John Dewar: Shattering the myths over risk from ‘fracking’

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THIRD Energy has been producing gas and electricity in North Yorkshire for more than two decades, working with local businesses, employing local people. Over that time we have drilled more than 20 wells, all on sites less than the size of two football pitches, next to farms, homes, even tourist attractions, and have an excellent safety and environmental record. For the most part people hardly notice us.

In recent months we have been consulting about plans to extend our existing operations – principally at Kirby Misperton and Ebberston Moor.

The Kirby Misperton project will involve hydraulic fracturing on an existing site. We will minimise any disruption and maintain our safety and environmental standards. We can reassure local residents that much of what they have heard, or may hear, about “fracking” is either wrong or generalist and won’t apply in Ryedale.

This has not stopped a groundswell of opposition from anti-fracking activists – some from the Ryedale area, many not.

There are at least two officially anti-fracking candidates standing for Parliament in Thirsk and Malton in next month’s election. Last weekend there was an anti-fracking march in Malton, where you could see banners from Lancashire and East Yorkshire prominently.

Yet, despite attempts by those who oppose exploring for natural gas to make “fracking” a major election issue, the electorate seems quite ambivalent.

Indeed recent polling by ComRes for Greenpeace found that 42 per cent of British people support fracking for natural gas, whilst just 35 per cent oppose it. I can’t imagine this was the result Greenpeace either expected or wanted. The UK is recognised as having one of the strongest regulatory regimes for natural gas production in the world – any application has to be reviewed by four different regulatory bodies and comply with 17 EU directives.

Our own “fracking” plans involve sending fluids that are 99 per cent water and sand down pipes less than five inches in diameter to release so called “tight” gas reserves.

This takes place many thousands of feet below the water tables, so there is no threat to water supplies. The chemicals we use have to be approved by the Environment Agency and are the same as you’d find in food products or toiletries at the local supermarket or in your home.

Many of the issues to do with “fracking” come from other countries – and experts such as Public Health England (PHE) have warned about incorrectly and inappropriately applying these experiences to the UK.

PHE has also undertaken an extensive review of scientific papers and concluded that risks are manageable if properly controlled. Many of the objectors fail to differentiate between identifying a hazard and the likelihood of it happening – lightning is a hazard but the risk of being struck is miniscule.

Third Energy has conducted 13 baseline studies at Kirby Misperton to provide a good starting point to measure changes during and after any operations. Any waste will be stored in covered tanks and transported to an Environment Agency approved facility for safe disposal. At Kirby Misperton we will use less than 4,000 cubic metres of water – the equivalent of two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Hydraulic fracturing is not new. The technique has been used over a million times worldwide, yet there are no recorded instances of it causing contamination and only three recorded instances of any induced seismic activity.

We carry out 3D seismic monitoring before any drilling to identify any small fault lines that can then be avoided.

During hydraulic fracturing, a compulsory monitoring system will pause or stop operations if seismic events above 0.5 on the Richter scale are identified.

This is significantly less vibration than a bus going past your house. The hydraulic fracturing we propose will only last for a few hours and the entire operation will only last for a couple of months.

People ask why we want to drill for gas – wouldn’t it be better for the environment if we left all fossil fuels in the ground?

Natural gas should be seen as part of a cleaner energy mix with less coal, more renewables and a big effort to improve energy efficiency. However, with 84 per cent of homes in the UK using gas for heating or cooking, gas being a key feedstock for our chemicals industry and global concerns about the supply of gas from countries like Russia, it makes sense to look towards the resources under our feet.

At the moment we need to confirm how much gas is under Ryedale and how well it will flow.

But, as we attempt to find out, we will keep local residents in the loop every step of the way.

We will do everything we can to be good neighbours and to avoid “fracking” becoming an issue for the residents of one 
of the most beautiful areas of the UK.

John Dewar is operations director of Third Energy.