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« Sierra Club silliness | Main | Windfall »

A fracking corrective

The levels of disinformation about the shale gas industry has been quite overwhelming, although obviously very much par for the course for environmentalists. It's good therefore to have a corrective in the shape of this paper by Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk & Malton. 

Hollinrake has been to Pennsylvania to take a look at the shale gas industry on the ground and his approach of just driving around asking people what they thought leads to a powerful rebuttal of the scare stories:

The Negatives

  • In Dimock we saw significant but  apparently  isolated examples of methane migration  into water supplies (unlike the UK, most US households have private water supplies which are supplied direct from boreholes)
  • Regulation in the early days between 2004 and 2012 was totally inappropriate
  • Significant noise, light and traffic impacts to  communities, properties and residents close to  fracking sites for 6 to 9 months
  • There was concern  from residents regarding proposed fracking activity close to schools and residential areas, little/no democratic accountability and a  lack of planning controls
  • Some significant large associated processing plants e.g. ‘ cracker ’ plants and  compressor stations
  • Despite increases in numbers, there is still a perceived shortage of regulators /monitors
  • Regular, numerous, milk-­tanker sized lorries on the roads in fracking areas
  • Concern regarding unproven but potential associated effects on public health

The Positives

  •  We did not see a significant, widespread industrialisation of rural areas
  •  Economic effects and job creation in the local area were positive
  •  Associated supply chain businesses were thriving
  •  Most  local people estimated that 75/80% of residents supported fracking (initially,  there was a similar proportion against)
  •  In general, house prices had increased in the areas concerned (unless within a few  hundred metres or less of well pads)
  • Other than Dimock, we had no direct reports of water pollution and absolutely no  reported examples of pollution from wastewater or fracking fluid
  • Fracking activity on each well pad lasted 6 to 9 months, after that sites were producing gas quietly and without any requirement for re-drilling or re-fracking. We had no reports of any re-­fracking on any sites
  • Operators are paying for road improvements and repairs

And of course, once you know that there has always been gas in the water at Dimock, that there much less need for tankers in the UK, and that concern over health effects seems mostly to be based on disformation by environmentalists, the balance seems to swing strongly in favour of just getting on with it.

I was also struck by this excerpt, which seems to carry a warning for the denizens of Holyrood and those in Lancashire County Council too.

The final day of our trip starts with an early morning meeting with Councilman Corey O’Connor at his offices in the City Hall, Pittsburgh. Corey was first elected in 2011 (he looks too young to be doing a first term, never mind a second) and inherited an anti-fracking stance from his predecessor. Looking back, he feels that this was a mistake.

“If we could go back now, after watching what has happened, we would have zoned it.” he says, “The jobs would have been tremendous. People had a lot of concerns at the time but it’s really settled now. ” Due to the ban, the head offices and job creation went elsewhere in the state. “Look at Washington (PA),” he continues “a few years ago it only had a drive thru’ and a gas station, now restaurants and hotels have popped up everywhere and Butler County is the fifth fastest growing in the US.

Politicians, eh?

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Reader Comments (39)

What's the betting that the paper will never be reprinted in the dailys?

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

And yet, still R4 Today, when discussing this item this morning had their ditsy science girl/woman/female (Tania? Tansie?) asking how shale can be considered safe afters stories of flaming taps(!!!! kicks radio!!!)

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

“If we could go back now, after watching what has happened, we would have zoned it.”
forgive my ignorance but what does "zoned it" mean?

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:38 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Maybe some movement?

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRockySpears

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:38 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

"zoned it" - allow fracking in designated areas (like any other industrial development).

Dec 15, 2015 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commenteredwin

zoning = planning permission

In all about what one might expect.

Have Josh Fox / Yoko Ono held any public meetings in Dimmock recently?

Dec 15, 2015 at 2:03 PM | Registered Commentertomo

@Harry Passfield: She's probably of the same calibre of journo as the rest the BBC employs, or useless as I call them!

Dec 15, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Edwin, Tomo ,
Thank you.

It was a US technical term that I wasn't au fait with. I am now.

Dec 15, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I think it is note worthy that this MP went on a fact finding tour, to an area benefitting from fracking, and came back alive, with no side effects.

Members of the Green Blob have incited each other into such a frenzy of fear, that none of them have ever been anywhere near real people, in an area gaining from an improved economic environment, due to fracking.

Could the UK designate somewhere (Islington?) as a safe isolation ward or quarantine zone where Green Blobbies could live, totally out of contact or touch, with the rest of the Country? Some might not even notice any difference at all, but the benefits for the rest of the population, would be massive.

Dec 15, 2015 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

There was a guy on the BBC this morning who had done some kind of independent report into shale gas in the UK. He was reporting that widespread fracking in the UK would be unlikely to cause a reduction in energy prices. I thought that this was a pretty absurd assertion but what do I know?

Dec 15, 2015 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

In fact the Shale Gas Task Force report doesn't say yea or nay on gas prices because 'it's almost impossible to tell'. The main thrust of the press release is that we should be proceeding with fracking as soon as possible to for the sake of the country. The BBC though decided to lead on a 'no price reduction due to shale gas' meme which tells you everything about their supposed impartiality. The website has all the appropriate quotes from know-nothing greenpeace.

Sky prefers friends of the earth for their feedback.

Heavy emphasis on 'industry-funded'; as if industry was a dirty word. Gawdelpus!

Dec 15, 2015 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

... unlike the UK, most US households have private water supplies which are supplied direct from boreholes ...

Most US households get their water from municipal supplies. And we have sewers, wastewater treatment, garbage collection and recycling as well as police and fire.

Dec 15, 2015 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

Regardless of price the Government will tax shale gas production, which means fewer austerity cuts and fewer tax increases than if the gas is imported.

Dec 15, 2015 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterrotationalfinestructure

Dimrock is a bit more complicated. There was one improberly cased gas well that contaminated groundwater aquifers supplying local water wells. Once the well was shut in (cemented closed for the first 1000 feet, the casing string) the groundwater aquifers returned to normal (whatever normal means in terms of natural traces). There has been no other similar incident.
And as a result, groundwater is now tested before and after well start/completion to insure that the casing is properly set and grouted. No operator wants to have to shut in a new $6 million well, so the simple cheap before/after water quality checks (sample all water wells within a half mile radius, as each is registered and water tested when first completed) provides a powerful deterance.

Dec 15, 2015 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

"Most US households get their water from municipal supplies. And we have sewers, wastewater treatment, garbage collection and recycling as well as police and fire."

Correct. That said, many rural households in the US do get their water from 'boreholes' or wells, as we call them in the colonies. I get my water from a private well that is approximately 42" wide by 55' deep.

Dec 15, 2015 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

Amazingly fair report for a member of government!

Several of the concerns had to do with the disruption at the site and also roads and vehicular traffic during construction. These are valid concerns, but pale in comparison to the damage caused by industrial wind turbine "farms" because of the size (400' +) of the structures, and the fact in the US the turbines need to be placed at the very top of hills and mountains.

All new roads with larger than normal turning radii need to be built up the mountain, existing roads and bridges are over stressed and or destroyed because of the over sized, over weight vehicles carrying the cranes; the top of the mountain forever denuded (so as to not block the wind); a massive, never to go away concrete pad built for each turbine, and raptors, who love the updrafts and downdrafts of the steep hills are victims of the blades.

As far as "ruining the landscape" you have to be right on top of a completed fracking site to see it (if at all); wind turbines are visible for many miles. (Pierre Gosslien - NoTricksZone- has done a great job of documenting the blight inflicted on the Green Mountains of his native state Vermont.)

I lived just north of Pennsylvania in western NY. NY state has outlawed fracking but encouraged wind. The area below the NY Finger Lakes is awash in wind farms, and its economic situation is a direct complement to that of its Pennsylvania neighbors; it is dirt poor and continuing downhill.

Dec 15, 2015 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

My apologies to Pierre Gosselin for misspelling his last name. His post on NoTricksZone of December 13 has a shocking picture of the formerly beautiful Green Mountains which is a "must see".

Speed, as noted, water in urban and suburban areas in the US are from municipal supplies, but areas where wind farms and facking occur have wells (bore holes), and septic systems for the waste flow. It is worth noting that you are many times more likely to have your drinking water contaminated by your own septic (or underground oil tank for that matter) than you are by nearby fracking. (As we say in the US "been there, done that.")

Dec 15, 2015 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

George Daddis,

I have absolutely no evidence or supporting information for this, but the thought has crossed my mind that NY banned fracking because most of the shale formation is in the central and western part of the state, which (IIRC) is mostly conservative, and Governor Cuomo (and the rest of the corrupt NY state government) don't want a bunch of center-state conservatives with new shale gas money to upset the applecart

Dec 15, 2015 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

@ Stonyground at 3:16 PM

"There was a guy on the BBC this morning who had done some kind of independent report into shale gas in the UK. He was reporting that widespread fracking in the UK would be unlikely to cause a reduction in energy prices. I thought that this was a pretty absurd assertion but what do I know?"

The secondary objective is not necessarily to help reduce the cost of the commodity, but to ensure 'Security of Supply', and ensure stocks are entirely within (England's) control.

Dec 15, 2015 at 5:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Most of the methane mentioned does not come from the shale but is present in most groundwater due to plants decomposing. In Britain the British geological survey are doing tests to get a baseline before drilling starts. That will head off most of what has occurred in Dimock. It's obviously hard to fight claims once drilling has started and no baseline has been set.

Dec 15, 2015 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterForester 126

Phil R
You are absolutely correct. Andrew (and his father Mario) never made a decision without understanding the political implications. Some of it is regional balance of power as you indicated, and some just a careful estimating of where the total votes are coming from statewide in the next election.

By way of example Cuomo has the environmentalists and hard left as his major support. Accordingly he banned fracking and also instituted restrictions on gun use (the SAFE Act).

But the region of western NY just above PA is unique politically. With only anecdodal evidence, my neighbors were mostly proud multi-generational farmers (barely scraping out a living) or idealists from the 60s who truly believed in the green life style and moved to the area to live a life with fewer frills. Both groups are hunters. These two combined to a viewpoint more Libertarian than Conservative (don't even THINK about zoning). Hence side by signs on roadsides: "Repeal SAFE" and "Ban Fracking". Wonderful people all, and with whom you could have great discussions without it getting overly emotional.

BTW, we were able to stop the slow crawl northward of the wind farms by a comprehensive and data based study of their impact and publishing it in the town's Free Speech blog. We also wrote into the town's codes a requirement for a bond to be posted that would allow the site to be brought back to its original condition if the enterprise went bankrupt or the original investors pulled out. We got no takers.

Dec 15, 2015 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

Pennsylvania isn't necessarily a perfect guide for what would happen in the UK. The geology is probably a bit different with target formations are generally thicker and deeper here and there isn't the same patchwork of mineral rights ownership.

I would expect that because of these factors, there would be fewer boreholes and more deflections, more gas from each individual well and potentially more of the gas piped rather than trucked in gas tankers.

Planning here would be more rigorous and would of course hopefully learn from all the lessons learned from the US experience.


Dec 15, 2015 at 6:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

George Daddis,

Thanks for the response. Although I grew up in Virginia, both of my parents were from Pennsylvania and I spent a lot of summer vacations in the north-central PA area (Sayre), and my mother's family owned a small farm in Chemung County, NY when she was young (we still have the mineral rights, so am directly affected by the ban). Beautiful area, cr*ppy politics (at least in NY).

Dec 15, 2015 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

Lots of misinformation:


Tankers are used to transport oil produced in small quantities (larger volumes justify a gathering system of pipelines), but mostly to transport fluids for use in fracking/to dispose as waste once fracking has taken place. Disposal would cause traffic in the UK, as environmental regulations require contaminated water be treated. Supply would be almost entirely by pipeline from the water mains network. The geology is certainly very different in the Bowland shale, with a shallow water table, and a thick layer of impermeable rock over the thick layer of shale, whereas in much of Pa, the shale lies close to the surface. There's a useful series of posts on Pa to be found on the Frackland blog - including discussion of the million private water wells in the state.

Gas pricing:

The UK is already benefiting from the prospect of US shale gas being exported as LNG, which will help set a ceiling on prices that other suppliers can charge. Inside the UK, higher production will back out our most expensive (and insecure) imports, which is certainly not going to push prices higher. Back when we were not importing any LNG, and only relying on North Sea supply (both domestic and from Norway), our prices were significantly lower than those on the Continent, and much lower than today's (scroll down in the central frame to see a chart of prices back before 2000 to date), because the North Sea was exporting to the Continent out of combined UK/Norwegian supply. There is no reason why shale should not be exploited on a scale to back out non North Sea imports again, with consequent impact on prices.

Dec 16, 2015 at 1:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Pity he didn't scrutinize California as well.

Dec 16, 2015 at 4:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

You got me there Russell. Aliso Canyon isn't a fracking site, it's a storage site. You can't be spreading disinformation because you put up the link to the story, so what are you adding to the fracking discussion?

From the article you referenced.

"Yes, that’s right, natural gas is stored underground in old oil fields. It’s common practice in the US, but largely unique to this country."

Quite why you referenced this story I'm at a loss to understand. However it does give us a warning about the dangers of Carbon Capture and Storage, so thanks for that.

Dec 16, 2015 at 7:06 AM | Registered Commentergeronimo

Dec 16, 2015 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert

The mentality of the present legislating generation is to regulate anything that might survive a government impost.
I can remember a time when we went about our business of exploration and mining through voluntary agreements with landowners, mostly farmers. Government was still in there, with a percentage based royalty to reflect that minerals are owned by the people, not by their discoverers.
Nowadays, even our pet cat has to have a licence at the risk of a large fine.

Continuing on with the silliness of central planning and bureaucracy, there was a storm around Kurnell in western Sydney today. Heavy rain and strong wind.
We noted with sadness that the storm had taken the roof off the billion dollar (as yet unused) desalination plant.
God, I like little ironies!

Dec 16, 2015 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Speed, I had to laugh at that, too. Best I could make of it was a new name for City Hall, The Borehole.

Dec 16, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

There is such a lot to be said for shale gas (despite my oft repeated reservations) that it is an absurdity that the government hasn't either sponsored or paid for a test well so that the discussion can move on to the firm ground of formal, definitive proposals for a fracking operation.

Hurrah for PMQs today - Cameron finally and publicly admitting that CCS is a failed idea that doesn't work and will not be further supported by his government. At last.

Dec 16, 2015 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

I note today that HuffPo, Metro et al are trying to suggest that it has been determined that the Aug 17 4.6 ML quake in Oklahoma was caused by fracking, rather than the reality of waste water injection in large volumes. Of course, much the same principles would apply were CO2 to be reinjected in large quantities.

Dec 16, 2015 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

The misinformation about fracking and shale gas exploitation that has been dumped on the UK public since the infamous Blackpool tremor of 2011 is truly astounding.

It all seems to have followed the propaganda film Gasland.

Nobody outside the industry had heard of "fracking" before then despite it being done in the UK for decades, but suddenly they're all experts and in fear of their lives.

the BBC was at it again just now on Radio 2 .

Lots of weasel words like:
"controversial" (if only because BBC keeps saying so);
"linked to" (because we know damned well it's not "caused by")

And let's go straight to ... not an industry expert, but to ignorant anti-fossil fuel activists who repeat assurances of certain destruction without a fact between them.

Dec 16, 2015 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Regarding Speed's comment at 3:46

Many years ago (late 1960s, I think) a professor of communications/writing took a position at The University of Iowa – west of the Mississippi River. After hearing questions from friends on the US East Coast he wrote a long essay informing those folks that the roads were paved, bridges existed, television stations did carry national news, and the local schools did know about Shakespeare. This was titled something like 'Iowa City is the Athens of the Prairies'.

Regarding gas in Pennsylvania (1940 – 1950 period)

I was raised in the western part of PA where gas was used for the furnaces of glass factories. Thus, drilling wells was a mature business. Locally in homes – my great-aunt's property had a gas well that served only her house. Some places had wells that had been abandoned. Water and gas would bubble up and a lighted match thrown out over the pool would produce a mini-poof as the gas ignited. Two of my cousins almost died of Giardia because they would not drink smelly water and so collected "good" water from a spring higher on the hillside. Some houses had dug basements that were not finished with concrete and a few folks now believe Radon came into the houses. We never heard that at the time, so ours was never checked. Many families in certain rural areas collected rain for drinking and washing water as the local water smelled and tasted of petroleum. One (now elderly) lady thinks her back problems and others from her childhood friends result from drinking "pure" water without minerals. Our small town did supply water and gas, so those things were not issues. I'm writing of the 1940s and 50s.

Dec 16, 2015 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

Bloke in Central Illinois @ 4:35
...a private well that is approximately 42" wide by 55' deep.

Ours is just 4 inches across (inside diameter) and about 80 feet deep.

Dec 16, 2015 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

The problem with shale remains the same. There is a lot of profit to be made in the small core areas where the return on both the energy and capital investment will be may times the investment but not in the non-core areas where production cannot be justified. In most locations the core areas are too small to make a big difference but there is no way to justify their development.

Those that have followed the US markets should notice what the Bakken production data is telling us.

For the last available month, October 2015 there are 10,298 active wells producing 108 barrels per day. Compare that to the October 2012 data that showed 4,635 active wells producing 143 barrels per day. If that does not set the alarm bells going you need to pay more attention to the reality. And please note that we don't have an idea how many of the active wells in 2012 are no longer active and don't have data that pulls the average down even further.

The fact is that shale makes sense only in very limited areas. When it comes to shale both sides don't seem to understand the complexity and nuance.

Dec 16, 2015 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterVangel

@golf charlie, Dec 15, 2015 at 2:56 PM

Could the UK designate somewhere (Islington?) as a safe isolation ward or quarantine zone where Green Blobbies could live, totally out of contact or touch, with the rest of the Country? Some might not even notice any difference at all, but the benefits for the rest of the population, would be massive.

You want another safe isolation ward or quarantine zone where Green Blobbies could live in England?

They already have Scotchland and Wales imho Brighton and the Eden Project are more than enough for those who won't move to those socialist lands of milk bitterness and honey buckfast

Dec 16, 2015 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPcar

Pcar, you may be right. Islington is not big enough. The Eden project is an excellent idea however, it would be a useful test of Malthusian theory. Once locked in, unless they could grow enough food, their numbers may start to self regulate. Those of a vegetarian persuasion, may be more palatable to those who adopt a cannibalistic survival instinct.

Dec 16, 2015 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

But Eden project wants to drill wells! And frack them!

Fracking the rock to create a geothermal heat exchanger is not the same as fracking for shale gas. We will not be releasing fossil fuels for burning. Geothermal developments are much deeper and in granite so there is much less chance of surface damage or contamination to the water table. We have no plans to use proppants or associated viscous chemical fluids to keep the circulation open. France encourages geothermal development but has a moratorium on fracking for gas.

Heh, suddenly they've discovered "good" fracking. The verbal gymnastics are impressive.
There is no way they're going to drill 4500m through granite without pumping chemicals though, the lying little greenies.

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Will it affect the water supply?
Water will be needed to set up the system, but the wells are totally encased with steel to a depth of 4km. This means that the water will circulate in a closed loop and will have no impact on local aquifers or present any risk of flooding at the surface. Any water released from the wells during maintenance or normal running will be contained in lagoons and treated.

I.e - the same as with any oil or gas well, you hypocrites.

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

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