Why anglers should give a fruck about fracking!

With rivers drying up through over abstraction where is the water going to come from for fracking?
With rivers drying up through over abstraction where is the water going to come from for fracking?

With all the TV coverage of anti fracking protests in Sussex it is no wonder that there has been an increase in the amount of enquiries to the Angling Trust expressing concerns at possible damage to water resources and fisheries. This may be a relatively new issue for us in the UK but across the pond our sister organisations in America have been ‘working like dogs’ on fracking since 2008 – to quote my colleague Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited.

Quite clearly the Angling Trust needed to wade in on this issue and although personally I was instinctively hostile we needed to do our homework before sounding off in public. Incidentally, I defy anyone who has seen the film Gasland http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1558250/ ,with those horrific images of people living above the gas rich Marcellus Shale region having flames shooting out of their kitchen taps, not to be similarly alarmed by this technique of extracting shale gas through the hydraulic fracturing of the rocks deep below the water table.

There’s no shortage of information out there on fracking but very quickly it became clear that there was a distinct lack of effective control and regulation on both sides on the Atlantic. In the UK the primary regulator is the Health and Safety Executive not the Environment Agency and in the US the gas drilling industry had been made exempt from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act; as well as the sediment and erosion control provisions of the Clean Water Act. No federal laws currently require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, making it difficult to know what toxins are being injected into the ground or released when spills do occur.

How Anglers and Conservationists in America are warning of the fracking threat. (Picture credit SFRED)
How Anglers and Conservationists in America are warning of the fracking threat.
(Picture c/o Sportsmen For Responsible Energy Development)

Lessons from America

Keen to learn more about how angling and wildlife groups in the US have been responding to the very obvious threats posed by fracking, particularly in respect of water abstraction and possible pollution, I asked Chris Hunt for some leads and here’s what he said:

Martin…

We’re working like dogs on fracking in the U.S., particularly as it relates to your exact worries—water consumption and water contamination. 

Our mission, of course, is to mobilize anglers on conservation issues, and fracking is a big one for us, both in the Rockies, where the practice has, indeed, been blamed for tarnishing groundwater quality, and in the East, where the Marcellus formation in under Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia is attracting the gas industry like flies to flop. 

Our worries persist, however, largely because of the water needed for this method, and for the potential—one spill… one mishap… one ghastly screw-up, and an entire watershed could literally be ruined. 

Now Trout Unlimited are a pretty impressive organisation but they couldn’t take on the might of the energy companies alone and are working in partnership with a whole range of wildlife, hunting and conservation groups in a coalition which is working to minimise the risks that fracking poses to the environment. Hunting and fishing is not just a pastime in America, it is also big business and more than $8.4 billion in revenue is generated each year in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia—the three largest Marcellus Shale states—from fishing, hunting and wildlife-related recreation. Across the region there are an estimated 13 million sportsmen and women whose interests are at stake. There is also now a ‘Sportsman’s Bill of Rights’ drafted in response to concerns over fracking which is gathering considerable support. See the following websites for more information on the situation in the US

http://www.sportsmenalliance.org/

http://sfred.org/

http://sfred.org/sign-the-sportsmens-bill-of-rights

http://www.sportsmenalliance.org/PDFs/Sportsmen_Alliance_Marcellus_Fact_Sheet.pdf

Interestingly, the US angling organisations and their partners have not opposed fracking completely and have recognizes that there are potential economic and social benefits. The lack of proper regulation and control is their priority:

 We are concerned that the current state and local policies governing gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale do not adequately protect valuable and irreplaceable natural resources, including clean water and critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

A powerful coalition against fracking
The Sportsmen’s Alliance for Marcellus Conservation – A powerful coalition against fracking

Fit for purpose?

So having taking a good look at experiences elsewhere how should the angling community here in the UK be responding to the fracking threat posed by  George Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’ ?

Fracking uses large amounts of water, which we don’t have in the right places, and it clearly presents a risk of contamination. In many parts of the UK  our rivers are already either over-abstracted or are failing to meet good ecological standards. We are also extremely concerned over the lack of robust regulation governing fracking and the need for the Environment Agency to become the lead regulator rather than the Health Safety Executive as at present. The EA has the expertise in this area while the HSE clearly does not.

The Angling Trust has just published a position paper on fracking which can be found in full on our website. The keys points are:

  • Water Abstraction

 Fracking requires large amounts of water to pump into the ground with a mixture of sand and chemicals in order to frack the rocks to release gas. Estimates from Trout Unlimited in America place this anywhere between 300,000 to 3.6 million gallons per well. The Angling Trust seeks assurances from government that fracking will not be permitted unless sustainable supplies of water are developed, such as new reservoirs, to avoid taking water from already-depleted rivers and ground waters.

  • Water Pollution

Fracking has the potential to pollute both ground and surface waters either by the integrity of the well being breached, inappropriate treatment, disposal of the returning fluid or leaks of the fluid when transported away from site. Such operations should be licensed in accordance with the European Waste Directive and the Environment Agency’s permitting process for discharge to ground water.

  • Regulation

The Environment Agency should now be the lead regulator instead of the Health & Safety Executive and the industry must be made aware that it will have to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (which requires that there should be no deterioration of any water bodies) and the Ground Water Directive & Mining Waste Directive. Each site must be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment with the government amending the Town & Country Planning Act accordingly.

Our conclusions are broadly similar to those of our friends in the US in that there may be a case for fracking but not until the risks are minimised and proper environmental controls are firmly in place. Here’s our conclusion:

Fracking may be able to contribute to the UK’s energy needs at some point in the future but the Angling Trust, along with other organisations such as RSPB and WWF, contends that until the current environmental regulatory regime is made fit for purpose and that the questions over water supply are resolved then fracking should not be allowed to proceed.

We will be telling the government that we are gravely concerned about any further pressure on already threatened water resources at a time when many rivers run dry in the summer. We believe there is also a real risk of pollution of surface and ground water that will need much tougher regulation. The Angling Trust will be making sure anglers’ voices are heard on this important issue and Fish Legal solicitors are ready to fight for compensation for any of its member clubs and fisheries that might be affected.

As well as urging anglers to join the Angling Trust so we can have a greater influence on the issues that affect our sport we are keen to hear what people think. Go to www.anglingtrust.net to find out more.

Do you give a fruck about fracking ?

5 thoughts on “Why anglers should give a fruck about fracking!

  1. Martin ,

    Many rural households in the U.S. get their water off grid and have drilled their water bores into shallow coal measures or rocks which have biogenic methane and have been able to light their taps decades and centuries before gas drillers arrived .

    The native Indians even named places “Burning Springs” .

    Take a look on youtube and you can see the director of Gasland Josh Fox being confronted with the fact that people in the area could light there taps beforehand and his reply is “it’s irrelevent” .

    I was initially instinctively hostile too but after thoroughly looking into the issues decided it is ethically sound and useful and have added onshore unconventional hydrocarbon companies to my SIPP .

    Over their life , oil wells typically produce at least 4 barrels of water for every barrel of oil and it is usually saline , sometimes more so than seawater sometimes less . The between 250 and 300 currently producing onshore wells are mostly in decline and the water cut is frequently higher than this . Treatment and disposal of produced water is not a new thing and we are already dealing with significant volumes .

    Throughtout Sussex , Hampshire and Surrey one of the big factors in deciding whether a well which is technically producable is commercially viable is the practicalities of treating the produced formation water .

    Peter Styles , now of Keale University , says a student of his in 1988 attended the first hydraulic fracture stimulation of an onshore well in the UK and since then around 200 others have been frac’d . Due to the nature of shale the stimulated reservoir volumes have to be much larger so the volume of fluids and number of verticals drilled has to be higher .

    The frac fluid has to be pumped down faster and under greater pressure which puts casings under as much as 150 atmospheres of pressure so there must not be any “voids” in the cement behind the outer casing which could lead to casing failure and the casing should be top quality – preferably made in the UK though we don’t have a tube mill to do it now .

    Where the vertical goes through shallow freshwater aquifers there will be 3 layers of casing ; the outer , the intermediate and the production .

    A lateral of 10,000 feet may have 20 “stages” ie a 500 foot length of the casing wlll be perforated and frac’d at a time . Between each fracture treatment the temperature of the casing equalise with formation and then cooler frac fluid will be pumped down causing a thermal contraction-expansion cycle which puts the cement bond between the outer casing and formation under strain .

    My assessment is :-
    – Sufficent number of groundwater monitoring wells to be drilled beforehand to establish baselines and facilitate ongoing monitoring . This is being done .

    – Use only water based benthonite type muds until well below freshwater aquifers .

    – Only switch to synthetic or oil based muds when need to start directional drilling of the horizontal lateral(s) .

    – IF the produced gas has higher levels than expected of radon (radioactive decay half -life 3.8 days) then it needs to be stored for 2-3 weeks before being allowed into the grid . Don’t want people who work in kitchens or have open gas fires in their living room to receive a signiicant dose .

    – Integrity of the vertical (casing quality , casing joints , cementing free of voids and bond between cement and outer casing so it is properly supported and cannot burst under 150 atmospheres of pressure) is paramount .
    This is an area the UK can exel in with developments such as elastomers to make the cement have some “give” and maybe even come up with something groundbreaking like a totally mechanical packer based solution .

    – Components such as clay in the formations being drilled through can expand due to the water in the drilling mud then shrink back after a casing has been cemented putting the outer-casing to formation cement bond under strain .

    – The chemicals pumped down the well are a non-issue as they are completely under control and covered by REACH . Full disclosure is a cert . Of more of an issue is treatment and disposal of what is already down there which will flow to the surface .

    – Shale is brittle so it’s not possible to store up enough energy in it to cause an earthquake but it is possible to pressure lubricate a fault to release existing tensions as happened in Lancashire . BGS recommendations and traffic light system look good

    – Surface footprint is a non-issue thanks to horizontal drilling and multi-well pads .

    – The sheer number of verticals which would be required is a bigger issue than hydraulic fracturing ; more chances of poor cementing jobs .

    – If the fracture network from a well which is being stimulated connects with an old abandonned well which was never properly plugged then it can cause a geyser . This is an issue in the US due to poor documentation of map locations but a non issue here .
    – The costs of disposal of flowed back frac fluid water make treatment and reuse attractive . The water used doesn’t have to be potable , drill engineers report that utilities companys supply grey water . Seawater and saline water from deep aquifers have been used elsewhere .

    – The quantity of water which would be required for industrial scale frac’ing is comparable with other industrial processes and on a national scale insignificant but as you point out on a regional scale significant and as anglers we see evidence of over abstraction .

    – The potential for and consequences of water polution would be more serious in the Wealdon basin of Surrey , Hampshire and Sussex than other prospective areas like Lancashire , Cheshire , Long Eaton , Gainsborough , Humber Basin . This is not just nimby’s or tories not wanting it in their own back yard . This is due to much of the drinking water of Southern England coming from the chalk .

    – Liquids do not migrate up the outside of debonded casings but gases could and as the pressure in the hydrocarbon reservoir depletes , some liquids will reach their boiling point and change to the gaseous state . Some would turn back into a liquid as the temperature closer to the surface will be lower .
    – Lloyd’s of London provide liability insurance to competent unconventional hydrocarbon operators , drillers and services companies . Perhaps the only part of the financial services sector I have any respect left for .

    – From a water polution standpoint I think we should be more worried than we are about the huge quantities of what people put down their sinks and toilets every day and what farmers spread and spray on their land . A lot of it is non-biodegradable and we end up ingesting it .

    – I love my fishing , my beer and my tea and wouldn’t support anything which I thought would ruin it .

    There does not appear to have been instances of aquifer contamination in the US but the secrecy , which may partly be a consequence of their litigous society , makes this very difficult to verify .

    The U.S. is the land of mass-production and collateral damage and European operators are well aware that shale will be different in Europe and the UK .

    The last thing any UK/European operator/investor/the Govt wants is for an incompetent operator to ruin it for everyone else so I’m convinced it will be properly regulated . You’ve hit the nail on the head about overlap of responsibilities between different agencies .

    Although the US the industry has changed massively in the last 5 years , laterals are twice as long , well pads are further apart , recovery factors are higher , safety is better they still have not addressed their public perception .

    Let’s not overlook the huge positive contribution made by the US Govt in priming the pump for instance by funding the devlopment in near real time micro-seismic which has shown that the fractures themselves are not opened beyond their intended reach .

    The shale code was broken by independent operators , not oil and gas majors .
    I’m hoping that as well as importing their technology we can import the best aspects of US culture which enabled the shale gas revolution to happen in the US .

    Other than White Van Man I don’t think we have that entrepreneurialism over here .

    Don’t think there is any mileage in trying to prevent shale , only in ensuring it will be done properly and I am sure it will .

    Sorry for the long reply Martin , hope to bump into you on the Kennet one of these days . What is the best Roach you have had out of there ?

  2. Apart from his being quite knowledgeable, I can’t tell if Striebs is well meaning but naive or one of George Osbourne’s cronies. The poorly controlled effort at Balcombe, the lack of personnel at HSE and now a threatened reduction of staff at EA makes more of the ‘snouts in the trough’ behavior is inevitable with fracking. I hope anglers are united in opposition, while at the same time reviewing their own use of heating and light.

    1. Mike Hamblett ,

      Why do you hope anglers are united in oppostion to producing domestic oil and gas onshore ?

      Like it or not we are going to require fuel based energy solutions for the foreseable future .

      If we don’t produce some of our own onshore oil and gas we can kiss goodbye to a chemical industry or much any industry with uncompetitive energy costs .

      I’ve told you that I hold shares in onshore oil and gas companies in my pension . Does that make me one of George Osbornes cronies ?

      As for Balcombe , Cuadrilla is not the be all and end all of UK shale or onshore .

      We do however have Cuadrilla to thank for single handedly harpooning the UK’s unworkable ideologicallybased energy policy and forcing a rethink before disaster was innevitable and unavoidable .

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