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« Misson possible? | Main | A not-so-cunning plan »

A haszelnut in every bite

As I think I've mentioned before, I now  assume that most gongs are handed out to people, not for public service, but for "going the extra mile" in the furtherance of a cause dear to ministers' hearts. I was reminded of this when I read James Verdon's devastating take down of an article by our old friend Stuart Haszeldine OBE, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.

I first came across the good professor when I appeared at a Spectator debate on windfarms, and he spent a section of his talk bad-mouthing The Hockey Stick Illusion, before admitting that he hadn't actually read it. I'm therefore always on the lookout for his latest utterances. Earlier this week, he and colleagues from his group at Edinburgh wrote an article for the Energy and Carbon blog about waste water disposal in the oil and gas industry, with a particular focus shale gas fields. Unconventional oil and gas is not obviously where their expertise lies, and so one might have expected a few errors to have crept in to their text, but as James Verdon points out in his response, the level of incorrectness is...a bit of a worry.

For example, they misrepresent the situation in Oklahoma, where there has been a rash of earth tremors. Haszeldine and friends say that this was due to injection of produced water from shale wells. As readers here know, it is actually water from conventional oil wells that is involved.

They also say that waste water injection has led to environmental contamination caused by leaks. This is backed up with a citation of a Desmog article (snigger) that only makes claims about "fears" of such contamination. And as James Verdon points out, this is again mostly water from conventional fields and, moreover, the regulators involved have given the wells a clean bill of health. 

Haszeldine et al go on to grossly misrepresent the position of the Environment Agency, suggesting that it is going to allow wastewater injection on a massive scale, when in fact it has only left it open as an approach that might be used in exceptional circumstances.

But the real sting is in the tail of the piece, where Verdon points out that all of the problems that Haszeldine et al claim will afflict waste-water disposal apply to carbon capture and storage, only more so:

[In CCS] the injected fluid is in chemical dis-equilibrium with the in situ geological formation – indeed CO2 will dissolve into formation waters to create a mildly corrosive acid, which is not a problem for flowback or produced water re-injection; the CO2 will likely be stored in saline aquifers that have not been depleted, leading to the same issues with pressure increases and potential seismicity described by ODGH...only the volumes of CO2 to be stored far exceed the volumes of flowback typically re-injected, which will exacerbate the risk of larger seismic events. I would appreciate it if the authors could outline in more detail how it is that they can be fully supportive of CCS development, and yet believe these same issues pose a major issue with respect to the re-injection of other waste fluids.  
I'd like to know too.



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Reader Comments (59)

Made up mendacious bilge from this guy? - surely not.

Alluding to nuts kind of heads towards letting him off the hook on mental health grounds when in actual fact the evidence points to him being a a toxic confection of deliberately dishonet and stupid. Professor? - ca. £70k pa for spouting lies on the public payroll - your taxes at work

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:36 AM | Registered Commentertomo

How can they differ so wildly? I hope they show up to debate and clarify their views.

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Can I mention a typo?

No, not what you're thinking!

Paragraph just before the quote at the end.

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Jones

Having heard Haszledine rant on a Radio 4 programme following the Government's November 25th 2015 long-overdue announcement that the "£1 billion ring-fenced capital budget for the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Competition is no longer available", I can without doubt say that I wouldn't believe anything the man says on any topic.

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:42 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Another excellent post by James Verdon, he really does know his stuff and writes very clearly.

I was particularly taken with his line:

"While their analogy with a clay-covered balloon is an interesting metaphor..."

Haven't seen this from the activists, but it seems that they are not aware of the concept of overburden pressure ie the mass of all the rocks above creating a confining pressure. If they are trying to imply that injection into a reservoir several kilometres below surface is like blowing up a balloon, they really are talking bollocks and need a course on basic rock mechanics and stress.

Verdon also makes the very important point about injecting CO2. In nature, seal of possible reservoirs can be naturally breached by gas migration into the reservoir: if the column of gas is too great it can create a pressure that will exceed the seal capacity causing rupture. Entirely natural, happens all over the world, leads to gas seeps ("eternal flame" anyone) and can be seen as a so-called "gas chimney" on seismic surveys. But a lot less likely with injected fluids, more likely to have problems injecting CO2 for CCS methinks. Ah, but that doesn't count does it, because its "saving the planet"!

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:46 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

I would also be interested to see a full commercial disclosure by Mr Haszeldine.

Is he involved in, or have any financial interest in any CCS enterprise?

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

As I have often told my friends when discussing these things, the end-product of CCS is 'fracking', by any other name. [Goose/Gander?]

Also, the major - but extremely slight - risk in fracking seems to be restricted to ground water pollution, which may have a minor effect on the local population; but the major risk of CCS is that the CO2 escapes and causes something like a Lake Nyos tragedy. Gippy tummy or mass suffocation??

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Yet another rascal who found an attractive niche thanks to the Great Scare. Lewandowsky springs to mind. And Mann.

I fear the list is long one. What does it say about our society? In particular, the vulnerability of our institutions, not least our universities? Not very robust. Not at all sustainable. But hopefully quite resilient. Surely we can do better, someday. But I suppose that time will not be soon because the ambient levels of such performers are just too high, and their residence time may be measured in decades if not generations. Anyone care to estimate it in ppm? Or plot what one imagines would have to be an associated hockey-stick of a trend?

PS Some pioneering analysis relevant to this can be seen in the chart plotted here:

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:23 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Solar powered Carbon Capture and Storage device with Zero Maintenance and installation cost Zero Enviromental impact

Called a tree

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

This suggests that modern Academics set out to collect piles of dung, just like happened in the past, yet unlike the past don't even bother to search for the truth, just maximise income and status. No DSC for this ignorant dork, methinks.

[Disclosure - I worked on two major international CCS projects so was a pioneer of this never-to-proceed technology.]

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Fossilize Unworkable Carbon Capture Technology

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

CCS is only valuable and worth anything to society if one believes that paying to achieve carbon dioxide "targets" will change the weather to something "better". That being said, transfer of funds from "society" to the people implementing CCS projects is of value to those implementing those project, regardless of any impact on weather.

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterrms

Solar powered Carbon Capture and Storage device with Zero Maintenance and installation cost Zero Enviromental impact

Called a tree

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Yup. Also doesn't need cleaning. Exponentially self-propagating. Highly adaptable. Proved sustainable over hundreds of millions of years: Over three trillion working trees currently estimated to be functioning as intended. Provides economically useful materials without subsidies over vast areas of the world. Looks nice. Smells nice (few exceptions). Also beloved by environmentalists, at least before they were frightened by carbon dioxide. Useful as a sun-shade.
The list goes on.

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@Geccko conflicts of interest ?
Google showed me no obvious directorships (Scotland differentregs maybe ?) ..and anyway it's OK for profs to be involved in non-subsidised businesses
but when you are "the world’s first Professor of carbon capture and storage, based at the University of Edinburgh." you kind of want to keep the game going.
- I would guess there is a bigger bias coming from having to keep your dept from failing rather than an already well off man getting a few extra quid.

..and a photo show his SCCS staff celebrating this month on getting a "20% share of a £2.57 million funding pot to carry out targeted research that will support the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the UK."
(That'll be half a million quid)

BTW There is a UK CCS biz called 2CO Energy ..but I see it's listed as in "voluntary liquidation" since Dec 2015

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:59 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

michael hart & jamspid

Seafarers have known for a long time that sitting under a tree is the best cure for seasickness.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

stewgreen, Edinburgh based academic Professors are not solving Scotland's energy problems by making it more complicated and expensive. Restricting Scotland's power is easy for academics, when they have financial support, from influential people.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Unable to sleep last night/morning.
listened to BBC world service steam wireless station
A programme called Hard talk was on. Some activist called Shaker? Shuker? Shagger? was trying to do a hatchet job on Francis Egan the mild mannered and patient CEO of Cuadrilla.

If this interrogator was a BBC employee, he is obviously a blood relative of Woger Harribin.

I could not have been as patient as Mr Egan, and I must say he acquitted himself with dignity and logic. IMHO Frank Egan won on points, or maybe a TKO.
If anyone has 30 minutes to spare it can be found at:

bbc worldservise-hardtalk

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterpatrick healy

This is backed up with a citation of a Desmog article (snigger)

That is grounds to immediately remove any kind of award!

Only idiots or those who are completely corrupt cite Desmug.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:31 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

He was one of my lecturers at Strathclyde. I wasn't buying it then and I still don't buy it.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

"their expertise lies": ooh, you are a naughty boy, My Lord Bishop.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Yes, trees. Back in the day there actually were calls by people such as Pachauri for a programme of reforestation. This has largely been abandoned in the greenie rush to deprive us of heat and light.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterCB

Ouch! But then what discipline does one study to hold a chair in 'Carbon Capture and Storage'?

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Re: Gongs

Sir Ed Davey

Enough said.

Jan 27, 2016 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

"....Stuart Haszeldine has been presented with the OBE by the Queen at a ceremony held at Holyrood Palace. Professor Haszeldine, who received the award for services to climate change technologies..."*

Nothing but gongs, prizes and promotions for alarmists. Nothing but widespread derision for skeptics. Where's the incentive to bother yourself with arguments from 'the other side'?


Jan 27, 2016 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

@Patrick Healy : direct link to the BBC video of the grilling of Francis Egan the head of fracking company Cuadrilla

I see @BBCHARDtalk retweeted the highlights

"We need natural gas" - Francis Egan of @CuadrillaUK tells us it will be decades before the UK stops using the fuel
"I intend to see this through-we need to drill & see if this can work" Cuadrilla CEO talks Fracking on @BBCHARDtalk

"Do we really want to rely on potentially unstable countries for our energy?" Francis Egan on Fracking @BBCHARDtalk

Does the UK need a "shale gas revolution" like the US? We speak to the man who wants to bring Fracking to the UK

It would be "irresponsible" not to explore UK shale gas, Francis Egan of Cuadrilla has told @BBCHARDtalk #fracking

.. On Twitter there was not the usual massive whining of the DramaGreens..suggesting he made no errors they could pick on (A few just tried straight misrepresentation)

Jan 27, 2016 at 1:19 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"professor of carbon capture and storage"

A what?

Seriously, to paraphrase Warhol "in the future, there will be a professor for EVERYTHING."

Jan 27, 2016 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

Caligula Jones, carbon capture and storage is about putting coal in bags. A professor wears a tie, and gets somebody else to do the dirty work.

Jan 27, 2016 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

In my days at RAL, there were professors with degrees coming out of every orifice, & it amused me to wacht many of them walk around in mid-winter wearing open-toed sandles & no socks! Many of these scientists were incredibly clever, but possessed little or no common sense! They were always concerend about their departmental "budgets", it would seem little has changed!

Jan 27, 2016 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

I've left a comment with a link to

Any guesses whether it will get out of moderation.

Jan 27, 2016 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

Another post on that blog is interesting:

So the National Gas Grid is being sold off. What happens if the Russians buy it? Only the UK is stupid enough to sell off such a vital asset to foreign investors.

Jan 27, 2016 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

" I would appreciate it if the authors could outline in more detail how it is that they can be fully supportive of CCS development, and yet believe these same issues pose a major issue with respect to the re-injection of other waste fluids."

Quite easily explained. The former (CCS development) possesses almost infinite opportunity for them to make money by 'working' on a project that will never work, whereas the latter (fracking et al) only provides employment for people who can get things done in the real world.

Jan 27, 2016 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJim

Edinburgh is in danger of getting itself a reputation as a hotbed of conceited weirdos.
One, as Goldfinger had it, could be accidental. Two could be a coincidence. Three would definitely start to look suspicious!

Jan 27, 2016 at 4:41 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Re: stewgreen

..and a photo show his SCCS staff celebrating this month on getting a "20% share of a £2.57 million funding pot to carry out targeted research that will support the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the UK."

I must have missed the previous research that showed that carbon capture and storage was commercially viable.

Jan 27, 2016 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

TerryS, putting coal in bags is commercially viable for people who do not wish to get their car dirty. This is best demonstrated by the sale of barbecue charcoal from petrol stations, in bags weighing no more than about 10kg. Why anyone thinks a Professor is required to work this out is beyond me, though someone has to design the Logo advertising the contents as having come from 'sustainable' trees.

Jan 27, 2016 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

'Professor of carbon capture and storage'

You cannot be serious. Oh - you are.

OBE? You, never mind.

Jan 27, 2016 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldbrew

Has anyone addressed the Lake Nyos scenario? Or does the good professor not care if a well-blowout kills a million people in Edinburgh or Aberdeen?

If an oil well can blow out, as has happened on many occasions, a CO2 well can do exactly the same. And spread a deadly miasma cloud across the North Sea, that will drift onshore asphixiating everything in its path. I pointed this out on the Roger Harabin facebook site, but of course he did not care. He is BBC, after all - the cause is worth more than a few million lives....


Jan 27, 2016 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterralph Ellis

"Seafarers have known for a long time that sitting under a tree is the best cure for seasickness." --golf charlie

That would explain Capt. Morton's palm tree at last. (Mister Roberts).

Jan 27, 2016 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Re: golf charlie

> putting coal in bags is commercially viable for people who do not wish to get their car dirty. This is best demonstrated by the sale of barbecue charcoal from petrol stations,

It is quite likely that the companies packaging and selling the charcoal have performed research on the viability of this before packaging and selling it. For example they will have researched the best weight for the bags - too light and they wont contain enough charcoal to be useful - too heavy and it will deter customers from picking them up. They will also have research indicating quantities of different bag weights to produce.

Very few businesses (if they want to remain in business) will have a good idea and jump straight into it without some research into its commercial viability. Yet with CCS we have research money being given out to research its commercial deployment when its not known if its commercially viable*

* I seem to remember a power station (Drax?) testing CCS and determining it wasn't commercially viable, even with hefty subsidies, but I can't be bothered to hunt it down.

Jan 27, 2016 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Mike Jackson, if Edinburgh wanted to model itself on another University for international fame, East Anglia may not prove to have been the best choice. They could have chosen George Mason of course.

Jan 27, 2016 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

TerryS, if local authorities renamed their rubbish bin emptying service as 'Carbon Capture and Storage', couldn't some EU Green targets be met? It would be very sustainable to fill EU rubbish targets, with proper British rubbish.

Jan 27, 2016 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Re: Golf charlie

Only if they don’t recycle

CO2 + sunlight -> Trees -> Paper -> bury in land fill = carbon capture.

Jan 27, 2016 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

The authors are clueless to explain except in the context of their ideological fanaticism.

Jan 27, 2016 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

jorgekafkazar, Mister Roberts, - I had forgotten that film, but do now remember seeing it on TV about 20 years ago. I do recall the Palm Tree and how it had emotional attachment and plot significance!

Some crews/skippers do have seating beneath a picture of a tree, or some other jokey reference. If the seat is roughly central in a boat, the sense of rolling is reduced, and there can be more than just a placebo benefit to sitting 'under a tree', even at sea.

Jan 27, 2016 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Intrinsically, I see little or no inherent problem with injecting either, provided it is managed by competent reservoir engineers into a geologically well-defined structure. But I do detect perhaps a suspiciously weak familiarity by both authors with the subsurface domain compared with the oil industry professionals.

Basically, all rocks in the subsurface have matrix porosity, ranging from 0% in extremely indurated to 35+% in unconsolidated sandstone. There is also natural fracture and vuggy porosity (typically limestones) or hydraulically stimulated fracture porosity ( generally undertaken in in oil/gas bearing but hard low porosity sandstones, basement volcaniclastics or shales, in all of which the matrix porosity is too low to flow economically, or at all.

All these rocks are water-saturated, and their formation pressure increases remorselessly with depth at a gradient defined by the density of the formation water in the pores and fractures. Shallow freshwater aquifers are only found on land generally above sea level. These are supplied by fresh rainwater (called meteoric) cycling out in river drainage. Below this thin zone all formation water (called connate water) is essentially in near static equilibrium and saline, giving a water gradient of about 0.45psi/foot starting at atmospheric pressure at around sea level. Rarely, some formations may be overpressured above the normal hydrostatic gradient.

A conventional structural trap allows oil and gas to accumulate in its crest until it fills to its spill-point because oil is lighter than water and gas even lighter than oil. In the oil and/or gas legs of the trap, the formation pressure declines with height above the oil/water or gas/water contact more slowly and thus exceeds the normal hydrostatic gradient of the caprock seal progressively according to the height of the oil/gas legs and density of the oil and/or gas.

During the primary production phase, virgin formation pressure in the field progressively depletes unless there is an active underlying aquifer drive. In oil fields, pressure support is normally necessary through water injection but in gas fields, primary recovery is maintained longer by the natural property of gas expansion. Depleted fields offer the opportunity of significantly underpressured sites for potential injection into a well delineated structure of proven trap integrity.

Water and oil are essentially incompressible but gas is until it liquefies. Injection must of course be undertaken with full understanding the structure volumes and hydrodynamics involved.

Jan 28, 2016 at 12:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Pharos (and TS?) - I was struck by the nature of both their CVs which seem to show academic rather than industrial career paths. Whilst acknowledging Verdon is still at a relatively early stage in his career, do you really think academic geologists are so out of touch with their industry colleagues?

Jan 28, 2016 at 1:46 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

@Clovis Marcus: I see only 3 comments,on JV's original Frackland post ..none yours
One of the comments tells me that post was submitted to
so now JV's
sits alongside
Haszeldine's (1 comments and that's from JV)

BTW I see James Verdon is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol
, but isn't that Uni and city the centre of the Climate Lew-niverse (where Alice in wonderland views of climate are chanted as true) ... I am surprised the Climate Lew-nies haven't already forced him out.

Jan 28, 2016 at 3:20 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

We shouldn't just be anti-CCS, cos it would be the golden chalice if you got it to work. If it can the market will find a way.
OTH , I can imagine that wind/solar bods would write comments against CCS as it would obliterate their industries.

Getting awards for achieving nothing ? Isn't that the way it works these days ? The awards often come from being "on the right side" and optimism for the future .. hence Obama's peace-prize, IPCC's peace prize etc.

Jan 28, 2016 at 3:50 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

CB at 12:36 wrote: "Back in the day there actually were calls by people such as Pachauri for a programme of reforestation. This has largely been abandoned … "

I believe the call for massive planting of trees went away when (a) the 'greening' aspects of CO2 began to be noticed, and (b) a few studies found that trees, being green and brown, change the albedo, because darker colors absorb energy more so than lighter or white colors. This is especially so in winter in the mid-latitudes where the schemes were contemplated. On a cold day, if you place one hand on the sunny side of a tree trunk while the other hand is on the shaded side the difference is easily noted. If snow is on the ground it can melt next to the trunk.
I did not keep a reference. I recall reading such things before Pachy was around. I assume when the greens and Pachy promoted the idea of planting trees they were unaware of the literature, were informed thereof, and quietly dropped the tree planting thing.

Jan 28, 2016 at 4:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

He was always a bit "anti-establishment" back in the day. But now he's got a gong.

Jan 28, 2016 at 7:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Mike Jackson
Edinburgh is in danger of getting itself a reputation as a hotbed of conceited weirdos.

Surely the wee pretendy parliament more than qualifies for this.

Jan 28, 2016 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Constable

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