Tuesday, 5 August 2014

To Frack or Not to Frack - a Perforated Ulster?

Four ministers and a quandary
Some may say YES; some may say NO

The controversies surrounding fracking [pdf file] may well have implications, short term and long term, for four Northern Ireland Executive ministries: Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Environment and Agriculture and Rural Development.

Perforated Ulster?

Numbers of Boreholes & Gas Wells
o Several initial exploration boreholes needed to sample, test & pump collectively. 
o Production wells roughly 1km apart
o Clusters of 4 to 10 wells linked to a central gas gathering station by pipelines. 
o Each well needs facilities at ground level of 0.5-1hectare in plan. 
o Each well may operate for 20-25 years.

“I have been consistently clear that no fracking will happen on my watch unless there is very strong scientific evidence that it is safe both for public health and the environment. That evidence simply does not exist at this time." .. Mark H Durkan, DOE minister [29 July 2014]

So who will be carrying out the environmental impact assessment? Will it be directed by the drilling companies, by a government department or by an independent agency?

"DETI and other regulators, notably DoE, will undertake detailed scrutiny of any proposals in the context of the rigorous international engineering protocols that are now emerging.

“So we can hardly impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing because no permit has yet been issued. Nor is any application expected for 12-18 months. During that period we shall reap the benefit of several in-depth scientific and engineering studies currently in progress, notably in the US.

“Not only might domestic shale gas production help to provide energy independence but it could play a significant role in job creation. I firmly believe that Northern Ireland needs to explore the potential that shale gas offers, to even consider imposing a moratorium at this early stage would reek of a missed opportunity.” .. Arlene Foster, DETI minister. [6 December 2011]

A recent major incident at a fracking site at Clarington, Ohio, USA, should be a clarion call to all four ministers, as well as to the public at large:

"Ohio firefighters battled the blaze for an entire week. Before they managed to fully extinguish it, the fire caused some 30 explosions that rained shrapnel over the surrounding area; 20 trucks on the site caught fire; and tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals -- including a toxic soup of diesel fuel, hydrochloric acid, and ethylene glycol -- mixed with run-off into the nearby creek, killing an estimated 70,000 fish as far as five miles downstream. ..

The preliminary EPA report on the accident in Ohio makes for eye-opening reading. After the fire began on June 28, local, state, and federal officials worked straight through the July 4th holiday to contain the accident but their efforts were hampered by poor inter-agency coordination and a lack of adequate information about the hazards involved. ..

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the Ohio case clearly highlights the need for laws across the country to better protect the public. As he puts it, "It is totally unacceptable that claims about trade secrets should be allowed to trump public health and safety."

Have our government departments got measures in place to deal with the issues raised by the Clarington incident, should any of the drilling companies be tempted to operate beyond the limitations specified in the drilling licences?

Added August 5

"Does shale development make economic sense? ..

The big snag with shale wells is that output falls away very quickly indeed after production begins. Compared with “normal” oil and gas wells, where output typically decreases by 7pc-10pc annually, rates of decline for shale wells are dramatically worse. It is by no means unusual for production from each well to fall by 60pc or more in the first 12 months of operations alone.

Faced with such rates of decline, the only way to keep production rates up (and to keep investors on side) is to drill yet more wells. This puts operators on a "drilling treadmill", which should worry local residents just as much as investors. Net cash flow from US shale has been negative year after year, and some of the industry’s biggest names have already walked away.

The seemingly inevitable outcome for the US shale industry is that, once investors wise up, and once the drilling sweet spots have been used, production will slump, probably peaking in 2017-18 and falling precipitously after that. The US is already littered with wells that have been abandoned, often without the site being cleaned up." .. source

Added August 11

A Minister says NO