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« Yamal in the National Review | Main | Shale gas slashes US carbon emissions »

Royal Society to investigate fracking

I'm rather late to this story, but it seems that the Royal Society is to prepare a report on shale gas and fracking:

The Royal Society is carrying out a short review jointly with the Royal Academy of Engineering of the major risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (also known as ’fracking’); including, geological risks, such as seismicity, and environmental risks, such as groundwater contamination.

The extraction of shale gas in the UK has been the subject of recent debate, with many concerned over potential risks associated with the process. This review will review the scientific and engineering evidence to provide a clear indication of where any potential risks are well understood; where there is general agreement but continuing debate; and where more significant uncertainties remain. It will also consider how these risks can be managed. 

The review will not be an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas, nor does it promise to make any judgements on the appropriateness or otherwise of shale gas extraction being undertaken. The hope is that this review will be a valuable contribution from the scientific and engineering community to a wider debate on the future of shale gas extraction in the UK that should also encompass societal and economic issues.

The review is to be headed by Professor Robert Mair of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

In unrelated news, here is an article Professor Mair wrote in 2011 about the ways we must mend our ways to deal with climate change.

There's also this letter he wrote to the Guardian a few weeks ago. In it he says this:

[Apart from seismic impacts] There are other important engineering and scientific issues, such as the potential for groundwater contamination, that we are now in the process of evaluating. There are also economic and social considerations.

I wonder if our national academy is about to hold forth on the "economic and social considerations" of fracking. That would make for a good blog post.

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    - Bishop Hill blog - Royal Society to investigate fracking

Reader Comments (86)

Unbiased from the outset then ...

May 24, 2012 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

The central problem of the AGW movement is that if the theory is correct, and if we really do need to reduce emissions by 80% or so, the only way to do it is by wholesale changes to lifestyle.

It means rebuilding the housing stock to make it highly insulated. Going back to non-oil based agriculture, which means much more labour-intensive, minimal use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. Abolishing the private car and with it the shopping mall. Redoing transport to human powered vehicles, which implies parking for them, tracks for them. Air travel will have to be sharply limited.

In short, we are talking very major changes, including population movements, on matters which affect almost every aspect of peoples everyday lives, where and how they live, shop and work and holiday.

The problem is, the green movement generally is unwilling to confront this and argue for it, and the result is lots of incredibly expensive gesture political measures which get diverted into benefiting particular lobbies, without making any difference to emissions. Even if you think emissions are a really serious problem, none of the current measures make any difference to them.

You see it most clearly with electric cars. There is no way we are going to simply replace internal combustion with electric drivetrains, and carry on shopping, and also dramatically reduce emissions.

We really need the green movement to get real about this and say exactly how, in quantitative terms, the reductions are going to be achieved. How many houses are going to be insulated by when. How much are private car internal combustion vehicle miles going to fall, and by when. How much are we going to reduce the total carbon footprint of food production and distribution by, and how, and by when.

Until we get this stuff, its just arm waving.

May 24, 2012 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Ah gee. There they go again. Frankenfood. Baying at the moon at solstice. Silent Spring. Population bomb. Alar will kill everyone. The Earth is melting. The Earth is freezing.

Just about anyone reading this blog can write their report/findings/recommendations before they finish their morning round of hot tea/coffee/cocoa. Those that can't really, really need to visit this site, buy Hill's book and be welcome to the realm of reason.

May 24, 2012 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

Well, I would say we can be fairly sure that will put the kibosh on any UK fracking.

May 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter C

you missed out the other cost of those changes - how many people would need to die to achieve the aims of the green Marxists? Intensive agriculture is oil driven and without food the world's population would need to take a severe tumble. I'm sure greenies and their ideological bedfellows, the self-proclaimed "99%" haven't really thought these things through.

May 24, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

It seems as if the maxim of the Royal Society (Nullius in Verba - following your excellent report for the GWPF) has become true in a rather bizarre way - they don't listen to anybody at all now, their minds have closed over and are hermetically sealed.

May 24, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

@ Michel

Another way of putting what you've just set out would be to say that greens want to turn the economic clock back roughly 200 years.

This necessarily involves a corresponding reduction in the human population, because you can't sustain 6 billion people with the energy use of 200 years ago. The 1 billiojn or so one could support will even then have to be impoverished deliberately.

It's a feature, not a bug. This is not an unintended consequence of greenism, it's the whole point.

May 24, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Sorry for being the old git that I am, but isn't the language of this thing so typical of the doom and gloom view of absolutely everything?

The extraction of shale gas in the UK has been the subject of recent debate, with many concerned over potential risks associated with the process. This review will review the scientific and engineering evidence to provide a clear indication of where any potential risks are well understood; where there is general agreement but continuing debate; and where more significant uncertainties remain. It will also consider how these risks can be managed.

They use the word "risks" three times in one short paragraph. We are all doomed, apparently.

What about: "Many are excited about the extraction of shale gas which could give much needed energy security to the UK at a time when households are having to pay very high prices to subsidise windfarm owners".

I have recently being reading the "1970 Yearbook" (which covers the events of1969). The language in that book is entirely different to that of the media today. Some bad things happened, as always but there was Concorde and Neil Armstrong and a look at the latest cars and fashions. Britain was still on the bounce from WWII. We'd been through shit but there was a bright future ahead......then the hippies and their children became the establishment and started to impose their facile ideas on the rest of us. Bugger.

May 24, 2012 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

The very first comment here, by "confused", nailed it; you can delete every other comment (including this one) and the proper point will have been made.

May 24, 2012 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Does sound like another Lord Oxburgh. So long as the Royal Society gets £45 million a year from the government it will be a trained poodle rather than a scientific society.

May 24, 2012 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

@ michel

Please excuse a small quibble. I think it is important to differentiate between AGW and Catastrophic AGW. There is no doubt that greenhouse gases have increased and I think many people, me included, would accept a degree of AGW. The big costs are related to CAGW which depends on postive water vapour feedback.

May 24, 2012 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon

Buffy are a man after my own heart. But who raised those f***ing hippies !

May 24, 2012 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Or, to use my favourite phrase, "unpicking the industrial revolution".
The trouble is you can't do that any more than you can un-invent nuclear weapons or nuclear power.. Human development will not permit it unless you can find some way of wiping everyone's mind clean and destroy every piece of historical and archaeological information we have. The history of the human race is one of (broadly) improvement in all forms of its being — health, wealth, knowledge, environment, all the things that make this generation "better off" (in the widest terms) than the last and the last better off than the previous one and so on.
There have been setbacks but only reculer pour mieux sauter and never previously has there been an example of any group successfully attempting to take humanity back to an earlier stage of its development. Any serious attempts will sooner or later unleash a wave of justified anger. Even sheeple can only take so much.

May 24, 2012 at 12:22 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

This is so obviously the government positioning itself for banning fracking.

Re Michel's comment; the reason why the Greens can't make the impact of their policies so clear is that it'll be obvious that
a) it requires a world government
b) it would be easier and cheaper to ignore emissions and just adapt to the higher temperature.

May 24, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

This is incredible. Did the Royal Society write reports about oil prospecting, back in 1900s?

I fail to understand what this has to do with the Royal Society.

May 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Registered Commentershub

Yes, it is always useful to know what occupies the judicial mind before the evidence is laid.

May 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

"never previously has there been an example of any group successfully attempting to take humanity back to an earlier stage of its development."

Oh I think the Khmer Rouge was, locally, pretty successful and the Great Leap Forward certainly had a great effect in China. Just because a great leap backwards has never been done before globally doesn't mean it can't happen or can't be attempted. I'm with J4R on this one: for the greenies the deleterious effect of turning the clock back is the feature not a bug.

May 24, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

"The review will not be an exhaustive analysis of all the issues associated with shale gas, nor does it promise to make any judgements on the appropriateness or otherwise of shale gas extraction being undertaken."

In which case, what is the point of doing this review in the first place? And, what I would most like to know, what prompted the RS to do this review? Was it on their own initiative (or is that an oxymoron)? Or were they commissioned to do it and if so by whom, and what was their remit?

May 24, 2012 at 12:40 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

That was my thought exactly. Come to think about it, the guy who first rubbed two sticks to make fire would also have had a hard time with today's greenies. Luddites seems too polite a term for these folks.

May 24, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Compare the tone of the RS with this from the Geological Society (Public meeting, 18 June).

May 24, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

In the main, I concur with Buffy. Nothing wrong with taking a look at the possible downside of fracking, that's both valid and valuable. It's been around quite a long time now but there's nothing amiss with taking something down off the shelf from time to time, dusting it off and re-examining it. We do that all the time in in our own lifes.

But I'm worried about the language here, it looks like they're only going to focus on the negative. Today everyone screams about the "rights" of humans but never seems to consider the great "wrongs" they can and do, and indeed perpetrate, endlessly. Here we seem to be headed only for "wrongs" with no counting of "rights" for balance.

May 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

If the RS does for frakking what they have done for climate, you in the UK should consider just hanging it up.

May 24, 2012 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

No consideration of the advantages of shale gas then?
Just a massive overplaying of the (miniscule) risks.

Another AGW stitch-up.

Words fail me (self-snip)

May 24, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Here is a concise, balanced view of fracking from a surprising source:

Its only defect is that it has not been widely reported. The RA & RS team would do well to read it first.

May 24, 2012 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

NoHotAir has just reported that the British Geological Survey's ongoing reassessment of UK shale resources is going to come up with a very big figure, higher than Cuadrilla's estimate.

May 24, 2012 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

For an all too brief minute or so, I was thinking to myself - engineers will look at the real world and speak honestly about it. Then I started reading the piece by Mair which you linked to. He wrote:

'the effects of climate change will continue to be experienced with increasing intensity over the coming decades'

Back down to earth with a thump. I wonder what he imagines these 'effects of climate change' to be?

I haven't heard of anything you would notice as extraordinary, wherever you happened to live. Maybe he is one of those intellectual giants who declares after every strong hurricane, deep frost, long drought, or big flood (or whatever meteorological event happens to have won attention in the media) 'Oh aargh, there be climate change at work. Now where dids I put that there grant application form?' (in an accent of your choice).

Ah well, that minute was pleasant enough while it lasted.

May 24, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I don't see any reason at all to disagree with J4R when he states the Green objectives. I'm just saying they won't work and they can't work.
How long did the Khmer Rouge last? How long did Mao's Great Leap Forward last? The Greens' Great Leap Backward will last (if they ever get it off the ground) until enough people with enough influence or enough anger say, "there has to be a better way than this" and some disruptive nerd digs out the papers that prove "yes there is and here is what was actually like before we let these assholes loose."
Stand back and wait for the revolution!

May 24, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

'The report may still be six months away, but Tony G said today that based on his conversations with the BGS, the revised figure was going to be close to a resource of 6 trillion cubic metres.'

an awful lotta gas, higher than the 5.6 trillion CM suggested by Cuadrilla.

ah .. there it is ... Just AFTER the RIO+20 next month.

Get ready for some hairshirt grandstanding by our sickeningly green politico's

May 24, 2012 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Confused....thanks for the endorsement mate.

As for your question about the parentage of hippies...I think hippies and the naval gazing green movement and all associated crap is the inevitable product of a wealthy society, with too much money and time on their hands. The hippy movement couldn't have happened in Britain during the 60's because we were still poor, whereas USA was "living it large", to use the vernacular. After a long shift at the factory there wasn't time or inclination to ponder saving the planet. Working your fingers to the bone for a living wage doesn't usually make you ponder the inequalities in the world and "how can I redistribute my £7 10s 6d weekly wage to the needy of Africa to offset the effects of climate change?". Unfortunately, we caught up 20 years later and now we are at the mercy of people with degrees in Environmental Management from the University of Neasdon (formally World of Carpets [C.Private Eye]).

May 24, 2012 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Sorry, navel, not naval. They probably don't like looking at sailors.

May 24, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Though some of them probably do.

May 24, 2012 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Compare the furore over a couple of tremors during Cuadrilla's well with this, the very start of the North Sea Story-

'The UK Continental Shelf Act came into force in May 1964. Seismic exploration and the first well followed later that year. It and a second well on the Mid North Sea High were dry, as the Rotliegendes was absent, but BP's Sea Gem rig struck gas in the West Sole field in September 1965.[4] The celebrations were short-lived because the Sea Gem sank with the loss of 13 lives after part of the rig collapsed as it was moved away from the discovery well... '(Wiki)

Would we have ever proceeded in today's Establishment ethos?

May 24, 2012 at 2:14 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Depressed old UK coal mining areas could see a new boom

Instead of sending miners underground to dig out coal
Now employ them above ground dropping pipes down and using Fracking to extract natural gas from Coal seames

May 24, 2012 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Site for the next extensive fracking trials:-

6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG.

A proven source of gas and gaiters, with residents demonstrably in need of a good shake up.

May 24, 2012 at 2:25 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

The RS is funded by HMG and is unelected, except by their own. They directly influence government policy.

Follow the money.

May 24, 2012 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Am I the only one who thinks that anyone who can write "This review will review ..." should not be given the job of writing press releases?

May 24, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta

For good reasons, engineers usually rank amongst the most sceptical. The cynic in me suggests that this could be an attempt to spike this particular gun so that the mantra will now become "97% of Scientists and Engineers blah blah blah...Royal Society blah blah blah..."

I hope I'm wrong, but as others above have noted, the 'pre-trial' comments by 'the judge' give grounds for cynicism.

May 24, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"In short, we are talking very major changes...[...]
The problem is, the green movement generally is unwilling to confront this and argue for it..."

The green movement CAN'T confront this and argue for it, and I'm sure that its leaders know this very well, because the public would never stand for it. Even with the cuddly image, the slippery language and the lack of honesty about consequences and costs, the Greens do poorly in elections in most places.
In the UK even with New Labour alienating much of its liberal/left voters they didn't desert to the Greens in any real numbers. In recent local elections even with a Liberal Democrat party which has destroyed any liberal/left credentials it had due to its coalition with the Tories, the Greens STILL made little impact.
They like to give the impression that they are a grassroots mass movement when they are the reverse to the extent that governments and the EU in effect pay Green groups to lobby themselves so that there is an impression that green policies are being carried out due to public demand.
The hard core of the Green movement will never come clean about their real desired end result and its costs, both financial and human, because the public would reject that vision of the future immediately.

May 24, 2012 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

"The hope is that this review will be a valuable contribution from the scientific and engineering community to a wider debate on the future of shale gas extraction in the UK that should also encompass societal and economic issues."
I do hope that since the Royal Academy of Engineering is involved, something resembling reality will surface and that an objective view will be expressed regarding the economic impacts of exploiting or not exploiting shale gas deposits.
Hopefully they will also take cognisance of this "Shale gas slashes US carbon emissions" below.
In my opinion, any review of an issue such of this would involve assessment of risk and up front that should not be taken as a negative. We will just have to wait and see what they come up with.

May 24, 2012 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

"...involve assessment of risk and up front that should not be taken as a negative."

I agree. But the question - "why is the Royal Society involved in hydrocarbon fuel prospecting?" - does remain, doesn't it?

Have they done sort of stuff before?

May 24, 2012 at 4:21 PM | Registered Commentershub

Aren't the Royal Society still objecting to young Mr. James Watt's infernal creation?

May 24, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

The 'Royal Society' is not interested in the science/engineering. More into the 'societal and economic issues' ... because thats what a scientific society does. /sarc

May 24, 2012 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Thats how they get to lay with the policy makers where the knighthoods lie

May 24, 2012 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

A'la Yes Minister, it is one of those "never have a public enquiry unless you know the outcome beforehand" moments! The conclusions have already been drawn much as they are for IPCC assessment reports. I dare say the papers are already drafted out on a puter somewhere ready for printing off. The whole thing is about Global Guvment, & a Global Benefits system, probably based on the UK model where whole generations of populations will have never done a hard days work in their lives because they're paid not to develop, but if they are Africans they can do back breaking manual labour for a few grains of rice each day, if they live that long!

May 24, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

This and everything else related to energy policies just makes me wild. And while Andrew and others do a great job putting all this information in front of us, what can one do, where can one go. There doesn't seem to be any political party/movement, pressure group, protest movement where one can do something to actually try and change things. we're just left on the side viewing it all happening..... unless you can tell me otherwise.

May 24, 2012 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered Commentermiket

Well, I would say we can be fairly sure that will put the kibosh on any UK fracking.

May 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Peter C

Hammer. Nail. Head.

As in, the Royal Society will use a hammer to nail any type of "fracking" in the head before it can even get started.

May 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom In Worcester (US)

What worries me mostly with this is the potential groundwater contamination.

May 24, 2012 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterEnergy related material translator

The government takes refuge in "scientific advice" when defending its policies to combat global warming. It will get the conclusion it wants to get - that is all but assured - so that whatever is concluded will be justified by reference to the "science". That said it will be very easy to put the lid on fracking. The RS will say carbon capture is required to combat global warming; the R Academy of Engineering will say that there are no engineering solutions available to achieve carbon capture. QED. The politicians will declare that no fracking will be allowed because the "science" and the "engineering" advice on which they rely will say that it is not feasible.

May 24, 2012 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

energy related material translator:
Your point does not make sense for the UK. Are you saying there is no way to adjust current water treatment processes to deal with groundwater if in fact it possibly became contaminated by potential harmful chemicals from fracking?

May 24, 2012 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

The formations suitable for frac targeting are well below the rainwater charged meteoric water aquifers supplying fresh water. They will target the deeper connate water zone below an intervening seal formation. Those deep levels are usually saline anyway.

May 24, 2012 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

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