, the use of unconventional gas exploration and extraction, as well as geothermal exploitation, within Bath and North East Somerset."

Expert advice was sought from the British Geological Survey (BGS) who produced a report for the Council entitled 'Potential problems in the Bath and North East Somerset Council and surrounding area with respect to hydrocarbon and other exploration and production' (link to pdf report on B&NES website).

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Mr Pinch's Well - A lesson for today?

With permission of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution we have published here the article: "Mr Pinch's Well" (pdf 2.3Mb).

Please note: Copyright belongs to the BRLSI and the document should not be reproduced in any form. A period pamphlet, reprinted from the collections of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, together with a modern commentary, a facsimile of William Armstrong's account of how he capped and closed the well, and maps is also available at 3 (incl. postage) from the BRLSI, Queen Square, Bath, and from good bookshops elsewhere.

The article is an introduction to the original report, which gives a background and modern context together with a facsimile of the 1836 report written by William Armstrong. It gives an interesting account of the experiences of local brewer Mr Pinch in the early 19th century. His "unlawfully sunk well" disrupted supplies to the hot spring baths; he ended up in court, the well was stopped up and the brewery lost its water supply. The article records that "in May 2012 a study by the British Geological Society confirmed that an operation to extract shale gas could damage the hot springs that supply Bath." The article concludes that "the lessons learned from the story of Pinch's Well are once again relevant."

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Saltford

Saltford Environment Group organised a public presentation from 'Frack Off' (http://frack-off.org.uk) in Saltford Hall on 29th May 2012; 30 people including representatives of Saltford Parish Council attended.

In July 2012 SEG joined forces with Transition Keynsham to campaign against the dangers of fracking and raise awareness of this issue in our local area.

SEG understands from a local geologist that the Saltford area, while it may not currently be in danger of fracking, has some geological formations which might encourage future shale gas exploration activity. Saltford is believed to be underlain at some depth by Upper Carboniferous shales and coal beds. These could, at some date, encourage exploration for, and commercial production of, shale gas or perhaps coal bed methane. However, we cannot be certain about this and we need to remain vigilant.

Saltford's housing is entirely enclosed by the Green Belt and, on the east side, the land is also designated as Cotswold Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). These factors, taken together with several geological features including 5 RIGS (Regionally Important Geological Sites) and a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), provide the community with strong planning reasons to resist attempts by exploration companies to test drill in Saltford.

Our concerns with regard to the surrounding area range from the possibility of pollution of the river Avon, ground water supplies (including drinking water supplies that flow, for example, into the Chew Valley lake), and of soils that are necessary for food production, to increased lorry traffic on our local roads that are already heavily congested at peak times.

In our area there isn't any of the thick Upper Carboniferous (Namurian) shale which has been the main objective for fracking in Northern England. However there are some areas, such as Hicks Gate near Keynsham and around The Globe on the A4 at Corston, where coal mining has been carried out in the past. These areas could still be of interest for coal bed methane extraction if licences were awarded here in future.

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Coal Bed Methane (CBM) drilling at Keynsham held back for now...

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UK Methane Ltd's planning application to "Drill and test the permeability of the coal and associated strata at land on the south east side of Hick's Gate, Durley Hill, Keynsham" was submitted to B&NES Council on 27.9.2012. They subsequently withdrew the application on 20.12.2012. The reason they gave to B&NES Council was that the level of information that was being requested was far higher than that for any other previous planning application that they had been involved with in other parts of the country. UK Methane said that for the extra amount of work that was involved, they would apply for a "full production permission" which would include shale gas (!). They referred to the Government's moratorium on fracking that had been lifted recently*. *Note: In 2014 UK Methane relinquished three Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) in Somerset (225, 226 and 228 - 228 includes Saltford and Keynsham).

Over 700 objections had been received by B&NES Council thus demonstrating the depth of feeling in the community and surrounding area. The local campaign included a series of public meetings and the petition organised by Transition Keynsham to B&NES Council and Keynsham Town Council opposing the planning application attracted 1,205 signatures.

The application reference no. was 12/04304/MINW (Parcel 2156, Durley Hill, Keynsham, Bath And North East Somerset, BS31 2AB) and the application papers etc. can be found using that reference number on B&NES's planning web page.

Saltford Environment Group's objection to the planning application for coal bed methane drilling and testing at Hick's Gate submitted to B&NES in November 2012 was as follows:

Saltford Environment Group feels this would put Keynsham and the wider community including Saltford at an unacceptable risk. The proximity to the River Avon, the A4, the mainline railway, farmland and residential properties makes the proposed site particularly unsuitable. Local job creation is likely to be minimal whilst the risks from coal bed methane exploration and production at Hick's Gate or elsewhere within NE Somerset outweigh any short-term benefits that may arise from such gas production when we should be pursuing low carbon renewable energy options.

The potential environmental impacts are a major cause for concern especially as such problems could be very difficult or impossible to rectify thus leaving an appalling legacy for the council tax paying local community long after the gas development company has gone. These impacts include: toxic contamination of groundwater and soil, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and other chemicals to the surface or between wells, surface contamination from spills, and flow-back or subsequent failures in the well linings. Sooner or later all well linings leak and failure in the cement barrier surrounding the steel casing can allow methane gas and other contaminants to migrate to aquifers at different, shallower, depths from where the original gas extraction occurs.

Should B&NES approve this planning application this would set a dangerous and unwelcome precedent for NE Somerset whilst contravening several important policies contained within the Local Plan including:

  • Key objective E.5 (environmental assets - conserve and reduce consumption of non-renewable resources)
  • Policy GB.2 (no visually detrimental development within or visible from the Green Belt)
  • Policy NE.1 (development which does not either conserve or enhance the character and local distinctiveness of the landscape will not be permitted)
  • Para C1.3 (a purpose of the Green Belt is: "To retain attractive landscapes and enhance landscapes" and also "to retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses")
  • Para B6.30 (the 'precautionary principle')
  • Policy M.8 (Minerals development will not be permitted unless adequate safeguards can be secured for the protection of the environment and the amenities of the area likely to be directly or indirectly affected during all phases of the development)

The following short article by SEG made the case against the UK Methane proposal for CBM drilling and was published by 'The Week In' on 20.9.2012 (a week before the formal planning application was submitted; the planning application was finally withdrawn on 20.12.2012):-

  The need to address climate change and energy security arising from our over-dependence on carbon-based fossil fuels is increasingly understood. This is why we need to invest in safe and sustainable renewable energy sources rather than the short-sighted approach of pursuing carbon fuels; especially where production carries contamination risks to land and groundwater that would be extremely difficult to rectify.

  There is therefore growing concern in the community about the proposed planning application for the extraction of Coal Bed Methane (CBM) at Hick's Gate. The site is next to farm land and recreational space enjoyed by many residents whilst the close proximity to the River Avon means there are serious implications for wildlife and tourism over a much wider area. Furthermore the site is next to major road and rail transport routes.

  What guarantees are there that the Environment Agency and Health & Safety Executive can secure full control of the risks against a background of public spending cuts? Who will pay for full and proper regulation, UK Methane Ltd or the tax payer? Who will fully underwrite the risks?

  The benefits of CBM development occur in the immediate and near future, while the costs are spread over several generations. The economic benefits from CBM are overwhelmingly concentrated on the companies that develop the gas rather than the local community facing the major risks. Few if any local jobs would be created whereas renewable energy can and does have a much more beneficial effect on jobs. In the South West 10,000 people are now employed in the renewable energy sector (source: RegenSW - 2012 Annual Survey). That is where the future employment in energy lies, not in the out-dated approach of exploiting fossil fuels regardless of the consequences.

Ben Eve & Phil Harding
on behalf of Transition Keynsham and Saltford Environment Group, September 2012

[END OF ARTICLE]

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Further information

Local/national campaigns concerning Fracking and/or onshore energy extraction:

Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil
For the Government's position on this issue see the website of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO). OUGO aims to promote the "safe, responsible, and environmentally sound recovery of the UK's unconventional reserves of gas and oil".

There are several films published on the internet concerning fracking/drilling for onshore gas and in particular the dangers to drinking water supplies (particularly those experienced in the US). The most widely known of these are the 2010 documentary film 'Gasland' that received an Oscar nomination for its Director Josh Fox and the 2012 18-minute film 'The Sky is Pink' also from Josh Fox. 'Gasland' has its own website at www.gaslandthemovie.com; you can view 'Gasland' on YouTube from this link.

The 'The Sky Is Pink' (link to film online) looks at the damage to human health experienced in the US. It highlights the contamination of water supplies and the high incidence of well casing failures. According to the film, industry data shows well leakage worldwide to be 6% immediately on drilling and as high as 50% in 30 years as the gas well casings deteriorate over time.

The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas (2014) is a documentary video commissioned by Frack Free Somerset and made by talented director Marco Jackson. It first went live in October 2013 and has been updated since then. It can be viewed on Youtube from this link: The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas (select latest version).


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Saltford Environment Group
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