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back to article Frack me! UK shale gas bonanza 'bigger than North Sea oil'

The government has given the go-ahead for further exploration of the UK's shale gas reserves. Independent surveys suggest these reserves may yield more energy for the nation than North Sea oil. The shale gas will be collected using induced hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking", which splits rocks thousands of feet below …

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Combi-boilers r' Us

I'm from Blackpool and keep hearing about tight regulation. Sorry, there's so much untreated shit on my beach that the council are about to erect signs warning the 13 million visitors annually that the beach is a threat to their health! Regulation UK? Fail!

There will be no checks and balances. Once this show gets on the road it'll be a gold rush feeding frenzy of c*&^% from the neanderthal fossil fuel burning tribes descending on the county.

And another thing, much of the North Sea Oil was stolen from Scotland by the way.

I'm wondering if evolution actually exists anymore. Or did it stop a while back?

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Re: Combi-boilers r' Us

... neanderthal fossil fuel burning tribes descending on the county.

Do you even know where your energy comes from? Unless you are some eco-hippy loon, what you said is utterly ignorant.

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Re: Combi-boilers r' Us@gbru2606

I'm wondering if evolution actually exists anymore.

Not in Blackpool, to judge by that contribution.

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Coat

Just heard the embargo on fracking has been lifted.

Just wondering about the status of all other euphemisms now...

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Re: Just heard the embargo on fracking has been lifted.

I hear the crew of Battlestar Galactica are celebrating.

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Hippies?

People worried about earthquakes and contaminated drinking water are hippies? Interesting.

Seems that Mr Orlowski has bought into the Daily Mail school of thought here - focus on a few environmentalist groups, rather than those people living where this is happening...

Things such as the water supply for the fracking are being brushed over - we already have a limited water supply, yet fracking requires a significant amount of water, which becomes contaminated. The chemicals in the fracking fluid are unknown, but samples that have been taken at problem sites in the past had massive numbers of chemicals which were significantly detrimental to health.

So, the issues aren't all environmental - they're direct problems that can affect the population of Lancashire. It isn't like in the USA or Canada where the vast areas are mostly devoid of population, we have cities nearby!

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Hippies?

"People worried about earthquakes and contaminated drinking water are hippies? Interesting."

Not quite.

"People worried about earthquakes and contaminated drinking water are largely irrational and poorly informed."

Fixed it for you.

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WTF?

Re: Hippies?

"People worried about earthquakes are largely irrational and poorly informed." - correct

"People worried about contaminated drinking water are largely irrational and poorly informed." sophistry at best, because the water argument isn't just about contamination. Even if there can be an ironclad guarantee* that the contaminated water used in the process will stay underground and not contaminate the water table, fracking uses vast quantities of water. That will put fracking in competition with irrigation, drinking and other industrial uses for a limited water resource.

As I recall from an earlier article, it might have been yourself promoting reverse osmosis to increase water availability, but without that, fresh water is too scarce and precious to be filling it with chemicals and pumping it underground.

*there cannot

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Re: Hippies?

@localzuk.

"The chemicals in the fracking fluid are unknown,"

Untrue. There you go:-

http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/what-we-do/hydraulic-fracturing/fracturing-fluid/

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Re: Hippies?

"Fixed it for you."

That's odd Andrew, because it's still undergoing investigation. You don't actually know.

And condemning the other side of your opinion as irrational isn't exactly impressive and enlightened, either. As a journalist, you're supposed to be informing us rather than doing a hatchet job.

Fracking provides us with more gas, at unknown risks. It could be great and something that gives us time to get rid of our fossil fuel obsession*. Just because you support it, it doesn't make that unknown risk go away, no matter how loud you shout your opinion, or how childishly you attempt to sweep away opposing opinions by pathetically posting Dr. Who villains in your pieces of alleged journalism.

*Which it won't: It'll just mean another X years of increasing reliance further while hoping the problem goes away.

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Re: Hippies? Chemicals unknow?

Maybe to those of you in the UK, others have that information....

Chemicals Used in the Hydraulic Fracturing Process in Pennsylvania

Prepared by the Department of Environmental Protection

Bureau of Oil and Gas Management

Compiled from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) obtained from Industry

http://assets.bizjournals.com/cms_media/pittsburgh/datacenter/DEP_Frac_Chemical_List_6-30-10.pdf

or

http://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used < this explains why they use it.

A lot of this is carcinogenic and I wouldn't want this leaching into my ground water, which can and does happen:

Water contamination caused by fracking is well-documented. In December 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft findings that link water contamination to hydraulic fracturing which have since been confirmed by later investigating and testing:

http://www.nature.com/news/is-fracking-behind-contamination-in-wyoming-groundwater-1.11543

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-09-26/diesel-compounds-found-in-water-near-wyoming-fracking-site

http://www.businessinsider.com/epa-data-links-groundwater-contamination-fracking-2012-10

It's not only the poisoned water in the ground, the millions of liters of water that lorries have to haul into each 'play' (driving through your towns and neighbourhoods, destroying your roads and lanes, polluting your air) for every frack, that then get pumped up after a frack are saltier than sea water, contain substantial amounts of radioactive isotopes and are either stored in open pits (that have leaked), pumped back into the ground in spent wells or trucked out with lorries again and disposed of who knows where. In the USA they have been dumping this into rivers and creeks or 'legally' into sewage treatment plants (that have no technology to deal with either the salt content nor the radioactive elements) which ends up killing the bio cultures in those treatment plants and results in ALL the sewage and fracking water ending up in someones river/creek/canal in an untreated state.

You also have no idea of how many of these wells are needed. It's not just one in the vicinity of your back yard, there will be scores of them all over the county, being serviced by thousands of trucks and it will turn your pristine English countryside into this:

http://www.karoospace.co.za/images/stories/fracking_6_-_jonah_wyoming.jpg

There won't be any point in singing 'Jerusalem' the next time you are at the Last Night of the Proms after the oil companies have wasted your land and drinking water.

Oh and while I'm at it, natural gas might be cleaner than coal but not fracked gas. You need to calculate the end to end cost which includes the thousands of truck/lorry trips back and forth to all the sites and the millions of cubic feet of Methane that is lost to the atmosphere due to current sloppy recovery and prevention practices in the industry, which is worse for the climate than CO2.

The enthusiasm for fracking by the apparent majority of readers on this site is appalling and disappointing. I would have expected that the above average intelligence gathered here would have spent some time on the web to read about these issues instead of displaying the levels of ignorant bliss currently on show. Start here to get some proper insight into what is really going on:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/DRILLING_DOWN_SERIES.html

You might also question why the recovery period is 15-60 years. It seems that the fracking industry has also discovered a new income source with the licensing and sales of drilling rights. There has been a lot of 'pump and dump' with regards to hyping up possible reserves then selling the licenses for a huge profit to let some other subcontractor sucker frack a site only to find that it runs out of gas in a very short time, forcing them to either drill more wells in that area and frack more often.

A lot of the operations are running at a loss since the gas price has plummeted and quite a few have already gone broke as a result.

With parts of the world going to war over water in the future (http://phys.org/news/2012-09-world-crisis-priority.html) how can anyone in their right mind think that fracking is an acceptable risk to their drinking water?

Doh

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Re: Hippies?

You're right, let's trust corporations, they never lie when it is about safety.

"Another 2011 study identified 632 chemicals used in natural gas operations. Only 353 of these are well-described in the scientific literature; and of these, more than 75% could affect skin, eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; roughly 40-50% could affect the brain and nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% were carcinogens and mutagens. The study indicated possible long-term health effects that might not appear immediately."

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Re: Hippies?

Yeah, OK, the chemicals _might_ have some small as yet unidentified risk. But for absolute definite we all live longer and healthier lives by utilising cheap fossil fuels.

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Re: Hippies? Chemicals unknow?

Reginald, nicely put. Thanks for posting the links.

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Anonymous Coward

"US gas prices have fallen by two thirds, the country is now self-sufficient on gas"

What are the chances of the UK's much-raised gas prices following suit? Knowing the UK, it's much more likely that more local gas will result in considerably higher profits for the oil companies, more tax for the government, and consumer prices staying exactly the same, with ministers taking credit for freezing prices for the next few years.

Then they'll go up again!

"the UK sits on one of the richest deposits of shale gas in the world"

Yes, particularly around the Westminster area.

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Anonymous Coward

@Bit Fiddler

I read the prices wont go down much because of the way gas is sold in europe to the highest bidder. As we have seen with wind/solar farms and the huge manipulation required by gov to funnel our money into it, it is easy to increase energy prices. However when we have our own easy to access supply of fuel it may not translate to lower prices.

I think this demonstrates the destructive power of the MMCC lobby and the paralysis of the gov's to be effective.

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Flame

I noticed that. There's a weird superstition grown up in America, which the author seems to buy into, that 'energy self-sufficiency' has some relation to 'cheap fuel'.

Newsflash: gas, like oil, is a global market. If world prices double, what makes you imagine that people who produce it in the USA will continue to sell it there at depressed prices, when they could easily multiply their profits by exporting it?

And yes, of course the oil companies will continue to make obscene profits. How else could they continue to buy off their own investigators? To say nothing of the press.

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Anonymous Coward

I noticed most of the gas reserves are in England, maybe Scotland will get independance in a round about way when England file for independance from rest of UK now that they've finally got a resource to keep them going other than the London banking system thats currently doing so well for us right now.

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FAIL

Three questions:

Given that the Old Bag Woman Thatcher squandered the wealth from the North Sea by putting the money in the General Revenues, and that there is potential danger in poisoning water and land:

(1) Where are the millions of gallons required for Fracking coming from given that the UK regularly suffers water shortages;

(2) Where the the millions of gallons of waste water generated by Fracking going to be dumped;

(3) What is going happen to the windfall revenue generated from Fracking licences?

Of course this ignores Osborne's proposal to reduce taxes for Frackers and other benefits he and Cameron propose.

Comparing the UK future to that of the US is flawed; the Tories, especially Yeo the guy with the Pink Laptop, have chosen to ignore all the bad things associated with Fracking. The effects will be greater in the UK as the pupulation density is way higher.

The cost associated with this gas source should be tightly accounted for AND tightly tied to the retail price. After all, all that Fracking gas is the property of every UK citizen.

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Re: Three questions:

"(1) Where are the millions of gallons required for Fracking coming from given that the UK regularly suffers water shortages;"

You mean the untreated, basic water sucked from any local water source (like the sea) and then (possibly) recaptured if necessary because a bit of dirt won't stop it being useful, as compared to the filtered, tested, sanitised, flouridated, pressurised water you pay to come through your tap over a copper pipe from miles away? Only one ever has a shortage, and only for domestic supplies, and only temporary, no matter what you might believe.

There's PLENTY of water around. It's just not all tappable for drinking water. If you don't believe me, fill your garden with water butts this winter with no tap on them. I guarantee you will run out of water butts and space before you run out of water after just a month or so (one night of rain = enough to fill all those butts no matter how many you put out there). It's just what you do with it that matters, and what we have a shortage of is *TREATED* water that's safe to drink. We don't need to shove Evian down there.

"(2) Where the the millions of gallons of waste water generated by Fracking going to be dumped;"

It's water. It will drain away, or collect in underground voids, or more likely just find its way back to the ocean. It will be "contaminated" with rocks and dirt and a bit of gas, maybe. Nothing that it wouldn't contain anyway. Or you can collect it and reuse it if it's really a problem (very doubtful, though). And it's quite a long way down that you're firing this stuff so the chances of you doing anything to it (including collecting it, or noticing that the hole that was filled with natural gas is now filled with a lot less water) is virtually zero

"(3) What is going happen to the windfall revenue generated from Fracking licences?"

It'll go into the UK monetary system like everything else. But only if you reduce the taxes enough to encourage the industry to grow so that when there are 50 fracking plants, you can raise the tax and get money from them all to pay you back. Just because the government make 50p more this year doesn't mean you'll get 50p cheaper tax, or products, or anything else. To suggest so means you SERIOUSLY misunderstand both economics and politics. If that's the answer you're after, you should really just give up now - IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, no matter how much you bold your text.

You can wrap a political message (having to mention Thatcher, really? I was born the same year she got into power and that was LONG time ago now) in all the hyperbole you want, you still come off as the local nutter here by just not thinking things through properly.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Three questions:

Where are the millions of gallons of water going to come from?

Easy, we'll take whatever extra water is melted from the ice sheets and stop the much anticipated sea-level rise, killing two birds with one stone

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Re: Three questions:

Ah, at last we find a comment that gets close to the matter in hand.

Not energy but short-term cash input for HM.Gov.

Everything will end up in the hands of of the usual energy players, nothing U.K. there.

More licenses for sale. Tax? - think back to the Olympic 'providers' (non-UK) and others who get 'incentives'.

We will also have the usual crap about a fictional amount of 'local jobs' though whether they end up with local people is another matter.

It's very handy for folks to be at each others throats, divide and rule.

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Re: Three questions: @Lee Dowling

You Sir, or at least your answer to "(2) just validates my comments above in the "Re: Hippies? Chemicals unknow? " reply.

Just google this:

produced water disposal

and get informed.

Thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Three questions:

1: AFAIK, when fracturing in the North Sea, operators try to use the local seawater whenever possible - it's cheaper than shipping in fresh water. (Yes, shock horror, conventional oil and gas fields get fractured all the time and it's been going on for decades - it's not just a new thing for shale gas.). When using freshwater, a significant amount of salt (usually 2-5% by weight) is added anyway to help buffer the pH.

2: Let's just say that the environmental regulation for this is _significantly_ more stringent in the UK than the US. American operators have an exemption from the Clean Water Act for frac fluids allowing them to get away with all sorts. Don't think that will wash in the UK, and even if we wanted to give an exception EU regs would get in the way.

3: Well the government will squander it of course.

Source: I work for a lab which supports oil exploration/development, and testing potential frac fluid recipes is a large portion of what we do.

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Anonymous Coward

Adding the disclaimer "largely" doesn't really fix anything. It just makes it a workaround.

So there are some rational people, even using your criteria, who are rational and still have concerns.

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Backup plan?

Wind turbines can be taken down, nuclear reactors de-commissioned, etc. IF the use of fracking breaks into the water table/water course what technology will they use to seal off the water table and remove the pollution from the water? Surely if they are allowed to use such methods they must have a plan for when things go wrong? De-salination plants to replaced the lost 'fresh' water could be powered by the gas they've recovered.....

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Re: Backup plan?

Wind turbines deliver next to no useful output when you need it, and without ultra flexible conventional plant (or some as yet mythical energy storage system) they don't even save much fossil fuel at the margin.

Nukes - well, ignoring the cost, what if they have a radioactive accident? Low probability, but a bugger to clear up, which you don't seem to mind (or the hundred years NDA want to decommission the site whent he reactor closes). So what's the point in "if" arguments about fracking?

As the Bowland shales are 4,000 feet underground, the chances of fracking affecting the water table at about 200 feet deep are small, and the most compelling evidence for groundwater contamination is not beyond reproach, being US EPA stuff on methane traces in groundwater. Given the fact that methane percolation already occurs in locations where coal mining or even un-mined coal seams pass through acquifers, and we've not had any problems, I think the issue is wildly over-dramatised.

And even if you needed to scrub methane or fracking lubricants from groundwater for consumption, it would be no more problematic than removing the shite present in river water which is the source for many major cities, or putting in the nitrate removal plant in response to pointless EU directives on nitrates in ground water (or arsenic removal, maganese removal, or any of the other things that locally exceed EU drinking water regulations).

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Leave it underground

Since the world's hydrocarbon reserves are a finite resource, our national interest would be best served by buying other peoples resources, until they run out. Then we can use our own. Although this sort of 'national interest' argument always makes me uneasy. It also involves long-term thinking on a scale that would be impossible for any UK politician - or citizen for that matter.

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Re: Leave it underground@markw

A good idea in some respects, but our balance of trade is so far in deficit that we need to produce our own fuel where possible. At present we're paying for imported fuel (and other products) with IOU's, and that makes the cost of imported stuff go up steadily as we print the necessary money to pay.

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Anonymous Coward

Lobbying

"powerful renewables lobby"

Is it really that powerful compared to Oil/Gas companies ? Or even Cuadrilla themselves ?

All that money these people spend on "PR" has to go somewhere doesn't it ?

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Re: Lobbying

The renewables lobby is part of the oil and gas lobby.

Renewables mean higher prices for all energy, and continued use of coal and gas to provide reliable baseload that renewables cannot offer.

Don't be misled by claims that renewables can 'replace' coal or gas., At best they can augment them and make the fossil fuel go a little further - at enormous costs which disguise the profits being made from conventional fuel

http://www.templar.co.uk/downloads/Renewable%20Energy%20Limitations.pdf

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Re: Lobbying

"powerful renewables lobby" does sound like a joke - Shell or BP probably spends more on renewables in their greenwash effort than this "powerful lobby" could dream of.

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Re: Lobbying

I for one am glad that Shell and BP are spending money on renewables, both from an environmental perspective and as someone who wants those companies, as pillars of the economy, to have a future.

Like when IBM branched out from making manual typewriters into computers - it makes perfect sense that they should research the next generation of technology, even while they're still making money from today's.

In 30-40 years' time, I like to think, neither of those companies will still be considered an 'oil' company. They'll have reinvented themselves as 'energy' companies, and will be household names as purveyors of solar panels and wind turbines and inverters and batteries and all that jazz. And that's a good thing, and we should applaud it.

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doubt it will be a tax bonanza

I imagine the costs of using the trademarks 'Fracking-Shale' from Luxembourg and the purchasing of water at the same price as Evian from a tax haven in the Sahara will mean these companies won't make a profit.

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The Fracken Wakes!

If anyone's interested, you can find out what the 'chemicals' used in fracking are here:-

http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/what-we-do/hydraulic-fracturing/fracturing-fluid/

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H P

15 years of gas?

'Cuadrilla initially estimated the UK has enough gas to make it self-sufficient for 15 years at current consumption rates - but this may be underestimated by a factor of four'

If as part of this coming online is to continue to replace coal power stations with gas ones, then won't the time it lasts be that much shorter? Especially so as the increased supply lowers the wholesale price of gas, those power stations will appear that much more lucrative for investors.

By all means continue the trials in a controlled manner, but would be better to see how they fare over a longer term and how it develops in the US before starting to roll something like this out. If the water table is contaiminated, like other commentators have already pointed out, there isn't an easy way to fix that.

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Zot
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Unhappy

Money comes first...

...safety last. And the chancellor is considering giving them tax breaks.

I did some research on the fracking sites a while back and the one in Cumbria is five miles from a nuclear dumping ground!

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TRT
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+100 points

For using old school Silurians to illustrate the article.

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Re: +100 points

Meanwhile Silurians have evolved...

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Mushroom

For Frack's sake

I can just see the headlines in the Sun the day after this goes wrong...

"Frack backers face sack after crack"

Anyway, Isnt this Fracking in the Morecambe bay area just really down the road FROM THE SITE OF ENGLAND'S SUPERVOLCANO?

Just sayin'

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IT Angle

Frak!

http://www.bbcmicrogames.com/other.html

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Go

Am I the only one to recall the 1980's experiments with Fraking? Caused me no end of late nights round at my mate's house, then cycling home with no lights down pitch-black muddy dirt tracks.

Happy days:

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fgl%3DGB%26hl%3Den-GB%26v%3DUgiA10MfOu4&hl=en-GB&v=UgiA10MfOu4&gl=GB

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Always take early figures with a Cheshire Basin of salt

'Cuadrilla initially estimated the UK has enough gas to make it self-sufficient for 15 years at current consumption rates - but this may be underestimated by a factor of four.'

Cuardrilla drilled two wells which is far too few to make a reasonable prediction of reserves in a basin as heterogeneous as the Bowland Shale. The figures that were issued were extraordinary - they were claiming approximately fifteen times the amount of gas in the well-understood, and much larger North Sea Basin. It would mean the Bowland was more productive than most American gas bearing shales. It's not impossible, it's just not very likely.

Last year's BGS survey, which is the best we have right now, (but is likely to be upped) is 150 billion cubic metres - about 18 months worth at current consumption. But the biggest number that we need, and which we don't have is how rapidly that gas can be extracted. Shale gas is hard to get out - even with fracking - and wells don't last very long before flows fall dramatically.

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US prices

'The consequences for the energy market have been dramatic. US gas prices have fallen by two thirds, the country is now self-sufficient on gas - and the United States enjoyed the largest fall in CO2 emissions of any major country as its power generators switched from coal to gas.'

US prices are probably not sustainable. There's a huge bubble in the industry and its bringing enormous quantities of gas to market and depressing prices below the cost of production. Prices will have to rise otherwise the gas companies will all go broke:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/business/energy-environment/in-a-natural-gas-glut-big-winners-and-losers.html?pagewanted=all

There's a nice article here about how even in the US, where the geology is simpler, better understood and has been drilled for longer than here in the UK, there are big questions about the life and productivity of wells:

http://www.powermag.com/gas/Is-Shale-Gas-Shallow-or-the-Real-Deal_5188.html

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Mushroom

List of additives for hydraulic fracturing

Cf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_additives_for_hydraulic_fracturing.

Doesn't it sound like a good idea to massively inject these products into our soils? It won't have any effect for sure, no problemo, let's go! There's money to make!

"The 2011 US House of Representatives investigative report on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing states that out of 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products, "more than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants". The report also shows that between 2005 and 2009, 279 products had at least one component listed as "proprietary" or "trade secret" on their Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required material safety data sheet (MSDS). The MSDS is a list of chemical components in the products of chemical manufacturers, and according to OSHA, a manufacturer may withhold information designated as "proprietary" from this sheet. When asked to reveal the proprietary components, most companies participating in the investigation were unable to do so, leading the committee to surmise these "companies are injecting fluids containing unknown chemicals about which they may have limited understanding of the potential risks posed to human health and the environment"

Isn't that wonderful?

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Alert

Re: List of additives for hydraulic fracturing

So basically its a mix of pre-crushed Mento's, and Diet Coke?

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Re: List of additives for hydraulic fracturing

I thought that you wanted the Mentos whole.

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The fracking itself, not a problem really. Small earthquakes happen all the time, most too small to be noticed.

What worries me (and most people) is the potential for groundwater pollution. Many of the areas highlighted for exploitation are old mining areas - makes sense, that's where the resources are going to be after all - but unlike some parts of the world where this technology has been used, the UK is riddled with old mines.

Pump enough water into the ground around here, and it starts pouring back out of rabbit holes, forgotten tunnels in woodlands, and the occasional garage floor. Pump in a load of silt and toxic chemicals too?

Yeah, forget doing any organic farming in that area for a while.

In addition to that is the leakage of methane into the groundwater. Not really a problem in areas supplied by reservoirs but not everywhere IS, and you only have to do a quick youtube search to see what happens when methane is dissolved into your drinking water. Still, the couple pence per unit that gas companies will save will be worth it right? I mean, WE the consumer will save loads of money right? Won't we? Right?

Keep believing that.

Fuck this renewable nonsense, fuck gas and coal, get building nuclear reactors and leave whats in the ground alone. We are past the point of needing it, and we only need one generation of nuclear reactors. Fusion is right around the corner!

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Pint

the problem with that - and I heartily agree with the sentiment - is that the regulatory and planning process means we wont be able to do a crash program of new nuclear inside of 20-30 years even if we started now.

with old coal getting past its sell by date and much running limited hours due to the LCP directive, that leaves a one to two decade shortfall, which fracked gas neatly fills.

It being accepted that renewable energy isn't worth spending a bent halfpenny on.

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Boffin

0.5 on the Richter scale?!

Even the mole-men won't notice that. I realize that Britain has a huge amount of masonary-based construction, but even 3.0 quakes won't dent anything but the most decrepit brick buildings.

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