WHEN shale gas was discovered silently sleeping under our feet, I couldn’t believe how lucky Yorkshire was and that God’s own county had been gifted the fruits of past millennia which could help us create a strong Northern economy.
The process of extracting shale gas is highly technical but actually nothing new. High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) or ‘fracking’ has been around since the late 1940s.
The difference now is that with ingenious modern technology, drilling and HVHF can be done at much deeper depths and due to horizontal drilling, deposits of gas previously unattainable can now be recovered with less of a footprint.
The horizontal wells are rather like the spokes of a wheel, all emanating from one well head. By utilising this amazingly clever technology fewer well heads and critically, well pads, are required at the surface. Arguments against shale gas are still stuck in the past and don’t recognise the advancement of the technology.
As with any process there can be hazards, but the UK oil and gas industry has been overcoming the challenges of health and safety in some of the most inhospitable environments in the world for many decades.
Our companies are extremely experienced at minimising any hazards while maximising the benefits. No industry is exempt from hazards – even renewable energy has specific environmental challenges including accumulating the materials for solar panels and wind turbines, they too create significant waste disposal risks.
It is wrong to condemn one industry and assume another is totally free of any problems. We need a mix of energy solutions, and all create environmental challenges.
My vision for the future? The benefits and opportunities that the gas industry could bring to North Yorkshire are immense and far reaching.
Firstly, I am a practical person and 100 per cent renewable produced energy in the short term is unrealistic and not viable. We need to face facts – it will not be possible for several decades.
During the gradual transition, we will need to still use gas. Our own sourced gas is preferable to importing from foreign lands not only for the benefit of the environment but to shield us from the vagaries of political unrest and import costs.
Our own gas could provide a good clean energy source for the UK for many decades to come. We spend £500,000 an hour on imported gas. That money would be better spent in our own country, driving our own economy, benefitting our own communities.
As an ex-farmer, I see the gas industry working seamlessly with farming, I live in a working gas field and we were told over two decades ago that the Knapton Generating Station would poison us, poison our farmland and ruin tourism. Nothing negative happened, farming and tourism have flourished.
A diverse range of local businesses could benefit by developing a strong local supply chain ranging from shops, taxi firms, cafes, accommodation to groundwork, engineering and technology companies. Year- round rather than seasonal jobs, training and apprenticeships for local people. Skilled locals benefitting from the opportunity to enjoy well-remunerated jobs. Our communities and families need not end up dispersed because there are no opportunities locally.
Yorkshire can be at the forefront of this exciting development. In time, we can lead the world in technology, innovation and export our skills elsewhere. This is what has occurred to the offshore industry with amazing success, and while the onshore industry is only in its infancy, there is no reason why we cannot dream big, aim high and succeed to the benefit of the UK in general and Yorkshire in particular.
According to an industry study, which was supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there could potentially be up to a £33bn spend in the UK in the next 15 or so years with the need for some 64,500 jobs during peak times, which doesn’t include many indirect jobs.
It takes over 200 different people to drill a well which quite probably supports a further 2000 downstream. With a spend of circa £2.3bn on steel casings and well heads alone, this would certainly be a shot in the arm for our beleaguered steel industry.
Skills will be needed across every part of the spectrum from geophysics, geologists, engineers and scientists at one end to engineering firms, IT firms, crane drivers etc at the other end.
This level of spend would have numerous spin offs across almost all walks of life in the North.
We have to decide what our local economies and communities want, a slow slide downhill economically or a challenging exciting ride into the future built on positive actions full of hope embracing a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The gas industry will be investing millions of pounds into the Yorkshire economy, Yorkshire’s businesses and workforce need to be investing in Yorkshires future. We have the workforce, the tenacity and the ambition, we just need our local politicians to wake up and work for the good of its hardworking, industrious poulation. That’s my vision, is it yours?
Lorraine Allanson is a businesswoman and prominent member of Friends of Ryedale Gas Exploration.