As the political debate on fracking intensifies, and whether this process is necessary to safeguard future energy supplies, industry leader Ken Cronin and environmental campaigner Simon Bowens offer conflicting views on how best to keep Yorkshire’s lights burning.
Ken Cronin is chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG).
YORKSHIRE has been powering Britain for two centuries, be it coal from its collieries to the giant electricity generating stations of Drax and Ferrybridge and the Westermost Rough offshore wind farm.
Large parts of the county sit on top of the Bowland Shale Formation, potentially one of the best sources of shale in Europe. Harnessing this energy resource will bring jobs, skills and income to local communities.
The need for shale gas is clear. Four fifths of the UK’s heat, nearly a third of our electricity and a large number of everyday items come from natural gas.
The UK needs an energy mix which includes gas if we are to cut our dependence on coal, the least environmentally friendly energy source, and keep the lights on. But with most of that gas now coming from outside this country, we need once again to start producing our own.
The industry is committed to extracting gas from the Bowland safely, with the minimum of disruption for communities and to continuing the long association of energy production in the region.
We believe that shale gas production is good for a number of reasons.
Firstly, shale gas can put the UK in charge of our own destiny. In addition to the gas needed to heat our homes, keep the lights on and power our businesses, it is nearly impossible to get through a day without using multiple products that contain oil or gas. Shampoo, toothpaste, shaving foam, lipstick and clothing all contain petroleum products and natural gas is also the raw material for plastics. Many industries in Yorkshire use gas not only as an energy source but also as a key component of their manufacturing processes.
Our gas is increasingly being imported from other countries – currently over half comes from overseas and by 2030 that will have risen to 70 per cent. Imports generate very little UK tax revenues and gas producers such as Russia, Algeria or Qatar will sell to the highest bidder. Increasing import dependency puts us at the mercy of not only volatile global energy markets, but both physical and political energy security issues.
With renewable energy not yet ready in volume and cost effectiveness, domestic shale gas can provide a medium term solution that can cut carbon emissions.
Local communities that host drilling sites will also be rewarded through direct injections of funds. A recent Institute of Directors report on shale gas has estimated that the first 100 sites could create 74,000 jobs. Our industry has a record of highly skilled and well paid localisation of jobs. We will support local educational establishments and research organisations for technological advancements in a very wide range of fields.
Wider British industry will also see the benefits. By helping to manage energy costs for core sectors such as manufacturing or chemicals, shale gas can help safeguard British jobs from moving abroad. In petrochemicals alone, feedstocks created from shale gas can replace dwindling UK supplies and could protect up to 100,000 jobs. In agriculture, natural gas is a key component in the manufacture of fertilisers.
People have talked about the risk of earthquakes, water pollution and industrialisation of the landscape, but it is important to keep these concerns in perspective. Firstly, naturally-occurring earthquakes are recorded daily across Britain. Last March alone, 16 tremors were recorded across the UK of greater intensity than those picked up near Cuadrilla’s exploration site in Blackpool in 2011. Recorded seismic incidents related to fracking are extremely rare.
Fracking does of course use some water but the quantity required to frack a shale well is broadly the same amount used to irrigate a golf course each month and there are over 7,500 of those across the UK.
Pollution concerns are also exaggerated. The fluid used in fracking is typically 99.51 per cent water and sand, with the rest are chemicals approved by the Environment Agency. The physical footprint of an onshore well is small. In fact, most people are surprised to hear there are already some 250 operating safely across Britain producing the equivalent of 20,000 barrels of oil a day, many in some of the most environmentally-sensitive areas of the UK, including in National Parks.
The next phase of drilling will build on this success and will provide huge benefits to the UK. Yorkshire can be at the heart of the development of shale gas, a critical energy source for the UK at a time when we most need it.
Simon Bowens is Friends of the Earth’s regional campaigner for Yorkshire and the Humber.
TWELVE months ago, few people in the UK knew much about fracking or shale gas. But now the technology has drilled its way into the public consciousness, thanks both to protests in Balcombe and Lancashire, and to the Government’s gung-ho support. Earlier this month David Cameron announced that he was going “all out for shale” and the Government sees it as the answer to all our energy problems. But does the evidence stack up?
With the cost of energy soaring, paying our energy bills is a real concern for many people. Home energy bills rose by 44 per cent in real terms between 2002 and 2011 and the Prime Minister has claimed that fracking in the UK will cut bills. Unfortunately, the experts say it won’t – and these experts include his own Energy Secretary Ed Davey and even the chairman of fracking company Cuadrilla, Lord Browne.
The main cause of energy bill increases has been the rocketing cost of gas which was responsible for two-thirds of the rise between 2004 and 2010. More than one in 10 families in Yorkshire are living in fuel poverty but the Chancellor, George Osborne, has delayed the rollout of measures to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. This would have protected people against the worst of future gas prices rises. Even former Tory energy minister Charles Hendry recognises that ‘betting the farm on shale gas brings a serious risk of future price rises’.
So Cameron’s far-fetched optimism on fracking’s ability to cut energy bills is misplaced, and now he’s started to call opponents of the technology ‘irrational’. This overlooks the many valid concerns that people have about the local impacts of fracking when an application to frack is made in their neighbourhood. A recent opinion poll found that only 14 per cent of people would be happy to have a shale gas well within 10 miles of their home.
The Government and the fracking industry claim that tough regulation will ensure that fracking is safe, but it doesn’t ring true and many experts don’t agree. The United Nations Environment Programme has said that “fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [shale gas] is extracted properly”. There’s plenty of evidence of problems in the US where the industry has boomed in the last decade and these problems have led to France and Germany banning fracking. But across Yorkshire, communities are becoming increasingly under threat as French companies such as GDF Suez and Total are now investing in the UK shale gas industry.
Some of Yorkshire’s fracking hotspots, like Pickering, Beverley and Bawtry, sit above the groundwater aquifers that provide drinking water. Communities are naturally concerned about water contamination and that living close to fracking wells will affect their quality of life. Some local councils like Kirklees and Sheffield have demanded that they need more information about the risks from fracking. They, too, are worried about potential groundwater and surface water contamination as well as waste treatment facilities and pressure on water supply. There will also be added pressure on the transport network, with so many vehicle movements and the potential impact on air quality.
The Government and industry publicly play down the visual impacts of fracking. But the mask occasionally slips, which leads to comments like those of Lord Howell, George Osborne’s father-in-law, who said that fracking should start in the desolate North East rather than in the Home Counties.
It’s not as if we don’t have an alternative. The UK is blessed with enormous potential for renewable energy from the wind, sun and waves. Exploiting that potential, alongside cutting the energy waste that is costing households hundreds of pounds a year, could provide three-quarters of the electricity we need by 2030.
But experts think that going all out for shale could harm investment in renewable technology. And that means that, by being so enthusiastic about a shale gas bonanza, the Prime Minister is putting in jeopardy the very real opportunities for highly skilled jobs in Yorkshire’s growing energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors.
Yorkshire can be at the heart of the next energy revolution. But fracking is a blast from the past that will keep us hooked on the very fuels that are sending our bills rocketing. For the sake of the climate and Yorkshire’s environment, we must make sure it’s a 21st century revolution based on clean energy.