What Is Fracking?
Shale Gas is methane (natural gas) which is trapped in impermeable shale rock deep underground, unlike conventional natural gas which is in permeable rocks, such as sandstone. The gas cannot flow through the shale, so simply drilling a well, as you would for conventional natural gas, is not enough. The shale rock must be cracked to free the gas, hence the need for hydraulic fracturing (fracking). For the same reason it is necessary to drill large numbers of wells at regular intervals. To produce as much gas as a conventional gas field with a dozen or so wells, would require hundreds or thousands of shale gas wells. Cuadrilla says, “Horizontal wells could radiate from the same well bore like the tines of a fork and in several directions, which could be repeated at different levels. One pad could manage 24–36 horizontal wells using present-day technology.” In The Guardian on 15 January 2015, Cuadrilla claimed that “There would be between 40 and 60 wells on each fracking pad during production.”
Did You Know?
It is banned in Luxembourg, France, Bulgaria and Germany and such moratoria are already in place in many areas in the USA, including New York State, New Jersey and Vermont. Scotland has voted against it and Wales will soon follow.
Do We Need Shale Gas?
Our priority should be not to discover and exploit shale gas but to cut back on how much gas we need through energy efficiency, and developing and using renewable energy. Just because shale gas is produced in the UK doesn’t mean that it will be used in the UK – it will be sold abroad and UK users will pay the price set by the markets. We will need gas in the future but we can get the gas we require from conventional sources.
During the winter of 2015, demand across Europe fell to levels not seen since the 1990s, sending prices to record lows. Developing shale gas is very costly – gas prices need to remain high to make it commercially viable.
Where Is It Happening?
Everywhere, including right on our doorstep!
This licensing map of the UK shows which areas have been allocated a Petroleum & Exploration Development Licence (PEDL). The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is divided into a network of blocks. Initial block licenses last for six years – enough time, according to DECC, for the developer to get planning permissions, work out the viability of the area. Further information on the companies involved is available here.
Lancashire has been identified as having 200 trillion cubic feet of potential shale gas reserves, and plans have been announced for over 840 wells over the next 16 years. There are a number of sites in Lancashire that have been drilled but only one has been fracked – Preese Hall, Weeton is the only site in the UK to have been fracked using high volume hydraulic fracturing). Test drilling has been in progress at Marsh Road, Banks; Grange Road, Singleton; and Anna’s Road, Westby. Planning applications for Little Plumpton (Preston New Road) and Roseacre Wood are currently being considered by Lancashire County Council.
Current activity on the Fylde
Below is a list of where Cuadrilla has current interests in the Fylde and Wre. Only one well has been hydraulically fractured so far – at Preese Hall. It’s important to remember that Cuadrilla has a 50% failure rate so far – four wells have been drilled and two have failed, one at Anna’s Road, the other at Preese Hall.
Current sites are:
- Clifton – this is the newest of the sites the company says it is proposing to submit a planning application for a vertical exploration well. Cuadrilla says the proposed well would allow rock samples to be extracted from the shale deep below the surface for analysis and that the well will not be hydraulically fractured. The proposed well site is located to the south of Clifton Business Park off the A584, close to a low level radioactive disposal site, a landfill site, and not far from a nuclear fuel production site at Salwick. It is also on the banks of the River Ribble.
- Elswick – although the well is now owned by Cuadrilla, the Elswick-1 gas well was completed and stimulated by Independent Energy in 1993. The purchase of the well in 2010 by Cuadrilla appears to be a PR exercise to convince residents of the safety and low impact of hydraulic fracturing. Mark Miller, former CEO of Cuadrilla, said in a letter to the Southport Vistor that,”the well has been producing gas since it was hydraulically fractured in 1993 without any inconvenience for the local community.” The fact is that Elswick-1 is a conventional gas well, though one drilled into a quite low permeability sandstone. It is not a shale gas well and it is vertical not horizontal. Gas flows naturally, ie, it does not need continuous fracking. Also the scale of this well is entirely diffferent from what is planned for the rest of Lancashire. This is one vertical well, ‘fracked’ once (if we assume it was) at 4,200 feet. Currently, a minimum of 842 wells are planned for the Fylde, vertically drilled to 9,000 feet, and then drilled 12,000 feet horizontally with full multi-stage fracs. Frack Off has further information on this.
- Kirkham site (consent acquired). Temporary planning permission for the Kirkham site was granted on 15th June 2010. The company says it currently has no plans for the site.
- Preston New Road (Little Plumpton) – In 2014 Cuadrilla announced that it was seeking planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells at Little Plumpton, just off the A583 (preston New Road). Lancashire County Council’s Development & Control Committee was to decide the application in January 2015. The Planning Officer recommended that permission be refused on the grounds of noise. Two dates were set aside in January 2015, whereby local groups and individuals were given the opportunity to present to the councillors. Halfway through the presentations, Cuadrilla asked for a deferment. The application will now be determined on 30 April 2015.
- Roseacre Wood – In 2014 Cuadrilla announced that it was seeking planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells at Roseacre Wood. Lancashire County Council’s Development & Control Committee was to decide the application in January 2015. The Planning Officer recommended that permission be refused on the grounds of noise and traffic. Two dates were set aside in January 2015, whereby local groups and individuals were given the opportunity to present to the councillors. Halfway through the presentations, Cuadrilla asked for a deferment. The application will now be determined on 30 April 2015.
- Singleton – Grange Hill site (drilled). Temporary planning permission was granted in April 2010. Drilling began at the Grange Hill site in January 2011. Drilling reached a depth of 10,700 feet. The well has not been fracked but Cuadrilla is currently applying for extended planning permission to carry out test drilling and fracking. In January 2015, Lancashire County Council refused Cuadrilla’s application to carry out seismic and pressure monitoring, despite the planning officers’ recommendations that the plans be accepted.
- Weeton – Preese Hall site (drilled). Temporary planning permission was granted in October 2009. Drilling began at the site in August 2010. The well was hydraulically fractured in 2011. This is currently the only well in the UK to have been fracked using High Volume (slickwater) Hydraulic Fracturing. During fracturing earth tremors were experienced. Cuadrilla kept on fracking despite knowing that the tremors had caused damage to the well. At this point the government introduced a moratorium. Flowback water from the abandoned well is collected on site, Cuadrilla claim the flowback is collected in a secure steel tank and disposed of appropriately. Neither Cuadrilla nor the Environment Agency will reveal where this flowback is treated. In December 2013, Cuadrilla announced that they were pulling out of the Preese Hall site and restoring the well. The reason Cuadrilla claims it is abandoning the site is because it is “prioritising new horizontal wells that will provide better data about the amount of gas that can be recovered from the shale rock”. The real reason they can’t drill there anymore is because of the geological fault that caused the two earth tremors. Further drilling is likely to cause further seismic activity. In March 2014, Cuadrilla reported to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) that there was a build up of annual pressure. Such pressure is caused by a seepage of gas or fluid from the well. The HSE demanded to see the cement bond logs, which show the efficacy of the cement that has been pumped down between the pipes and walls of the well, only to be told that there weren’t any because a lack of regulations means that Cuadrilla didn’t have to carry any out. This means that neither Cuadrilla nor the HSE know if the well has leaked or is still leaking.
- Wharles – Hale Hall Farm site, Inskip Road (consent acquired). Temporary planning permission for the Hale Hall Farm site was granted in February 2010. Cuadrilla says there are currently no plans to undertake exploration at the site.
- Westby – Anna’s Road site (consent acquired). Temporary planning permission for the site in Westby was granted in November 2010. In August 2012, Cuadrilla announced that it was ready to drill horizontally at the site, even though horizontal drilling was not a condition of the exploratory phase planning permissions. At the end of 2012, the company announced that it had messed up the well – the concrete casing was proved to be inferior and then a piece of equipment got lodged down there, so the well was abandoned. Cuadrilla has submitted a planning application to Lancashire County Council to enable it to undertake hydraulic fracturing of the gas reservoir. Further information on the botched well is available here. In October 2013, Cuadrilla announced that it was abandoning the Anna’s Roadt site - the reason being ”partly due to technical constraints related to wintering birds”. Cuadrilla is more likely to have withdrawn from the site because of public pressure. This site is near a large housing estate and is served by narrow country roads. The decision is also probably due to the ‘Balcombe effect’, ie, organised public pressure which greatly delayed the company’s activities in Sussex.
Other sites in Lancashire
- Becconsall site, Banks (drilled). Temporary planning permission was granted on 20th October 2010. Drilling began at the site in August 2011 and lasted for just over three months. In September 2012 Cuadrilla applied for a 36 month extension to the temporary planning permission. This was granted. In October 2014, Cuadrilla was granted permission to begin pressure monitoring at the site.
What Could Go Wrong?
Blowout When blowout prevention equipment is absent or fails, pressurised fluid and gas can explode out the wellhead, injuring people and spewing pollutants.
Gas leak Methane, the primary gas in natural gas, may be present in layers of rock above the target layer. Cracks in the cement that seal the well to the surrounding rock can provide a path for this methane to travel into the water table.
Air pollution Flare pipes that burn methane so it doesn’t build up, diesel truck exhaust and emissions from wastewater evaporation can dirty the air near a drill site. When methane is released without being burned, it acts as a potent greenhouse gas, trapping 20 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.
Wastewater overflow Fracking fluid, about 1 percent of which is made up of chemicals (sometimes including carcinogens), is increasingly recycled for use in other wells. But sometimes it is stored in open pits that emit noxious fumes and can overflow with rain.
Other leaks There are some worries that local geology in particular areas would allow fracking-produced fluid and methane to travel upward. But most evidence of exposure stems from surface problems such as spills or illicit dumping.
Industrialisation of the landscape Rural areas will be transformed into industrial zones an impact on established industries such as dairy farming, agriculture, market gardening and tourism
Increased traffic accidents and damage to our roads Due to the huge number of heavy goods vehicles required, there will be congestion on our roads and an increase in accidents. Many of these HGVs will be carrying chemicals or contaminated flow back water. Rural roads will not be able to cope – who will pay for the repairs?
Effect on house prices and insurance Houses in areas where fracking is planned to take place have devalued – and this is before shale gas extraction has begun. Residents in both Roseacre and Preston New Road have experienced house sales falling through or a drop in value, one by 70%. Insurance is another major issue. In the US some home insurance companies are refusing to insure properties that are close to fracking sites. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co was one of the first of the major insurance companies to say it will not cover damage related to a gas drilling process. How much are insurance premiums likely to rise if fracking goes ahead? Last year the Government issued a report called Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, which examined the impact of shale gas drilling on house prices and pressure on local services. The report was heavily censured with over 60 redactions, keeping the public in the dark about the real effects. What is the Government trying to hide?