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Should we frac in theNorth York Moors?

Graham Marshall - Tuesday, April 01, 2014

You've probably never heard of Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation.

But I expect that you have heard of "frakking" or "frac"?

That's because those folks with a "not for shale" bias have worked out that the word "frakking" sounds nasty and evil.

And they know they're on to a good thing in convincing British people not to develop our Nation's unconventional natural gas resources.

A Question of Paradigms

Now then, when you've got an anti-shale World-view ("paradigm") that resources are finite, and soon to run-out; if that paradigm is confronted by conflicting evidence, you can only do two things.

1   You can alter your World-view to the new reality; or

2   You can try - somehow - to make the new reality fit your World-view.

So after 50+ years of telling us the Malthusian tail that "peak-energy" has passed; and we'll soon run-out of hydrocarbons; those folks with an anti-shale agenda are confronted by the new reality that we've got more natural gas available than ever before.

"How can this be" those folks might ask?

Frakking and Directional Drilling

It is because the two smart techniques of Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation (HFS) - "frakking" - and Directional Drilling have allowed for a game-changing transformation of energy recovery.

We can now exploit clean natural gas locked in shale and coal-seams below Britain; and in such vast quantities that even ten-years ago were considered unattainable.

My own paradigm - I'll admit freely - is that smart and clever people, using their brain power are the "Ultimate Resource" in solving all problems.

Think how Alan Turing and the other brilliant British cryptanalyst's broke into Hitler's Enigma codes - seemingly impossible - but achieved by clever people using brain-power!

And I believe that clever people will always discover new and better ways to solve environmental "limits to growth" using human ingenuity.

HFS and Directional Drilling show exactly how the ultimate resource of human ingenuity has, and will continue to succeed in finding and developing new sources of cleaner energy for a brighter future.

That's what I call sustainable development.

Imposing Artificial Limits to Growth

But those folks with an anti-shale agenda have another answer to this new dilemma of boundless unconventional gas.

Because of their depressing paradigm of a World with finite resources, their answer is to call for a moratorium on "frakking"; and to blanket ban the exploitation of new sources of British natural gas.

Only by banning the exploitation of new sources of energy can those folks with an anti-shale agenda selfishly ensure that gas does, in fact, become "finite"; and force reality to match their paradigm.

Using that extreme psychological sleight of hand; they can then force upon us all the reality of dwindling resources to match their depressing view of the World.

The problem, of course, is that the unconventional gas that lies below the surface of Britain is not "finite" in any meaningful way; but if the push to ban its exploitation succeeds, then energy supply will indeed "run-out" over time.

And then we'll all really be stuffed!

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One

Listed below are my own reasons for supporting Britain's drive to exploit our unconventional natural gas resources using HFS and directional drilling.

1.  In order to remain a Sovereign Nation; with the economic, political and social capability to determine our own destiny; it is vital that Britain develops unconventional sources of gas; these will free our Country from the enormous risk posed by a reliance on energy supply from the Russian's.

2.  Unconventional energy sources - shale gas and coal-seam gas (CSG), and to a lesser degree oil - are readily available for exploitation below the British mainland in vast quantities.

3.  Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation (HFS) is not a new technique.  It is a long-established technology with a history of use in the UK, America and Australia going back at least 50-years.

4.  The environmental and worker-safety hazards posed by HFS are well-known and easily managed using current technology and existing hydrocarbon management planning techniques.  And technology will continue to improve in the future; bringing ever safer operations.

5.  When compared to the huge economic and social benefits created by the jobs and investment from unconventional gas, the tiny environmental and worker safety risk posed by HFS is negligible. 

6.  The specific risk to surface-waters and ground-water aquifers - as highlighted by opponents of HFS - is, in fact, negligible.  The risk is also easily managed using current Well drilling, frakking and Well-completions techniques.

7.  Modern directional drilling, when combined with HFS means that Wellhead locations at the surface can be located several miles from the underground fracture zone; meaning the necessary surface infrastructure for each Well can avoid ecologically important lands or urban areas.

8.  The chemicals that are used in the HFS process would typically be found under the kitchen sink or in the bathroom of nearly every home in Britain, and in all hardware stores and most hospitals; meaning they're not dangerous when used properly.

9.  The sand that is used during HFS operations as a "proppant" is either regular silica sand (similar to the sand you'd find at the beach at Whitby) but selected for its purity, specific grain-size, and absolute roundness; or it is a manufactured inert clay ceramic made for ideal size and roundness.

10. When compared to existing coal-powered electricity stations, the use of shale gas and CSG create the opportunity for clean-burning, low-emission electricity generation.

11. The surface "land take" for a typical shale gas or CSG Well is very small; and Wells in production are unobtrusive and not particularly noisy.

12. Contrary to what opponents of unconventional shale gas would say, not a single property in the UK or elsewhere on Planet Earth has ever been damaged by an "Earthquake" resulting from the use of HFS.

13. Again, contrary to the "Not for Shale" Agenda, the jobs and prosperity that the exploitation of new sources of unconventional gas bring to any area means that overall community wealth increases; and local home owners will likely see good increases in property values.

14. All things being equal, the price paid for electricity resulting from "gas to power" projects should become cheaper following our exploitation of unconventional sources of natural gas.

15. Finally, I'd suggest that the wealth generated from the future  exploitation of unconventional gas makes our country more - not less - able to protect our wonderful natural environment and National Parks.

What Should We do?

My own feeling is that local communities around Britain that are smart about unconventional natural gas have an historic chance to band together for real local benefit.

Communities should come out in favour of unconventional gas projects; but demand a better deal for "royalty" payments from the gas-field operators and the Government.

In America, where land-holders own the mineral rights to their properties, the energy businesses have turned thousands of owners and farmers into multi-millionaires through royalty payments.

In Britain, communities and parishes should band together to maximize the payouts coming to the local community with a pro-frakking stand.

Money from royalty payments to local communities could be used for a wide range of community-development initiatives; job creation for young people, libraries, walking and cycling routes, history interpretation, environmental protection schemes - all sorts of projects could be funded from royalty payments from frakked-gas.

It is in everyone's interests for Britain to develop our unconventional natural gas resources using frakking technology.

The downside environmental risk is negligible and easy to manage; and the upside social, economic and political benefits - sustainable development - stand to be enourmous.

Or we can all just sit-by and let the Russian's supply our energy-needs.

As the Ukrainian people have just discovered, we'll need good luck with that one...

Happy April the 1st.


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