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Environmental risks of fracking

The House of Commons is to hold an inquiry into the environmental risks of fracking.

Submissions of written evidence are invited addressing the following points:

  • The risks from fracking operations in the UK, including potential risks to water supplies and water quality, emissions, habitats and biodiversity, and geological integrity
  • Necessary environmental safeguards, including through the planning/permitting system
  • The implications for our carbon emissions reduction obligations

It's being held under the auspices of the Environmental Audit Committee, so I think it's fair to say that it will be a complete farce.

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Reader Comments (37)

The long grass is getting awfully full.

Dec 19, 2014 at 10:50 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Back in 1945, when the mines were nationalised, the Labour Government held a review and a call for submissions on the future of coal mining*. It was based on:

The risks from fracking coal recovery operations in the UK, including potential risks to water supplies and water quality, emissions, habitats and biodiversity, and geological integrity

Necessary environmental safeguards, including through the planning/permitting system

The implications for our carbon emissions reduction obligations

Then, of course, you have to add:

Pneumo-coniosis, white-finger, black lung, fire risk, health and safety, etc

Now, whatever happened to manual fracking mining after that?

(Yes, for certain pedants, that is a Tu Quoque. But it is also a parable of the age in which we live).

*OK...for those who might wonder, it didn't really happen.

Dec 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

...and every Unnecessary 'safeguard' they can think of, as well.

Dec 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter (ClimateOtter on Twitter)

It certainly looks like our "Rolls Royce" public servants have abandoned the the idea of delivery of things that make life better for the people who pay their wages + pensions and are simply busying themselves solely with stuffing themselves with "process" - leading to morbid constipation.

Is there a laxative strong enough to deal with this?

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:07 AM | Registered Commentertomo

As Otter has said, it might be decided that fracking can go ahead, but will be as laden as nuclear power with totally unnecessary “safety” features that will more-or-less render it unviable.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:12 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Another Inquiry? Ye Gods.
This is another example of why the UK suffers from overburdened red-tape. The best way of establishing whether fracking is good, bad, viable or otherwise is to drill a dozen test boreholes and actually get on with some actual fracking.
Then, for the dozen test sites at least, we'd know. After that further decisions can be taken based on observed evidence from actually fracking real sites rather than speculative hot air from self-important talking heads - many of whom will be tainted with agendas or vested interests.
At times this country makes me despair.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered


tut ... Ted - you're being rational. rolls eyes skyward and shakes head.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:17 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Analysis paralysis.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:26 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

The implications for our carbon emissions reduction obligations.

I would be obliged if I could renounce my carbon reduction obligations. I have no objection to reducing pollution and if that involves using energy more efficiently that is all to the good. However I do not feel under any obligation to reduce energy consumption for the sake of reducing CO2 emissions, nor do I recall being consulted by any politician about this as opposed to being told by them what we should all do.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Will they accept submissions on the environmental risks of NOT fracking?

Off the top of my head these would include:

1) Loss of economic competitiveness resulting in loss of industries to countries which do frack - and the consequent social decline, joblessness, despair etc.

2) Increased reliance on intermittent renewables which have a far greater environmental footprint eg. on average one shale well can produce the same power output as 300 intermittent 2MW turbines - but in an easily storable form.

3) As gas prices rise more and more people will turn to burning wood for warmth - resulting in a return to the chocking smogs of the 1950's (already happening round my way).

4) We would be forced to rely on expensive gas imported from countries with less environmental regulations. So merely offshoring any environmental issues.

Dec 19, 2014 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterChilli

From today's Wall Street Journal regarding New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's fracking ban ...

Economic growth sure can be a nuisance. The fracking boom in other states has led to overbooked hotels, restaurants where you can’t get a table, and the quandary of how to spend disposable income from rapidly rising wages. Life is tough when people have more money. The burdens on roads and public services are real, but fracking also produces the extra tax revenue to finance them.

Dec 19, 2014 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

You'd think they could just read this and crack on....

Dec 19, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Shouldn't take too long. Caroline Nokes is on the committee - and she'll be wanting to get to bed on time.

Dec 19, 2014 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Harry Passfield: "Back in 1945, when the mines were nationalised, "

Interesting subject. We hear a lot about how the public-owned mines were a shambles and "had to be shut down", but of course as you suggest, they were taken into public ownership.

So why weren't the mines privatised like everything else in Thatcher's Britain (except and very notably middle class unions: like academia).

So, not only did Thatcher close coal rather than selling it off - but she also promoted global warming research.

Dec 19, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

If the current political class had been in place in the 18th Century we wouldn't have had the industrial revolution yet. But taxpayer-subsidised lobbyists would have just persuaded MP's to ban powered looms, and a Westminster committee would have spent 20 years discussing the potential environmental impact of the introduction of gas street lighting.

Dec 19, 2014 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

With the current price of gas and oil I would say that the risks and benefits are largely academic. Nobody is going to waste their money fracking wells in the UK until the price goes up. We don't have enough rigs and enough experienced people to start anyway. A few test drillings til the Majors get interested maybe.

Dec 19, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

@chilli re the increased burning of wood. Wood burns faster than it grows so it will also lead to rapid deforestation.

Dec 19, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

MikeHaseler: Not that I want to get into the politics of mining (my comment was supposed to be ironic), and it may be apocryphal, but I understand that the Callaghan Government closed more mines than Margaret Thatcher's. That said, when it came to privatising mines, my guess is that she was shrewd enough to know that she wouldn't be able to get that through pre-'85 (with Scargill), and after that time she probably felt there was nothing to be gained. Bear in mind the privatisation of BT and BSC etc must have taken a lot of time and effort in the '70s/'80s (I was around then).

As for MT's espousal of AGW, IIRC, she resiled from that position later in her political life.

My hope is that the Cameron Gov has the guts to get on with the shale gas revolution and get this country through the next 20 years without another crash.

Dec 19, 2014 at 2:22 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

Ivor Ward is right. The risk from fracking is that it ain't going to happen.

Dec 19, 2014 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

Re wood burning, as David Chappell says will lead to deforestation due in no small part to illegal logging for want of a better word. It will also lead to more house fires and deaths (from fire and carbon monoxide) due to poorly maintained chimneys.

Dec 19, 2014 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Like Ivor Ward/Vernon E, the anti-frackers know well enough that simply introducing delays based on unreasonable fears is enough to serve their ends. It worked against the nuclear industry.

My technical contribution to today's fossil-fuel article is that I just learned that xanthan gum, used in many food products and gluten-free baking, is also a staple of the oil industry who use it in large amounts in horizontal drilling.

The horror, the horror...

Dec 19, 2014 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@ Chilli: "As gas prices rise more and more people will turn to burning wood for warmth - resulting in a return to the chocking smogs of the 1950s (already happening round my way)."

Rubbish, the 'choking smogs' of the 1950s were due to use of coal burnt in open grates for domestic heating, and were solved by the requirement to use smokeless fuel and smokeless zones under the Clean Air Act.

@ SandyS and David: Wood burning is a no-brainer as a primary heating source for domestic uses, but is a good back-up in rural areas. I end up with a large amount of dead wood each year from our land. I can't turn it all into hedgehog nests, insect refuges etc, so I'd rather burn it more cleanly and efficiently in a woodburner and save some money than on a bonfire. As to the daft comment about deaths due to poorly maintained chimneys, that applies equally to poorly maintained gas/oil/or coal fired heating systems.

Dec 19, 2014 at 7:52 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

What's all the fuss about this link has been posted here at least twice -

Dec 19, 2014 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom Mills

michael hart

xanthan gum - I went to an IET public fracking lecture where the presenter Peter Styles from DECC (!!) made some fracking fluid on the rostrum (sand, water, washing up liquid and Jelly Babies (guar / xanthan gum...)) - he handed out the remaining bags of jelly babies to the audience - the huffing and sneering of the eco-twerps in the audience was actually something to behold - rude, graceless, humorless gits - said gits also seemed incensed that an officially sanctioned / sponsored event could actually take a balanced view....

Dec 19, 2014 at 10:34 PM | Registered Commentertomo

This bad faith inquiry whose purpose is to stop fracking and its benefits is no more cynical than a certain American President who repeats lies about pipelines as if they are true.

Dec 20, 2014 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

why isnt there a similar investigation into the environmental impacts of windfarms ?

Dec 21, 2014 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen

why isnt there a similar investigation into the environmental impacts of windfarms considering that fracking involves just a small hole while windfarms require large concrete units ?

Dec 21, 2014 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen

@tomo/cheshired: There's no rationality on this issue, particularly as far as the green blob is concerned. A bunch of protesters (though they prefer to claim to local journos that they are 'protectors'), are currently illegally occupying an intended site for exploratory drilling for coal bed methane at Dudleston Heath in Shropshire, on the false allegation that it will turn into fracking. The eyesore of their illegal camp 'Fort Dudleston' made of pallets, corrugated iron, and tarps, is topped with a pirate flag and an Irish tricolor.

The irony of this farce is that the Shropshire coalfield was the main site for NCB explorations into coal bed methane extraction in the 60's/70's, and was only stopped because it was economically unviable, not because of any environmental issues.

Dec 21, 2014 at 6:45 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Rather than spend taxpayer GBPs on another enquiry, why not dispatch a couple of duly accredited boffins to New Zealand to examine the practices on our offshore and onshore oilfields where fraccing has been employed for over half a century and where no ill effects from fraccing in NZ have ever been reported. We still have an active protest ignoramii here, many of them filmic luvvies, but they are generally ignored, except when they do something really strupid and/or dangerous, when the law properly swings into action.

Dec 22, 2014 at 2:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

The guvmnt has stumbled across a perfect stance on fracking; it openly encourages fracking and even offers subsidies. However all the while it knows that the climate change act covers its back and that nothing will happen until it is repealed.
When the lights are going out it will still be the case that renewable energy will get priority and that gas power stations will be told to go offline on far too many occasions. You would have to be a philanthropist to keep a gas power station up and running today. Without demand from the power generation industry why would anyone frack?
It defines the word disingenuous :P

Dec 22, 2014 at 3:47 AM | Registered CommenterDung

No Michael Hart I am not anti-fracking, the opposite in fact. But I do not believe that anyone is mad enough to invest in this hugely expensive technology with its poor yields and the constant harassment from the environmental blob. Especially with falling prices. However, I do believe that there may be specialist applications (most likely INEOS) who may try - but the overall priority is to get a few wells fracked and tested so that we will know once and for all if shale is viable in the UK and see some factual proposals. This is so critical to our energy future that the government should carry it out at its own (our) expense. What I find amusing comes from a public enquiry I was involved in in the 1980s for an ethylene plant at Nigg Bay. I will remember the reactions of all the local supposedly environmental folk when the project didn't go ahead and they woke up to the fact that the golden goose wasn't going to lay for them!

Dec 22, 2014 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

Vernon E

We already know that shale is viable in the UK and we have some of the richest deposits ever discovered so far, unfortunately "We" does not include the government.

Dec 22, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Registered CommenterDung


I would dearly like your references. What flow rates have been achieved? What depletion/re-frack rates? What gas compositions?

Dec 22, 2014 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

As far as I know, the main, possibly the only, purpose in adding the controversial substances known as "chemicals" to the water used in the controversial process known as "fracking" is to suspend proppants - grains of sand and sometimes other solids of various microns diameter.

I wouldn't drink it - I wouldn't drink any untreated water , even before chemicals were added, if I could help it - but I doubt the sort of stuff they need to make it slick enough to hold proppant would do me any significant harm should I swallow some.

So quite apart from the minimal risk of frac fluid getting into domestic water supply, the fluid itself is unlikely to be as bad as the stuff we spill on the ground going about our daily lives. But never mind, it's got CHEMICALS in it!

Dec 23, 2014 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Not to mention that people in coal-mining areas are getting all riled up about coal seam gas extraction.

People with vast caverns under their land, fretting about cased boreholes after reading activist websites?

Who protested against Thatcher closing the mines (whether she did or not, they believe she did) but now are protesting against de-watering the coal seams and extracting the gas commercially and safely which is often seeping out uncontrolled anyway?

Hysteria's too mild a term for it.

Dec 23, 2014 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Oh dear Mr Vernon are you against fracking then :)
You are either playing devil's advocate or you are from Barcelona and know nothing. It would be great to have the info you require but it is unlikely to appear until we change our government. Merry Christmas and please do enjoy any blackouts :)

Dec 24, 2014 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterDung

This is just plain stupid.The Germans were Fraking during WW11 and the Yanks have been doing it for the last thirty or so years.It has been proven safe,so who is dragging the chain?Green-piss?

Dec 24, 2014 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterclive

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