BBC2 Newsnight on shale

I complain the mainstream press don’t take me seriously so I shouldn’t gripe when out of the blue I get invited on BBC2 Newsnight, to have a discussion on Blackpool shale gas. For those outside the UK, some cultural awareness on the eminence of interviewer Jeremy Paxman would come in handy to understand the context. The discussion went fine actuallly, but the story itself! It was awful, especially in light of the recent positive news flow on shale worldwide. A very poor story.  

But despite anyone who has read this site laughing, the story was watched by a key audience of the UK movers and shakers. And right from the start that’s what they wanted to talk about. No one mentioned the quakes of course in any kind of context of their size or comparison to damaging quakes.

Two minutes in the show, not rating expertise such as Daniel Yergin’sor the head of the IEA or that American guy Barack somebody, they introduced Mike Hill, an (unpaid) adviser to Fylde Borough Council.  Mr Hill’s objection was not to fracking but to regulation,  saying he couldn’t trust the HSE to inspect the wells because they were poorly staffed. Does that sound like call the whole thing off to you?  As I pointed out, we can afford lots of HSE staff, along with teachers, nurses and doctors with all the tax revenue we could generate.

The second objection was even more tenuous. He thought the well casings would be cracked by the seismic activity. One word answer to that: California.This from the New York State Environmental Impact study section on seismicity, page 6-326:

Wells are designed to withstand deformation from seismic activity. The steel casings used in modern wells are flexible and are designed to deform to prevent rupture. The casings can withstand distortions much larger than those caused by earthquakes, except for those very close to an earthquake epicenter. The magnitude 6.8 earthquake event in 1983 that occurred in Coalinga, California, damaged only 14 of the 1,725 nearby active oilfield wells, and the energy released by this event was thousands of times greater than the microseismic events resulting from hydraulic fracturing. Earthquake-damaged wells can often be re-completed. 

Induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing is of such small magnitude that it is not expected to have any effect on wellbore integrity. 

Another old chestnut the show dragged up was the British Geological Survey estimate of 150 BCM from shale or 18 months. That figures comes from the pre-modern shale era and is being  updated this year. From last year the BBC could have found this 

The U.K. could have more shale gas the previously thought, Stephenson said. The British Geological Survey is reviewing its estimates for U.K. onshore shale gas resources. The survey originally estimated that there is about 150 billion cubic meters of shale gas onshore, compared with about 300 billion cubic meters of conventional gas resources.

“There is much more shale than we thought under Blackpool,” the British Geological Survey’s Stephenson said at the briefing,

Finally what is it with UK shale objections and people that own trailer parks?  First the Vale Says No Louise Evans,  and now someone who wants to protect the spring that feeds her caravan park. They could be filled up with frack crews from Texas 24/7/365 which has got to beat the current demographic. Words fail me on that, as did the final music signalling a despoiling of England’s green and pleasant land. That explains my shell shocked look when introduced by Jeremy P:  I couldn’t believe this show was so poor.

An interesting aside on the public acceptance issue. Readers here know all about the Gasland flaming faucet scene and how it’s been debunked. But Jeremy Paxman had evidently never seen it before, he was visibly surprised and impressed by the scene when we were watching it in the studio. That shows how we mustn’t assume that the public is informed, especially after watching that clip.  
If the clip was the first thing a mass audience saw about fracking the industry would have real troubles. Glad to have injected a little reality into the discussion,  just sorry we weren’t given more time. Ill try and put up link to the show here, since iPlayer isn’t available outside of the UK.

30 thoughts on “BBC2 Newsnight on shale”

  1. I actually thought Caroline Lucas was warming to shale gas a bit!! Her only real anti argument related to CO2 and 2050 targets and there are very good counters to that.

    I was asked by a journalist today “In your opinion, what are the advantages of shale gas over other energy sources?”

    My answer was that there are 3 energy sources that shale gas competes with:

    1. [B]Natural gas from Qatar[/B]. This is LNG and hence has a high well to wheel CO2 outcome due to high energy used to make LNG in a hot country. Because shale gas is in UK and is generally very pure methane (say 97%), much less processing required. We estimate the “Well to Wheel” CO2 of shale gas will be 25% LOWER than Qatar LNG
    2. [B]Oil from Saudi Arabia for transportation fuel for trucks[/B] – if we run our trucks on dual fuel CNG-diesel we save importing oil and gives around 25% reduction in CO2
    3. [B]Coal for power generation[/B] – lower gas prices from shale means we can LEAVE coal in the ground. This is best CCS

    [B]In addition, we must develop wind generation which is intermittent.[/B] When it is not windy we have to use natural gas in CCGT – this should be made in UK if possible to save money and allow us to invest in reducing gas demand etc

  2. I found Caroline Lucas’s honesty on TV refreshing .

    This especially constrasted with the patronising , transparent , politicing Lord Myners couldn’t stop himself from indulging in during the same program when they got to discussing the 50p income tax rate .

    Mike Hill came accross as a genuine chap . I thought his concern was more to do with the effects on the cement jobs than the integrity of the steel casing . As Nicks example of wells in earthquake zones illustrates it’s not a new problem but a valid concern nonetheless .

    As I understand it shale gas typically have a higher proportion of radioactive radon than gas which has migrated to a reservoir rock . Since the half life of radon is only 3.8 days , if it is stored for 3 weeks longer than reservoir rock gas before it is introduced to the grid the difference is eliminated .

    Imported shale hydrocarbons would not have that issue by the time they reach the UK .

    Would storage of domestic shale gas for three weeks before it gets into the grid be viable John ?

    Given the high cost of energy in Europe and the quality of the shales in the UK , extraction should be viable and profitable even if everything is done to the absolute gold-seal standard ; green completions and even temporary storage of gas while the radon decays if that proves neccessary .

    Is the lack of inspections that Mike Hill pointed out just the authorities giving Cuadrilla room at this experimental stage on a new shale or is it symptomatic of a lack of activity behind the scenes when it comes to shale ?

    We hardly see the UK Govt driving shale forward and a minister stating publicly “we are going to do this , we are going to overcome all the challenges necessary to do this safely” like they have in Poland .

  3. Surprised you bothered with the posh marxists at the BBC.

    The last time the BBC did anything worthwhile was producing Dad’s Army and Only Fools and Horses.

    Today, as a public interset broadcaster, it is a joke!

  4. Lucas just used her airtime to plug renewables and the Green Party.

    We are constantly told fracking will be tightly regulated to avoid any US-style free-for-all scenarios and it appears this is not the case. A missed opportunity to have a debate over whether fracking is being regulated by the regulators or sel-regulated Cuadrilla, rather than the ‘shale gas or renewables’ nonsense debate we got.

  5. Re the Radon point, if it was a key issue then the shale gas could be stored in salt for a couple of weeks…Halite’s proposed salt cavity storage near Fleetwood sits above the Bowland shale…..I don’t know anything about Radon, I recall some radioactive condensate at Bacton, can’t remember which gas field it was.

  6. I find a little bit of scepticism is a healthy thing especially with an issue as important as environmental protection. It is however even more important that facts and figures are evaluated in many aspects so that a correct decision can be made. All industries have some form of risks and drawbacks, even with shale which seems to have a lots of positive benefits, and so it is up to the industries/engineer/regulators to step up to the plate and demonstrate yes we can do it (extracting shale resource and its huge benefits to the general public) and we can do it safely.

    It is how civilization can advance but it is not civilized however when technology is banned out fears and myths that are not based on truth (Gasland comes to mind) and the balance of risk/benefits analysis. Without action to face our fears of risk and to eliminate the risks that causes our fears is not a part the civilization.

  7. Hello Nick, I would have loved to debated the issues with you but I am afraid I have never heard of you before and they did not inform me of your details. I am afraid you are factually incorrect and clearly misinformed. The film was good and fair. The deabte was p0or. You clearly know very little about regulation or care. The Green Party lady knows a lot about the environmental side etc but again little about regulation. Poor debate – good film.

    See cracking cement – Pensylivannia Issues. Also Tony Grayling – The Times article. Without a CBL or a USIT post tremor then you do not know the state of the cement. Do you know anything about borehole technology? You appeared not to on the program. Do you know anything about regulation? -Clearly not from your performance. Also see EPA documented reports on methane gas migration. Shame you do not read all the information before forming a viewpoint.

    You seemed to have missed the point completely on the tremors and damage to cement. Please try and understand as I explained it in the film. It’s not the casings that I am concerned with – it is the cement. Mike Hill.
    Mike Hill

  8. Yes – I agree 100%. I did try and get in the studio debate but as I was on the film I was told that was not the
    way. I have 100s of FOI responses from the HSE and EA. The regualtion is very much self-regualtion. The only visit by the HSE was to look at the paperwork and health of the workers. Nothing at all on well integrity.

  9. Hi – Thanks for your comments. You are vright – it is the cement around the casing I am
    concerned with not the casing itself. ovalisation did ocurr below 8000 feet due to the tremors
    but nothing above that. However, we have no idea of the condition of the cement. I have been
    trying to get the HSE to request cement bond logs (I used to run these when i was in the industry)
    but they refuse. I think problem is complacency on top of budget cuts. I have propose dnew regualtions for onshore activity and Cuadrilla have backed these. Shame the deabte did not have myself and Cuadrilla on
    or a minister. I feel we could have made some progress. the film was good though and I hope
    sparked a debate off in the wider public arena.

  10. Sorry – meant to add I am unpaid at my own request. I want to remain indpendant and entirely above any accusations that I am being paid by one side or another. So I refused any payment and offered my services ( Iam a consulting Chartered Engineer) for free. I live in the Fracking Zone and having ben involved in hydraulic fractruing myself, i do have an idea of the risks that are associated with it if it is not regulated. My independant study over the last 12 months into regualtion of hydraulic fracturing on shore in thr UK has revealed that there is little to no regulation at all. This has to change. Mark Miller recognises this and has stated so, Tim Yeo M.P. recognise this and has stated so and I recognise it and have stated so. We just need the goverment and the HSE to recognise this and we will be in a much better position.

    By the way as for tax revenues, without ring fencing you are just spouting hot air. I have proposed a levy on the industry (with the backing of the industry) to pay for regualtion. By this I mean similar to that which is now being impleneted in the USA. 10/15 visits to the well as it is being drilled in first 3 months. Cement inspections, CBLs, FITs, annular pressures, verification of quantity of flowback etc. Simple but crucial to safe extraction.

  11. “since iPlayer isn’t available outside of the UK.”

    Actually a limited subscription-based service is available in W. Europe, although only some programs are available.

    For example, here in Germany Dr Who and Top Gear make the cut, but Newsnight doesn’t.

  12. What really surprises me on the fracking issue is that no one has so far publicly lobbied for the use of gas gel instead of millions of gallons of water — a process used to frack shale in parts of Canada. It may be a little more expensive but the benefits are many: no dams with polluted water to be cleaned; no risk of such dams leaking into the water table; and 94% or more of the gel turns to gas and can be recycled and used again.; no huge numbers of water trucks trundling across the land, and so on.

  13. Mike, I’m no engineer, but if the casing isn’t an issue, what could possibly leak into the cement and from there into any aquifers or trailer park springs? Or is cement itself now the enemy?
    The wasn’t a debate, it was a five minute discussion, but it was long enough to show that the Green Party is against natural gas in principle. Which is a shame because I can sign up to most of the rest of the manifesto far sooner than friends of shale like Nigel Lawson. I have to ask Caroline and how does modern life continue in a no carbon world?
    However, would any discussion on obscure points that you have uncovered during FOI requests from the EA have contributed anything more?
    The fact remains: there is a massive body of engineering, physical and political study from hundreds of locations studying tens of thousands of wells world-wide. So I find it unlikely that one engineer (can you clarify that a bit more?) have discovered something they missed.
    It just seems this is nit picking, hair splitting inconsequential cow manure. There is no such thing as a choice between energy and the environment here: Every company in Europe wants full regulation mandating full disclosure across the board. You may possibly be a Galileo of the North West, discovering a shale show stopper billions of dollars has somehow missed, but then again, probably not.

    I would suggest that instead of acting locally, you should more properly address your concern about regulation to the International Energy Agency who are currently undertaking a review on shale gas standards. Similarly, I can put you in contact with those writing a full EU study coming out next month.

  14. The point Mike is making is nothing to do with fracking, it is whether you can safely drill through an aquifer to an oil/gas field without the gas leaking into the aquifier by passing through the cement if there is an earthquake ( a proper one not a man made little one)

    This must be something that there is 40 years of data on, surely?

  15. I really hope fracking doesn’t go the way of GM in the public consciousness. It’s still early days for the technology, and if its going to improve to meet its potential we need projects to get up and running. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be tight regulation though.

  16. Gas Guru, I see Nick raising fair points, not bullying. It’s you doing the bullying.

    Has it crossed your mind that Nick might be happy to work with Cuadrilla because he believes in shale energy anyway?

  17. Those raising detailed issues are usually (not always) against shale extraction in principle.

    The economic benefits seem to me undeniable. So the basic question should be: how can we make this work, drawing on the lessons from *recent* experience in the US using *current* technology?

    I always want to know someone’s starting point. If they dive straight into detailed technicalities, I always wonder about their stance on this basic issue.

  18. It seems that the only way to overcome the visceral objections so many people have to fracking is to establish a credible regulatory structure. It also seems from Mike’s FOI responses that Government is incapable of doing this unaided. Would it therefore be possible for interested, informed people including Mike on behalf of the local authority and Cuadrilla’s representatives to get together and establish a viable regulatory process and then hand it on a plate to government? From Cuadrilla’s point of view, this must be the most effective way of ensuring that their opportunity does not fizzle out, and from the point of view of the local authority it would give them the chance to maximise the financial benefits to their community while gaining reassurance over safety issues. For the rest of us, we would know that nonsense of the Gasland variety on the one hand, or empty assurances that it will be all right on the night on the other, can quickly be dismissed from the discussion. It is also likely to be done faster and cheaper if run by people with something to gain than if it is parked in a government department.
    Then the BBC can do whatever it likes and it won’t matter one bit.

  19. Nick, Trailer parks and the like are not the issue but at the same time I feel we need to respect all points of view that are sincerely held. Also my issues are not ‘green’ as such though again I respect their point of view and legitimate agenda. My issues are with safe extraction of gas. I worked in the industry and I am an engineer. I have been there on the rig floor and I know the pressure that are on drilling companies to perform at all costs. Good cement is vital to esnuring no methane migration. Poor cement can result in disaster – see the Deep Water Horizon Event for more information. I think that not even your goodself could describe that event as an ‘obscure’ point. If you are calling little to no regualtion an “obscure point” then I am afraid you are more misgudied han I thought. The EA cannot issue a Permit to dispose of any of the produced water at the moment that Cuadrilla have stored at their well in Preese Hall (or indeed from any other wells once they get the go ahead to frac once more). I think Cuadrialla would refer to this as a little more than an ‘obscure point’. You are not undersatnding the facts Nick. Some of them get rather technical I am afarid but that’s the nature fo the industry.

  20. 1. Sincerely held is fine and the lady in the caravan park is entitled to her opinion: But what is happening is that either she, or someone else is choosing her facts. The possibility of any contamination of her spring is simply not borne out by science facts. Someone is just trying to scare her, and they are the type of people far too rich to be in a caravan park be it in Blackpool or Bali.
    2. The point isn”t whether your concerns are legitimate are not it’s they s have been addressed in exhaustive detail by several scientific studies worldwide. Meaning no disrespect, what can you contribute to the the debate that has not been addressed by the UK Parliament or the IEA or MIT? I recommend the New York State study available in my library section, which is absolutely exhaustive about all possible impacts. What you are doing in Fylde is simply going over ground other scientists have covered multiple times in multiple locations worldwide. It is simple hair splitting and nit picking, to serve what end? I’m not saying it’s wrong, merely pointless given how your questions have been answered elsewhere.

    At this point, since you are unfamiliar with me let me repeat yet again my views on this:

    Global warming: Scientifically proven, but open to misinterpretation by those who are prone to conspiracy theories, selectively choose contradictory data, and have completely unconnected political agendas.

    Shale gas: Scientifically proven, but open to misinterpretation by those who are prone to conspiracy theories, selectively choose contradictory data, and have completely unconnected political agendas.

    BTW, I’m not putting you in the latter category, simply pointing out my views. I’m no cc denier and on politics apart from shale, I’m far more in agreement with the Guardian and Caroline Lucas than I am with Lawson et al.

    Finally, I would have liked to point out that the Newsnight piece lacked context or perspective.

    Shale gas is a true energy transformation for the environment and economy of the entire planet. In the UK, we are looking, conservatively speaking , at taking £6billion pounds a year off the balance of payments and taxing that at home at a rate of 62%. We are looking at creating knock on effects of thousands of jobs in drilling, construction, chemicals, steel etc. etc. We can take £400 a year per family off energy bills and wipe out fuel poverty.

    I think that the risk of us NOT accessing shale are far more dangerous than the risks associated with it. The risks are not to be easily dismissed, but they can be mitigated as experience shows every day in North America.

  21. I think I could say the same to you regarding contribution to the debate. Mine is at least based on investigation of the industry here in the UK and I might add evaluted by myself as an engineer. Not sure where you live Nick and I am no nimby but I do think we need to be careful with our facts. There is no eveidence fuel bills will actually be reduced in the UK. For a pweriod in the 90s we were the 5th largest export of crude in the world but also had amonst the highest fuel prices. It is just classic propaganda that is trying to attract the ‘voters’ but with no basis in fact. The US has always had historically low enery costs to our own and is not an example that we can use to point to a reduction in our prices. I think Nick we had better call it a day there for now.

  22. Have to disagree, we don’t need any storage in the slightest. If we did, people would be building it, but we have big storage already, it’s called the North Sea. Similarly, when we have shale, it will be called Blackpool, or East Midlands or Scotland or South Wales. Taking gas out of one hole in the ground and putting it in the other simply doesn’t make sense.

  23. Just to clarify – it is not storage of the gas I am concerned with myself. That is a separate issue. It is storage of the flow back water. That has been found to have between 10 and 90 times the max permissible limit set by the EA for radioactivity. The isoptope is Radium 226 and it has a half lfe of approx 1,600 years). This water is now subject to a permit by the EA. No such permit has been issued. This is a legal requirement since 1st Oct, 2011.

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