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On birds and fracking

At the end of last year, the great hope of the UK shale industry Cuadrilla Resources was in hot water after apparently allowing drilling operations to continue beyond a deadline put in place to protect wintering birds. The wish to protect the local birdlife seems to have been a contributory factor in the the company's decisions to postpone futher drilling into 2014.

I was therefore rather intrigued by a photo of the Cuadrilla site in question sent to me by a reader (click for larger):

The Cuadrilla site itself is, if I am reading things correctly, just out of shot on the right. As you can see, the fields are somewhat unprepossessing and are hardly what one would call irreplaceable. As I understand it, the birds of concern are overwintering geese. It is hard to credit the idea that geese could not simply find another stubble field to feed on.

More intriguing still are the buildings you can see in the distance. These are long-established and heavy-industrial in nature: Cuadrilla's drilling work is to take place right next to a brick factory! If you look at the satellite image of the area you can see the scale of these operations:

All of the workings on either side of the red marker are the brick works, so it is clear that this is not a small operation. Note also the ponds, presumably for collection of slurry and so on.

To make a valid comparison, we need to see the impact of Cuadrilla itself. It's just out of view on the photo, but here is the site plan:

As you can see, the Cuadrilla site, the red rectangle, is a fraction of the size of the brick factory.

This is rather extraordinary. How is it that fracking, taking place thousands of feet below the surface, has to stop for overwintering birds, while brickmaking, taking place above ground and on a much bigger scale can continue?

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Reader Comments (41)

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterduncan

I suspect that the reason there is no drilling is that it has not been authorised by the EU. As energy is an EU competence there is no fracking anywhere in Europe. There will be none until they give the go-ahead.

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert

This is an effort to collapse the economies of scale that make any enterprise profitable. A corporate death of a thousand cuts mentality that is very pervasive in the green movement. Create lots of little out of sequence work, distractions, and expenses and you can cripple the largest industries. It is a subject worth a book.

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterdp

Based on my experience at a factory if a process is ongoing its difficult for the local environment protection officers to stop it without hard evidence of harm, if its a new process they can and do spout any old excuse as without 100% certainty there are potentially no issues they have an internal hissy fit worrying about how it will play out if they gave permission and it fails. Arse protection is a major issue.

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:44 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Interesting that WESTBY BRICK LIMITED applied to turn their brick works into a glass recycling facility. No doubt that has a much smaller effect on the birds, plus it is GODS WORK!

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterduncan

Best get power from bird-friendly windmills instead. All those pieces of metal whirring around a drilling rig can be dangerous to any airborne life-forms.

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

My theory (no inside knowledge) is that this government has decided to kill fracking while pretending to be supportive. Most of them will be looking for new jobs by the time the lights go out, and Caroline Flint will take the blame.

Apr 9, 2013 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

You old cynic, Alex.

Mind you I wouldn't bet the farm you are far off the mark!

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterYertizz

"an EU competence"

That's going in my Big Book of Oxymorons...

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:13 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The RSPB is quite happy to allow wind farms to be built in bird migration corridors. Needless to say, I gave up my RSPB membership several years ago.

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:23 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

When you consider that, two or three years ago, the second Tyne tunnel crossing works had to close down for a period whilst under construction, because a seagull had nested in the chimney pot of a derelict pub, you will get the idea.

Of course, the Council was busy trying to eradicate seagull pests only a few miles away, at the time.

As a Chartered Civil Engineer, I must point out that I'm all in favour of protecting genuinely threatened wildlife.

But, if you know anyone in Civil Engineering, development, quarrying etc, just say to them the magic words "Great Crested Newt". And dive for cover.

I keep on asking the EA and Natural England, "If these little critters are so rare, how come they are so common?"
[A couple of professional ecologists I work with have 'fessed up that there are hundreds of known GCN colonies in the UK - and some have populations counted of a thousand or more.]

My prodding annoys EA / NE, but little else.

If pressed, they admit that there is now't they can do. This is a EU 'Competence' and GCNs are rare on much of the Continent. My usual riposte is that seagulls are seldom seen in Austria, Czech & Slovak Republics and Hungary. So how come they aren't 'endangered', too?

But it is about as much use as debating GlowBull Warming with a Climate Psyentist. "More than my job's worth..."

How much it all costs UK plc, heaven knows.

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

@jamesp: On 'EU competences'. I agree, it makes for a good oxymoron. However (and I'm sure there is a real chance here that I am instructing your father's mother to suck eggs), in the EU, I found it best to read all papers (the EU Constitution, for instance) and translate 'competences' to 'power' - which is what they really meant, but they didn't want to frighten the horses.

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

I don't immediately have a link to hand but I seem to recall that the EU refused to ban fracking a year or two back, and that those countries such as France who have banned it did this unilaterally.

Apr 9, 2013 at 5:40 PM | Registered Commenterwoodentop

You'll love this;
James Gregory; Animal Rights.

Apr 9, 2013 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

According to the RSPB only 6% of windfarm applications (that they are involved with) might poise a danger to birds:

"We are involved in scrutinising hundreds of wind farm applications every year to determine their likely wildlife impacts, and we ultimately object to about 6% of those we engage with, because they threaten bird populations."

Why is it I find this rather worrying.

Apr 9, 2013 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfusedphoton

The fracking operation in the photograph [Nick Grealy] here doesn't seem to worry the geese:

Apr 9, 2013 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake

That site in Google Earth is about 150 metres by 80 meters. Not much bigger than the area you would need to site the base, handstand, and access track for one 2MW rated wind folly.

Apr 9, 2013 at 7:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterfenbeagle

this seems normal for the EU. It has so far taken Emed about 3 years to wade through the regulatory process to re-open the Rio Tinto zinc mines, with another year or so still to go before production can recommence. To open a new mine must take centuries of effort to get all the regulatory clearances.

Apr 9, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

This, approximately, repeats a comment on a different post.

The oil and gas industry in the US has been using hydraulic fracturing as a completion technique for low permeability formations for more than 60 years. So far more than one million wells have been fracked, with no known instance of a fracturing treatment travelling from the depths of the oil/gas formation to the shallow fresh water aquifer.

Apr 9, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

Pray when, will it be a EU 'competence' - to protect the livelihoods of the British people? After all, we are an oppressed minority and on the wane, being crushed by the leviathan of the green agenda and ground into the dust of history by our very own cultural Marxists.

The death of the Fracking industry....................before it started, is proof positive [if it were needed] that the authorities in Westminster egged on by their controllers in Brussels do not give a fig for:

i/ Cheap and plentiful energy.
ii/ British manufacturing and Industry.

Competency? God spare us from EU competencies.

Apr 9, 2013 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Quite right - Cuadrilla should not be allowed to disturb and kill birds - that is the job of the RSPB

Apr 9, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

It is estimated that when the additional transportation and processing is taken into account, plus the loss of efficiency from the high moisture content of wood pellets, the process of burning wood pellets (as now being implemented at Drax) involves 50% more CO2 release than coal, per MWh. This is a "renewable" technology, because trees can be grown again, but the rate of growth will never match the rate of consumption, so it is not "sustainable".

If this was replaced instead by burning locally derived shale gas, which releases half the amount of CO2 per MWh compared to coal, the net benefit would be from 150% of coal CO2 for wood pellets, to 50% of coal CO2 per MWh for shale gas. An overall improvement (i.e. reduction) by a factor of 3.

At the same time, there is nothing to prevent the planting of extra trees and forests, thus achieving the benefits of CO2 re-absorption, just as would be obtained from the wood-chip/tree-growing cycle.

Apr 9, 2013 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterMalcolmS

MalcolmS: Your logic is correct and by extension, if you were to burn coal in place of gas the additional CO2 enrichment would accelerate tree growth.

Apr 9, 2013 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Philip Bratby--

Would that be the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds?

Apr 9, 2013 at 10:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterLance Wallace

@ Martin Brumby

"When you consider that, two or three years ago, the second Tyne tunnel crossing works had to close down for a period whilst under construction, because a seagull had nested in the chimney pot of a derelict pub, you will get the idea."

Seriously? A seagull?? You mean, a Silver Gull, the things that live on rubbish tips all over the world and as you say, are pests that airports and local authorities are constantly trying to eradicate?

Next, some massive project will be stopped because Rattus Norvegicus is found to be nesting there.

Apr 10, 2013 at 12:44 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna


I recall an earthquake in the 1980s or early 90s which disrupted the NMR-spectrometer in the Chemistry Dept at the (then) Preston Polytechnic a few miles away. What is the normal frequency and amplitude of earth tremors in the region? (Or is that the report that the NGS has been reported as conducting?)

Apr 10, 2013 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I'm a Canadian petroleum geologist. Whilst attempting to license one of our drill sites and following the regulations for determining its impact on the local wildlife, the consulting biologist we hired determined that there was an endangered red tailed hawk nesting approximately 800 meters away from the site. As this is within the 1 km radius of impact, this would normally restrict our operations until the nesting season was over. That was until someone pointed out that the hawk had its nest within 100 meters of the primary highway, equivalent to one of your major motorways. As the hawk did not seem to care about all the traffic on the nearby motorway, it was allowed that our operations, which were further away, were also unlikely to impact the nesting hawk. A little common sense correctly applied can be a wonderful thing!

Apr 10, 2013 at 1:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhyllograptus

answering my own question, the BGS has a nice animated graphic:

The Preston quake was in 1996.
There was a 2.5 just offshore in 1970, deeper than the two recently recorded tremors.

Apr 10, 2013 at 1:26 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I guess the high voltage power lines are not a problem

Apr 10, 2013 at 6:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan

James has noted on unthreaded the latest BBC item on the seismic effect of fracking, at I note the last sentences:

"One thing that will change in the UK, is that gas extraction is no longer in the North sea it is in people's neighbourhood," he said.
"It is an industrial activity in people's backyards. It means trucks, dust, noise - people aren't used to that in the UK."

I don't know where in the UK the good professor lives, but if he thinks people aren't used to trucks, dust and noise, he hasn't seen quarrying or wind farm construction.

Apr 10, 2013 at 8:20 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

As a wildfowler, living just north of the Fylde on another favoured overwintering ground, allow me to infuse some facts.
Pinkfeet, greylags and the invasive species the Canada are quarry species of geese and as such are shot without restriction in season wherever they overwinter in the UK. Despite this attention they return every year to these historical sites and accept the concommitent daily barrage and mortality.
Barnacles, and brent have been protected since the 1950s and have since increased massively in numbers; the Svarlbaard population of barnacles which overwinters on the Solway having grown from c500 in 1956 to c50,000 today. The Solway also hosts Whooper and Bewick swans in lesser numbers.
Three roosting areas in Scotland adjoin RAF runways where fighters roar in and out over up to 15,000 Pinkfeet and other geese for the six months or so that they are here with no effect.
Overhead Power Cables do kill and injure a number of swans every year here and Pinkfeet geese are also being killed by the recently sited windfarms but this is never reported in the Press.
In my experience, animals are rarely unduly disturbed by human activities, or by their natural predators.
Some humans are, however, emotionally disturbed, and would benefit from counseling.

Apr 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterroger

Because until our goverment decides what to set the energy cost for all forms of energy production in this country is to make the renewables competative all new energy production must be stopped.

EDF pulled out yet anyone know?

Apr 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

On R5 earlier: Durham uni has examined approx 200 "man-made" earth tremors around the world (I think) only 3 of which were attributed to fracking. In a brief interview the spokesman said that these fracking tremors were so minor that people would not notice them.
This just reinforces previous comments by various seismology folk that fracking is not a concern: the UK gets regular, minor tremors - especially in old mining areas - many larger than anything fracking could cause but still barely noticeable.

Apr 10, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

Apologies for doubling up on the comment about fracking tremors already posted on "unthreaded".

Apr 10, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

Nice one!

Apr 10, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

@ Phyllograptus : A little common sense correctly applied can be a wonderful thing!

You must understand, my Canadian friend, we are dealing here with the European Union where 'common sense' was consigned to the trash can of history 50 years ago!

Was in Vancouver a couple of years ago and saw the wind turbine atop Grouse Mountain - it didn't turn a blade in 4 days we were there, despite adequate wind speeds!

Apr 10, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterYertizz

Good to know that fracking is now deemed not to cause earthquakes. Mind you, I'm sure opponents will find a dozen other reasons not to go ahead...
On the other hand, I wonder just how many earthquakes burying CO2 at high pressure underground might cause.. (but they, of course, would be NICE earthquakes...)

Apr 10, 2013 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

There is a sequence in one of the Time Team programmes where a group of top level archaeologists are obliged to cover every inch of a grass area on their hands and knees, looking for newts under the direction of a self important greenie, before they are allowed to dig. There weren't any. Whenever I see it I am reminded of the ridiculous power which has been handed to "conservation" groups in this country.
Presumably these are some of the green jobs we hear so much about. Before you can do anything you have to consult some publically funded treehugger.

Apr 10, 2013 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

2:20 PM NW

Yep - last year apparently some riverbank remedial works in Somerset were halted while the Environment Agency biologist insisted the the river be searched several hundred metres in each direction from the works for crayfish which it was proposed were to be temporarily re-homed...

It is clear that compromise isn't in the average UK environmental bureaucrat vocabulary and that an informed risk assessment strategy is an alien concept. The framing of EU policy is bad enough, what happens to it when it gets into the hands of UK eco-entryist bureaucrats and their gold plating and embroidering facility aimed squarely at a large pot of money and power... well that's quite another

The march of the UK's Marine Conservation Zones Please look at the consequences if they get their way and the highly disingenuous and toweringly arrogant way it's being promoted.

Apr 11, 2013 at 12:04 AM | Registered Commentertomo

I live quite close to Preece Hall and am familiar with the migratory Pink Footed Geese because they fly over my house several times a day during the winter and graze in the fields that make up most of the Fylde and Wyre area (we are very rural).

Steve Jones has mentioned windmills. Wehave 'em!

This huge beast is well inside the feeding range of the geese and there are plans afoot to erect another one. Fields around Wyre in particular are dotted with small turbines situated in the same places where the geese regularly graze or rest. Apparently rare breeds are not a concern when it comes to renewables. Energy security, however, goes to the back of the queue.

The geese arrived a month early last autumn and they have only recently departed to their breeding grounds. It's been a long winter for them as well as us which is thumbing a beak at the global warming theory which should make their wintering over period shorter. However, they have gone so why is Cuardrilla postponing drilling until 2014? That makes no sense.

Overwintering geese do not visit the same field to graze every day. They travel all over the area, including the extensive salt marshes along the coast. The geese might settle upon fields near Preece Hall occasionally but not often. Why? Because there are thousands of them so they fly far and wide to forage because grass doesn't grow in winter. At least not around here it doesn't.

Migrating geese being threatened by fracking is greenie hogwash. But then greenies don't care how they get their anti-fracking propaganda out. They are even turning children into anti-fracking activists with the unquestioning endorsement of the local rag. That the person responsible for filling the head of a child with greenie bias is a teacher also goes unchallenged.

Keep up the good work, Your Grace.

Apr 11, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterLynne

I know people here think of the EU as the anti Christ, but the reality is that the EU is much more supportive of shale gas than member states, and that includes the UK
The anti democracy in the UK is when one person alone can use the planning system to slow down development for years. That comes from the UK, not Brussels.
Cameron can quite easily declare shale as a national infrastructure project, but chooses not to. Far more likely it's because his Eton chum Sam Laidlaw of Centrica told him not to than anyone in Brussels

Apr 14, 2013 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterNick Grealy

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