back to article Shale gas fracking ruled safe, but must stop at drop of a hat

Is shale exploration in the UK on stop or go? On Monday the Department for Energy and Climate Change released a geological report into the impact of hydraulic fracturing, a key technique in releasing gas from shale rock deep beneath the Earth's surface. But, as befits the department with the schizophrenic identity, its findings …

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  1. mark 63 Silver badge

    0.5 M ? I can fart louder than that!

    I didnt know the symbol for richters was M !

    1. Ru
      WTF?

      What else could release that much energy in one go?

      I assume also that any demolition project that will generate shockwaves of equal or greater magntitude will be refused permission. Any heavy goods vehicle that crashes will result in the immediate and permanant ban of anything larger than long wheel base vans within a 200 mile radius of the incident.

      And don't get me started on fireworks. The lifeboat station near where I grew up used this utterly irresponsible devices called 'maroons' to alert staff, and those things could easily generate a bang that might rattle single glazing nearby... I'm assuming in future that the RNLI will be severely reprimanded, and refused leave to do anything other than have a guy stand outside the lifeboat station and shout 'guys? time to go!'.

  2. EddieD

    It's ridiculous...

    I grew up in an area of heavy coal mining (North Notts) - we lived with constant problems of subsidence, and minor ground tremors, but this was never an issue. It should still not be an issue.

    I'm a fairly committed greenie - I cycle rather than drive, I recycle and all the other bollocks. I should be opposed to letting the genie out of the bottle, but I'm not - modern usage of fossil fuels are becoming cleaner, and cleaner, and let's be frank, we need this source of energy.

    It's time to let experts and evidence drive decision making in this country, not the letter pages of the Grauniad, Torygraph and Daily Fail.

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      1. EddieD

        Re: It's ridiculous...

        Ain't that the truth, alas...

      2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: It's ridiculous...

        Herr Spart,

        "...and requires parties to pander to the reactionary middle ground"

        Translation: "they don't pander enough to raging eco-zealots, like me"

        But actually, you'll find MPs do little else - and the 0.5M rule is a terrific example of that. So are ROCs, the wonderful CO2 reduction targets legislated in Climate Change Act, which passed by 463 votes to 5, and so on.

        If "reactionary middle england" objects to these proposals, it may be because it's the people who are paying the bill for the cranky ideas. As the costs and benefits become apparent,

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  3. Mike Richards Silver badge

    'The British Geological Survey doesn’t record earthquakes below 2.0M, the equivalent of 1 imperial ton of TNT, considered to be the smallest quake people can feel.'

    Yes it does as a visit to the British Geological Survey will show you:

    http://earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk/

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I'm a fairly committed greenie - I cycle rather than drive, I recycle and all the other bollocks. I should be opposed to letting the genie out of the bottle, but I'm not - modern usage of fossil fuels are becoming cleaner, and cleaner, and let's be frank, we need this source of energy."

    Green and you support tracking - perhaps you have not actually read what they pump into the ground (much of which does not come back up). Guess it's ok as long as it's water you are not drinking eh...?

    Perhaps you should be pushing nuclear rather than burning any fossil fuels as at least it's reliable and emits no CO2.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      "Guess it's ok as long as it's water you are not drinking eh...?"

      Which being several thousand feet below the water table and insulated from that by layers of impermeable rock it, er, is. Do try to lay off watching the scare-mongering bollockumentaries.....

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      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        bollockumentaries

        I like this, I like this a lot.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Flame

          "The fossil fuel industry doesn't have a particularly sparkling record when it comes to accidentally spilling stuff."

          Ok. I'll bite.

          How many individual drilling and/or pumping units are there in operation across the globe? How many have had significant spills or leakages?

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            1. 100113.1537

              How many?

              There are more than 4,000 wells in the Marcellus shale in the US alone.

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          2. Reginald Gerard
            Facepalm

            I just can't fathom how isolated you people in the UK seem to be from the issues around fracking.

            The point about not using fossil fuels is the insulating effect CO2 has for the climate. Fracking plays (sites), due the industries lax standards regarding emissions (thanks to Bush/Cheney for gutting EPA regulations for Fracking), contributes excessive amounts of Butane/Methane to the atmosphere. This puts unconventional natural gas at par with burning coal if you want to compare cleanliness.

            Accidents? You think there haven't been enough?

            http://earthjustice.org/features/campaigns/fracking-across-the-united-states

            http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/27/us/natural-gas-map.html

            Man how blind can you get - but then the industry is very secretive about those kinds of stats and the government is on their side because of the potential tax revenues (if they're not giving huge tax breaks through other avenues).. and it's all about jobs..

            So who gives shit about drinking water and eco systems. Start reading here:

            http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/fracking/since1851/multimedia/

            The industry isn't in it for energy independence for our economies, it's only about making money for themselves and their shareholders and they are even willing and able to scam us all with bogus claims of efficiency and production potential. There's another bubble just waiting to burst...

            http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/us/26gas.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

            http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301

            So wake up people and get yourselves informed before you've let them F up your countryside and water resources. Future wars will not be fought over oil, there won't be any of that anyway, but over water and you are willing to take that risk and leave your health and future in the hands of the gas mafia?

            http://www.globalpolicy.org/the-dark-side-of-natural-resources-st/water-in-conflict.html

            But then, with all the atomic power generating plants that most of you are craving for, you could easily power desalination systems and bottle your drinking water and ship nation wide via lorries.

            Duh. I though IT people and techies were intelligent and informed. Can't see any sign of that here today.

      3. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Um...

        Given that you're ABOVE the water table, and the shale gas is BELOW it, wouldn't that imply that for you to get to it you have to drill THROUGH the water table? I believe that's the big concern--contaminants seeping through the drill wall at the definitely-permeable water table level.

      4. Tom 13

        @TeeCee: But the water burns!

        He KNOWS because he's seen for himself in Gasland!

        /end sarc

    2. EddieD

      These days, I do support nuclear - I support a very broad basket of technologies, renewables, nuclear, and in some cases, properly managed fossil fuels. I'd particularly like to see renewed investment in hydro - here in Scotland we have three things in abuncance - hills, water and space. I've seen suggestions that surplus wind energy (which we do get sometimes) could be distributed to Scandinavia to power their pump storage systems, and we then buy back power from there in lulls. Erm, maybe we could use the energy here to power our own pump storage?

      I've done as much research as I can on the issue of fracking, and I'm not convinced by the naysayers' arguments.

      Acquifer contamination is a worry, and given the condition of the water supply services in this country, this could be an extreme worry - but again, doing as much research as I can, I'm as sure as a layman can be that any potential threat can be mitigated.

      In the very near future, we're going to have a very real energy problem, and I think every avenue should be reasonably investigated, not weighed down with millstones from the very start.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe it's a typo?

    Perhaps they meant 2.5?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can't believe we are still burning coal, gas, oil and planning on doing so for the foreseeable future - we should be looking forward to newer, cleaner methods of generation. Not unreliable and expensive solar, wind, wave projects but safer and cleaner nuclear. Renewables will never make anything more than 10-20% and most still need conventional generation to back them up.

    I don't like the idea of imported fuels (i.e. gas, coal, oil) - it is strategically important we have control of our own energy generation not being reliant on areas of the world at or on the verge of war or political unrest.

    I also don't like the idea of fracking and pumping poisonous chemicals into the ground - the whole carbon fuel industry is expensive, costs huge numbers of lives (both in extracting the fuel, processing, transporting and then consuming). Nuclear is really the only viable option to generate electricity more cleanly and safely.

    I wonder if fracking would get the go-ahead if they were doing it in some leafy home county rather than near Blackpool.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When I read this in the Metro on Monday (maybe Tuesday) morning....

      They stated that there are beleived to be shale/gas deposits all over the UK, including Surrey, Kent and the home counties.

      I'm amazed at just how long it takes some reg hacks to re-type in those Metro stories, perhaps they need a new OCR package or should get a decent news wire source.

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    1. Tom 13

      Re: "This is just a recommendation, however – a consultation runs until 25 May."

      Another boffin who didn't read the Three Mile Island report. Loosely translated: put to many flashie light thingies and/or audible alarms and the technicians become habituated to warnings so that when an actual critical alarm goes off, no one notices because it gets translated as Situation Normal.

  8. Lazy Gun
    Mushroom

    Blackpool in danger? Oh dear...

    Be honest, who the fuck would care if Blackpool slid down an enormous fracking hole and plummeted at high speed towards the Earth's molten core?

    If we could throw in the resulting hole all the global warming bedwetters and the other assorted commies, even better.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Blackpool in danger? Oh dear...

      A few years ago I would have said TVR owners.

    2. NomNomNom

      Re: Blackpool in danger? Oh dear...

      Hi Breivik

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "would care if Blackpool slid down an enormous fracking"

    You would care if you had to drink the water from that area.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. chr0m4t1c

        >The water they drink in Blackpool comes from north Wales and the Lake district, doesn't it?

        And that has it's own contamination issues.

        I heard that someone ran their bath one day and found Donald Campbell in it.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just checked the USGS websites and the quarry near where I lived in Cupertino from 98-00 is still generating events at the 1.3 ML on a once or twice daily basis!

    When I first moved there I was surpised that everytime I checked the USGS Bay Area summary map that there seemed to have been a small "earthquake" near my house ... only when I eventually clicked through to the "more details" page on one did I see the explanation of "probable quarry blast"!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Which being several thousand feet below the water table and insulated from that by layers of impermeable rock it, er, is. Do try to lay off watching the scare-mongering bollockumentaries....."

    Yeah well as you KNOW that for sure and it could not harm anyone and I guess they just faked the earthquake, lied about streams in the US bubbling gas you could ignite etc.

    The point is - rather than fracking about we should move forward to the real future solution which is nuclear power. This gas is just going to be burned (= more CO2) to generate electricity anyway.

    The end-game is nuclear as one day we will decide not to burn fossil fuels / emit so much CO2 and fracking / importing fuels is just a short term measure. IMHO we may as well move towards the final solution sooner.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blackpool is where is starts - wait until they find suitable rock under your house...

  13. Dave Pickles

    Self - limiting

    Just make the drillers legally liable for all damage reasonably likely to have been caused by them (with a ban on the use of lawyers to argue the toss either way - pay up within 30 days).

  14. PyLETS
    Flame

    The big fracking financial bubble

    Buy enough speculative drilling rights based on highly leveraged debt, hype up the value of the rights with some backhanders to the relevant survey folks, sell it on to production drillers, and retire on the proceeds. When the groundwater claims don't turn out as promised and farmers get strontium, radium, manganese, 2-butoxyethanol and methane in their water supplies, the marks who bought the drilling rights go under because they can't afford the compensation out of the much smaller volumes produced than the fixed prospecting said would be produced after a well blows out, as such events will surely occur. It's all been well documented by victims who were public spirited enough not to sign the compensation NDAa, and we'd be foolish not to learn from those who were duped 2 - 3 years further down this road than we are.

    Just like the well-known Enron business model for transferring money from your wallet into theirs.

    There's nothing the nuclear and fracking astroturfers hate more than the rate at which wind and solar electricity prices are falling as production scales up.

  15. dr2chase

    Fracking vs well casing

    It never made sense to me that methane was moving through thousands of feet of shale, but I also read that the gas industry (at least here in the US) as making a distinction between "fracking" ("safe!!!!") and the quality of the wells used to get to the case ("we're talking about the safety of fracking, that's not relevant here").

    Substandard well casing would ALSO allow methane to get loose into near-surface groundwater, and requires no earthquakes at all.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Boffin

      I doubt it would be noticable. I've lived most of my life within about 5 miles of a quarry. Many people live much closer. We often hear the sirens go and then hear a slight "woomf" as the explosives go off (on a calm, still day anyway). I suspect, at the surface at least, that that would be a significantly larger "earthquake" than a far smaller explosion 3KM underground.

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  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Once this sh*t is pumped into the ground there is no way to get it back out - if it's so safe - drink it. Politicians signing off on this should first imagine it in their constituency as once it starts it will spread. If the poison they are pumping in does find it's way into drinking water or water for crops / animals then ---- it will be too late.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Safe for who? Safer for the company, it's shareholders and the taxes it will pay - or safe for the residents, farmers and the rest of us who may end up drinking the water or eating the crops / meat fed by potentially polluted water.

    The problem is who the hell can you clean it up once you have pumped it (under pressure) into the earth. I'd recommend these MPs watch 'Gasland' and after that get some facts about what exactly is in the fracking fluid and how much (as a percentage) of what they pump down they get back?

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      "I'd recommend these MPs watch 'Gasland' and after that get some facts"

      Including the faked footage?

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      2. PyLETS
        Flame

        faked based on whose definition ?

        People who create audiovisual content fake things all the time and it's called acting.

        The murder scene in Macbeth isn't faking the concept of murder if murders happen. If you live on a farm which has its drinking water supply poisoned with carcinogens as well as methane, you don't really want your customers to know that, so you'll have actors recreate the scene in order to tell your true story.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Including the faked footage?"

        I have seen comments (mostly ones that appear to be sponsored by the petroleum industry of america) that pick at the documentary - of course - do some of the people perhaps 'exaggerate' a bit to make their case - perhaps.

        It's easy to say things like 'faked footage' - are you saying there is no truth in any of it and is fracking totally safe?? No fracking way - if it were - you drink the fracking fluid or let them frack under your house.

        No... didn't think so.

        1. Fibbles
          Facepalm

          Fracking may not be 100% safe but Gaslands is as reliable a source of information as those chemtrail 'documentaries'.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I'd recommend these MPs watch 'Gasland' and.." this too, perhaps:

      AC wrote: "I'd recommend these MPs watch 'Gasland' and.."

      And this too, perhaps:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FrackNation

      Oh too fucking lazy? Let me paste the relevant passage:

      "FrackNation was inspired by a confrontation between Josh Fox, the director of the 2010 documentary Gasland, and documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer. While Fox was promoting his film project McAleer confronted him about the historical records of people being able to ignite natural gas in water long before fracking started. McAleer told the LA Times that Fox did not include that information in his film because he did not think it was relevant."

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  19. Crisp Silver badge

    Shale Gas Fracking Ruled Safe

    This is obviously some strange usage of the word safe that I wasn't previously aware of.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Just make the drillers legally liable for all damage reasonably likely to have been caused by them (with a ban on the use of lawyers to argue the toss either way - pay up within 30 days)."

    But - how would you ever quantify it and what happens if they get £x worth of gas out of the ground but cause 10x that in damage or to fix? By the time it got to that they gas would all be sold - the profits gone to the managers and shareholders and taxes to the government.

  21. Ross 7

    I'm not sure who's the bigger/more successful troll, LP or AO :) Anyway...

    "That’s good news for the gas industry, and the UK economy, which like the US could enjoy a manufacturing revival powered by cheap energy."

    Please God stop spouting that crap. Cheap energy will not be a result. We could find 4 trillion metric tonnes of gas sitting in a container ready to be plugged into the grid and we *still* wouldn't have cheap energy. Energy ain't expensive because it's hard to come by, but because it can be. Until there's a carrot or stick that's more effective than share price related director bonuses when it comes to controlling prices energy will remain expensive.

    Fracking is fine if they do it safely, but it;s a fairly big if. Take the rig blow out from a few months back in the North Sea - took weeks to get the thing to stop burning gas. Now imagine that was in the Home Counties rather than the North Sea :) You can see why the NIMBIES would be out in force.

    The problem seems to be that the potential costs of a frack-up aren't directly borne by the energy companies. If we get a leak somewhere in a drill casing/pipeline and get undesirables in the water supply the water companies have to filter it out. Then they spend a lot of money on lawyers trying to get the money from the energy company that caused the problem. Then both companies add their lawyers fees to your water and energy bills.

    It just seems a tad too risky in a pokey place like Blighty. We have enough trouble getting sufficient water to southerners as it is (not that I'd be too upset to see them use their own darned rain). If we end up with less useable/more expensive water for more same-priced gas it doesn't really seem to benefit anyone but the directors/share holders.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Howay! @Ross:

      "Fracking is fine if they do it safely, but it;s a fairly big if."

      ...Driving is fine if they do it safely, but it's a fairly big if

      ...Open-heart surgery is fine if they do it safely, but it's a fairly big if.

      ...Commercial flight is fine if they do it safely, but it's a fairly big if.

      (etc)

      Let's find out how big that if is, then. And the benefits. CBA.

      1. Ross 7

        Driving isn't done safely - surely that's obvious? The consequences are *relatively* minor tho. Unless you're in one of the vehicles invovled, or are the ped involved the consequences are minor.

        The only example you give that's close to realistic in terms of *consequences* is flight. Guess what - improvements came *after* **** loads of ppl died. I'm not saying fracking will kill thousands (we start from a better technology level) but you can be sure it won't be without negative consequences.

        As I said in my post, imagine the Elgin platform placed in the Home Counties. They had to evacuate not just that platform but others, and it's not like the North Sea is terribly densely populated. The issue isn;t just that they may say "throw safety to the wind" and blow shizzle up, but that when they have to take safety measures when something goes wrong it screws things up for an awful lot of people.

        I personally think Essex would likely improve somewhat if you took the ppl out of it, but I don't imagine either the ppl of Essex, or the places they move them to would be as happy about the situation.

        "Let's find out how big that if is, then. And the benefits. CBA"

        It's often hard to judge "tone" in text, but it comes across fairly similarly to the City boys circa 2006. They pushed to see if the benefits outweighed the risks. Apparently they didn't.

        Like I said - fracking is fine *if* done safely. To that end it needs regulation, and lots of it. Like air travel in fact.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Please God stop spouting that crap. Cheap energy will not be a result. We could find 4 trillion metric tonnes of gas sitting in a container ready to be plugged into the grid and we *still* wouldn't have cheap energy."

    True to a point... all it means is that we will import less - the price is likely to stay about the same. However, of course if there were absolutely massive quantities the supply would increase and the price should drop. In reality what actually happens is as gas gets cheaper people build gas power stations (increasing the demand) and if coal were to get cheaper people would build more coal fired power stations.

    But - these are all short term measures - we can keep finding more gas / coal / oil and as the price rises other methods of extraction will become economic. The price will keep rising and everything will rise as a result (after all energy is used in the productions of everything) - that is why cheap(er) and ideally cleaner electricity is a must = nuclear.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd be a NIMBY if someone wanted to frack in my back garden.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't understand how this is supposed to work. Are there going to be stations continually reporting every seismic reading over 0.5 to the fracking companies? to the government? Who gets to say whether the fracking and seismic activity were related or not?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a commentator said on the news the other day, I wonder if the government would be quite so keen if it was their house that experienced minor earthquakes? Perhaps we should frack around Oxfordshire and is if Jezzer Clarkson and Cambo warm to it quite as much as they do now? Horse for courses and all that. Don't blame folks in Lancashire for not liking it very much.

    On the other hand stable gas prices and associated energy security would be nice. Certainly be good to stick two fingers up at Putin and co.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Trouble is, what if someone "calls the bluff" and shouts out, "Hell yeah! I live next to a fracking site! Hell, there's a nuclear plant just a mile away, too! Nuclear In My Back Yard is MY motto!"

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
        Go

        @ Charles 9

        I would have no problems living next to either a fracking site, a nuclear plant, or both. Seriously, bring them on - civilisation needs them *now*.

  26. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I've seen film of existing fracking plants that have been chugging away for more than 20 years. I'd be happy to have one of those in my back garden. It;s about twice the size of my shed.

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