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« UNESCO wants green activists in the classroom | Main | More dark arts from environmental journalists? »

Guardian retreats, Telegraph implodes

Adam Vaughan in the Guardian is looking at fracking and rather surprisingly seems to have shifted away from his earlier position. Who can forget his trying to compare the risks to thalidomide and asbestos. He almost seems to be edging towards a position of plausible deniability:

Ultimately, it may just be too early to say if fracking is bad – and what’s bad for one country might not be for another.

Meanwhile the Telegraph has  stepped back boldly in the opposite direction, with an article from commodities editor Andrew Critchlow that has apparently been penned from a position of almost total ignorance about the whole subject (read it and you'll see what I mean).

So, given the unpopularity of fracking and big oil's scepticism about the prospects of exploiting the UK's onshore resources, why has the Government persisted with another licencing round covering more areas for fracking? Surely the risks are too high?

That said, one can at least be amused by Mr Critchlow's insightful observation that crude oil trains are flammable.

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Reader Comments (31)

I'm afraid Mr.Critchlow is almost totally ignorant on all subjects.

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil D

We need to know if there's some kind of special reaction between fracked fuels and trains, such that they catch fire easier than other fuels. Are the trains setting themselves on fire in protest? Can we get funding to research this?

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Maybe he thinks flammable trains should be made more inflammable.

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

As least if we ship our fracked methane in trains, they wouldn't burn with all that nasty smoke - just explode in one great WOOOMPH!

Aug 19, 2015 at 5:53 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

Andrew Critchlow has been downplaying fossil fuels, all fossil fuels, for quite some time. His back catalogue is here

As a "commodities editor" it is his job to carry out SWOT analysis on commodities. However to me his missives on this subject appear to be based on the emotional mantra that fossil fuels are bad/evil!

There is a typical piece of emotive language in the article linked by our host:-

" .....are generally resistant to the idea of finding a dirty great oil or gas field in their back yards..... ."

I separated Andrew Critchlow and "commodities editor" quite some while back.

Aug 19, 2015 at 5:53 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

What's more, he can't spell - 'licencing'.

The DT pays peanuts so gets monkeys.

Aug 19, 2015 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Shale is generally exploited by smaller operators, so it's no wonder that BP and Total with their huge overheads and massive large field investments aren't more than mildly interested.

This guy writes for the business section? Hasn't he heard of iGas or Cuadrilla?

They are smaller than the average Green group who nevertheless get a free ride from the media characterising the shale companies as "Big Oil".

Aug 19, 2015 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown


Aug 19, 2015 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterjon allen

Does anyone know the nature of commodities that Mr Critchlow does recommend? Speculators might want to know where the stupid money is going, now that the UK Government is starting to realise how much taxpayers' money has been wasted on Guardian approved hot wind.

Aug 19, 2015 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

TinyCO2, there is a connection. Bakken fracked oil is ususually light, a very high API crude.. It contains a higher proportion of volatiles. Unless these are removed prior to shipping, the crude is simple more flamable. An analogy is the difference in flammability between gasoline and diesel. So any train incident (cracked wheel causing derailment is the big fear, not a runaway train) has a higher chance of ending badly.

Aug 19, 2015 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

Andrew Critchlow is probably just trying to wind up Christopher Booker.

Aug 19, 2015 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

The Guardian signalled a long time ago. They simply follow the money.

Aug 19, 2015 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Rud Istvan, thanks for that. It's good to learn something new. Of course since the usual goal of moving crude about is to turn much of it into gasoline, sooner or later it's going to be pretty flammable. Isn't Brent crude a fairly light crude too?

Aug 20, 2015 at 12:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The Telegraph link popup bears a user warning that should preface most of their columns:

"If you believe any information available on this site will carry potential a single result because the read or acquired, it will not. As stipulated by law, we can not promise that it will generate any results using this information. The results and experiences that show here or on any of our sites are NOT typical and obviously vary from person to person depending on their skills, level of effort and particular situation. We expose them as a sign of what might be possible, but should never be taken as a promise to you to have the same results or any results.

Aug 20, 2015 at 1:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Looks like Critchlow has decided to vie with the Lean Green BS machine for DT eco-dope of the year. He'll have a job but he's made a good start!

Aug 20, 2015 at 1:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

@TinyCO2 “... some kind of special reaction between fracked fuels and trains, ...”

Oil does differ because the formation components and processes vary by region and layers. An example:

Aug 20, 2015 at 2:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

Rud, John, the guy has examples closer to home of things going bang:-

Tankering crude, no matter how light can't be more dangerous than tankering round the finished oil products or gas. Using the roads (which is the more likely event in the UK) is also much more dangerous than using trains so he's missed an opportunity for alarmism by dwelling on the US experiences.

Aug 20, 2015 at 7:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Critchlow is not in the same league of ignorance as Lean the DT environmental correspondence. He refuses to correct the most outrageous of his statements when they are proven to be incorrect

Aug 20, 2015 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterspen

Critchlow is woefully misinformed and appears to be simply sensationalising with the reference to oil tanker train fires. in the uk we are generally going for shale gas, rather than oil. Gas production in the uk will go by pipeline and most likely to nearby small scale power generation such as what third energy do with conventional gas. Oil may go by pipeline or by road tanker. Risk is almost certainly lower than shifting all that petrolaround the country to filling stations.

Critchlow also appears utterly ignorant of the uk onshore oil industry. The most famous Dorset oil field, and the largest onshore oil field in Europe, is Wytch Farm. It was sold by BP to Perenco (a privately owned French oil company) in May 2011. Wytch farm has been in production for over 30 years, is in an area of oustanding natural beauty (Purbeck and Brownsea island in poole harbour). there are over 170 wells and around 20% of them are fracked. There has been no environmental impact and up until now no-one has even noticed. unless there is a workover rig in place, you won't even spot the oil field from the purbeck viewpoint unless you are looking for it.

Perenco also now own the single nodding donkey on the clifftop at Kimmeridge bay. it produces about 80 bbls per day. Worth a visit just to see how benign even a nodding donkey on production is. And a shale gas field is even less obtrusive once the fracking has finished. And the oil from Kimmeridge is taken by tanker down narrow country lanes to be processed at wytch farm. oil from wareham field is transported by pipeline to wytch farm.

oil train fires? world ending because of fracking? evil big oil ruthlessly and recklessly exploiting the countryside? Wytch Farm is the reality. Discreet and responsible oil and gas production keeping the lights on and the home fires burning.

All so stupid journalists can write ignorant articles and enviromentalists can drive their cars to protests.

Aug 20, 2015 at 8:55 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Telegraph today:-

Oil still has the power to humble leaders who fail to hedge their bets

" Oil and gas matter. They provide about 50pc of the world’s total energy needs (coal provides about another 30pc). The ten largest oil and gas companies, including Sinopec, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and BP have combined sales of $2.6 trillion....

.... The Scottish National Party did incredibly well at the election in May. They could have another go at holding an independence referendum, but what would happen if they won?

The North Sea is generally an expensive place to extract oil and gas these days and at anywhere near these sorts of prices it is not going to supply the revenue on which the already-tenuous economic case for Scottish Independence was based. A great triumph for Nicola Sturgeon might soon look like a reprise of the ill-fated Darien scheme, which first led a ruined Scotland to seek the security of the United Kingdom.........

Our own leaders have their own problem with low oil prices. The climate change policy implanted by Labour and Conservative ministers, which is based on a mix of carbon pricing and subsidies for expensive renewable energy and green taxes, is going to be even more expensive if it is trying to displace relatively cheap fossil fuels.

Ministers and officials quietly hoped that the high costs of attempting to shift to alternative sources of energy like offshore wind would be covered by rising oil and gas prices. Instead, they might need to adjust to a world where new technology means there is almost a bottomless well and it is even harder for renewable energy to compete.

The UK only produces a tiny share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Our green policies have always been about taking the lead in the decarbonisation of energy to encourage other countries to follow suite. That now looks like hubris.

What should politicians do in the face of such uncertainty? The answer is that we need to hedge our bets.......

...... The oil price can still ruin the grand schemes of the powerful. We are witnessing vivid examples of how important it is to be adaptable in the face of that uncertainty "

Aug 20, 2015 at 9:37 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

There is little doubt that this Critchlow chappy is as ignorant as it is possible to be and still be able to write. As others have pointed out: “…trains carrying shale oil proving vulnerable to catching fire.” More vulnerable than trains carrying oils other than shale oils, I presume?

Even the photo is suspect, being labelled “A Cuadrilla drilling rig in Lancashire” and with a man with a whacking great Saltire on his back!

As to why people may be “generally resistant to the idea of finding a dirty great oil or gas field in their back yards”, one need look no further than the amount of drivel in this article, designed to ensure that people are kept ignorant of any benefits, but are well aware that it “…comes with a fair share of environmental risk”, none of which are given.

As for “no system exists in the UK whereby landowners can benefit from fracking on their property”, how about land rental? While I might not be able to “own” the rights to what is 5 miles below my house, I could rent my back garden to someone who is prepared to drill down and drag it out of the ground. Who knows, I might even be able to let out the spare room to the site foreman.

Luckily, the commenters are not as easily fooled as Critchlow hoped that they would be, and have really hung him out to dry!

Aug 20, 2015 at 9:38 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Further to the details provided by thinking scientist,

The oil travels by pipeline to the Fawley Terminal ( Through the New Forest).

The gas from The Kimmeridge Shale (shale gas ?) used to travel by train from a terminal at Furzebrook (SE of Wareham - the sidings are visible on google earth) until production dropped off and road tankers are now used. The trains stopped about 5 years ago.

My source is the explanatory board by the Nodding Donkey and info from attending disaster planning exercises at Furzebrook gas terminal.

Otherwise a good link is here

It is an old industry in those parts, in 1848, Wanostrocht and Company used Kimmeridge oil shale to light the streets of Wareham with 130 gas lamps.

Most of all, it is all so clean, neat and tidy that few know it exists.

Aug 20, 2015 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterNic L

There's something else Critchlow doesn't know. Close by the fracking sites in the Fylde they have been transporting spent nuclear fuel by train to the Springfields reprocessing site at Salwick. No reported train explosions or groundwater contamination yet.

Aug 20, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Other points worth noting about this part of the Dorset coastline (the "Jurassic Coast") and the oil and gas industry also include:

Kimmeridge Bay is the surface outcrop of the Kimmeridge Shales, the main source rock for the North Sea. This is a world class source rock but is immature at outcrop in the cliffs of the bay. You can get a bit of a whiff of volatiles if you break up a fresh piece. Kimmeridge outcrop also shows very nicely the Milankovitch cycles - the 38,000 year obliquity cycle and the 20,000 year precession. These are of course related to climate change (although ice ages mostly controlled by the 100,000 year cycle). Slightly ironic all the same.

That one nodding donkey at Kimmeridge had, as of 1986, produced about 2.7 million barrels of oil. At 80 bbls/day since then to date it has probably produced close to 3.5 million barrels in total. At about 1.7 MWh equivalent per barrel that's approximately 5,950,000 Mega-watt hours in total. Or the equivalent of a 10 MW installed capacity windfarm (load factor of 35%) running for 190 years!. Or around 18% of the current entire UK annual wind farm output - from just 1 incredibly low production oil well (good wells don't produce 80 bbls/day, they produce 5,000 - 20,000 bbls/day. You could match the entire annual wind farm output of the UK with the annual production of about 12 wells producing at 5,000 bbls/day and assuming 10% downtime. That's just 12 wells, folks! How big is the windfarm footprint?)

At Burning Cliff there is bituminous shale which smouldered for many years from around 1826. Lots of local cottages burned the stuff in the 1800's.

There is oil contamination in Lulworth Cove - but before anyone gets jumpy and the enviro-mentalists start shouting, its a natural seep, heavily bio-degraded. If you go down the slipway and turn right along the beach the brown tarry staining in the rather nice sandstone beds with bedform structures at the edge of the low cliff is natural oil seepage. And yes, oil is a completely natural substance and is, of course, biodegradable!

Aug 20, 2015 at 11:42 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

I'll give the man one point- everyone should benefit if minerals under their own ground are extracted, and if this were implemented it would remove at least some objections from locals.
I am somewhat puzzled by the idea that we should not issue licenses to drill because the wells may be unprofitable- surely the drilling company bears that risk?

Aug 20, 2015 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat

Andrew - normally I agree with you but on this one I think the article is basically correct. All he is saying is that the fracking business in the UK is going to be fundamentally different from the US, mainly for reasons of geography and population distribution. That is atrue statement. My company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on exploration and pilots on China but the biggest problem is dealing with all the people you have to work around. Its not so much the size of the drill pads, but the use of small roads that have to transport heavy machinery in and out. In the US its not a problem. In China it is as it will be in the UK. In the end we pulled the plug in China, partly for reason of portfolio strength but also operational difficulties. People don't want the industry near them unless there is a structured mechanism for them to share the riches. They will block the projects as a way of negotiating such a share.

Aug 20, 2015 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterImranCan

The building of new dams in the USA has seen the price of water fall to levels not seen since 1986 and America will soon be self-sufficient in water.

This makes it all the more perplexing why Britain has issued new licences to extract a commodity so cheap that it is fast approaching unprofitability. Perhaps it would be better to leave the water in the aquifers until it is once more scarce enough to charge a fortune for it.

Aug 20, 2015 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Neal

On Wytch Farm:

Methane (and ethane) separated at the processing plant (main role - separate water from hydrocarbons) is piped to Sopley where it is injected into the national grid pipelines. Separated LPG and C5+ was moved by train, IIRC,even once the pipeline to Hamble was built. The current total production estimate is a little under 500 million barrels over the life of the field, which I equate to the entire lifetime output of every onshore windfarm in the UK currently in existence - all from a handful of inconspicuous wellsites.

Wytch Farm wells include some of the longest laterals ever drilled - dating from the early 1990s - reaching almost 11 km from the Goathorn Peninsula out into the bay opposite Bournemouth and the Needles. There is a lot of local opposition to the proposed Navitus offshore windfarm that would spoil the view from these locations, and from Sandbanks, home to multi-millionaire football managers and others, under whose homes a number of these wells pass directly. I recall BP scratching their heads as to how to drill the prospect, knowing that a permanent platform would be a) expensive, and b) probably unacceptable.

Quite a few pictures and a lot of information is available here (search or scroll down on the very long page):

Aug 20, 2015 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

One way for the Govt to move things along - as they say they want to - would be to invite test drilling on land they control. There must be some airfields, ranges, Army compounds and the like in some of the areas which are prospective for shale. Using such sites would defuse many of the issues:
> No close neighbours to object
> Plenty of security
> Excellent transport links
> Ample local power and (probably) water
I am not sure but it seems likely that the local planning process would not have any authority either. If they can put up hangers and radar towers and even store nukes......

Aug 21, 2015 at 10:08 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

Interesting that Mr Critchlow is being panned by many commenters here. I share the general opinion.

Aug 22, 2015 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

.uʍop ǝpısdn pǝuɹnʇ pןɹoʍ ǝɥʇ sı pɐǝɥ sıɥ uı ʎsɐʇuɐɟ ǝɥʇ

Sep 24, 2015 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

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