Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Alan Tootill (IB 22)

1. Introduction.

1.1 This submission relates to the Infr astructure Bill provisions regarding streamlining procedures to enable onshore shale gas extraction , Infrastructure Bill Part 5 .

1.2 Comments address the content and matters arising from the EANCB Impact Assessment dated 22nd September 2014, DECC 0177 (source ref a see Annexe 1) – validated by the Regulatory Policy committee 30th October 2014 (b).

1.3 Alan Tootill has studied extensively shale gas extraction and its potential employment in Britain since 2011. In March 2013 he published his book Fracking The UK, summarising the US fracking experience and UK exploration progress. Since then he has continued monitoring and studying emerging evidence from the US regarding fracking risks, UK government support for fracking, industry and academic reports on the subject, and the growth of the anti-fracking movement.

2. Summary

2.1 The Impact Assessment report , if realistic in its development scenario figures, fails to make a case for developing onshore shale gas in the UK . N either scale of operation considered would have any material impact on energy security or national economic benefit. Therefore no significant benefit would accrue by the adoption of the higher production scenario envisaged through the IB proposals on underground access .

2.2 The rationale in the assessment for encouraging fracking is unreliable, p articularly regarding the quality of onshore regulation .

2.3 In the light of this , given that the public response to consultation on access rights was overwhelmingly agai nst change, and certain measures in the IB were not part of the consultation document, to go ahead with these proposals would generate sustained and increase d public opposition to fracking which would be counter-productive.

2.4 If fracking is to take place at all in the UK, the country’s interest would be best served by employment of the precautionary principle, developing any exploration slowly , giving time for assessment of emerging new evidence on risk factors. T he do - nothing option is preferable and I rec ommend deletion of clauses 38- 43 as proposed in Part 5 of the IB .

3. Activity Levels

3.1 Number of wellpads

3.1.1 Under the streamline option, by 2030 some 68 pads are expected to have been established and in the do-nothing scenario 30. In neither case and in no recovery scenario will this number of pads create any significant impact on the UK’s gas self-sufficiency or security, nor have impact on gas prices, nor meet the industry or government’s ambition for shale gas, for reasons examined further below.

3.2 Production levels

3.2.1 If the number of wells per pad , 12, is intended to mean the standard US pattern - one well meaning one vertical with a single horizontal off - then an estimated 4 bcf lifetime output of gas (EUR) per well is too high. Even the Institute of Directors 2013 report Getting Shale Gas Working (May 2013, sponsored by Cuadrilla, (c), which used a very selective set of figures from 5 top-producing US shale plays, came out with a working figure of just 3.16 bcf.

However, for the same fields the June 2013 Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) figures showed an average for these 5 fields (Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville, Marcellus and Eagle Ford) of 2.94 bcf, an Oil and Gas Journal report estimated 2.1bcf. Official USGS figures for these fields stated an average of only 1.42bcf.

Over all US fields the EIA June 2013 figures show a raw average of 1.8bcf for EUR. The USGS estimates (2012) for the average US well over all fields was a mere 1.1 bcf.

3.2.2 Clearly there is a great discrepancy between all these estimates, but for the current IA to suggest its figures are conservative is not the case, certainly for EUR. From the number of wells envisaged it is likely therefore that the production figures would be lower than stated in the IA.

3.3 Implication of production level figures.

3.3.1 Taking the streamline scenario with 68.55 wellpads drilled by 2030, with 12 wells each and with EUR at an ambitious 4 bcf, the TOTAL lifetime output of all the wells drilled by 2030 would be about 3290 bcf or 3.29 tcf. This is roughly equivalent to ONE YEAR of current UK gas demand, according to DECC figures.

The implication is clear. The effect of sixteen years of onshore shale drilling would be to provide at most 6% of the UK’s gas usage over an equivalent period (stretching beyond 2016), even on the IA’s EUR figure. It will have hardly any impact on energy import requirements, and will not produce any effect on international gas market pricing on which the UK depends. The change to access law would have had no significant benefit.

3.4 Are the model figures realistic for commercial exploitation?

3.4.1 The IA figures correspond roughly to the IoD minimum scenario. But if we were to believe industry optimism of potential benefits resulting from shale gas we would have to use far larger figures. We do have some non-industry expert opinion. In oral evidence to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee in January (d) Sir David King, Special Representative for Climate Change, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, presented his view that for the UK to gain any economic benefit from shale gas it would take an annual well drilling rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 wells per year. This is of course far beyond the plateau of 6 wellpads at 12 wells each envisaged in the IA. Sir David did add the proviso that it would be very difficult to foresee how that would happen in Britain.

Sir David also referred to a relevant point that is not dealt with in the IA in its discussion of well numbers and production. The fact that shale gas production falls off extremely rapidly. This requires re-evaluation of the IA annual production volumes, which are potentially misleading.

In March 2014 Andrew Aplin of Durham University, Professor of Unconventional Petroleum, speaking at a shale gas conference, referred to new upward estimates of Bowland Shale gas resources. He estimated it would take some 5,000 pads to develop this resource, or around 33,000 wells.

Both Sir David and Professor Aplin (and other analysts) therefore suggest that it would take a number of wells far greater than the IA (or IoD) figures, to make onshore shale development a viable proposition and have any hope of meeting energy security ambitions.

3.4.2 Assuming a far higher scenario would of course make the RPC’s request for a "better discussion of the environmental effects and public risk" even more pressing, and demand the research on cumulative effects that PHE and RSRAE, for example, have recommended before engaging in commercial scale production.

3.4.3 However, if the IA is realistic in its assessment of the scale of drilling possible over the next decade and a half, i.e. what can be achieved in practice - and I have no reason to suggest DECC is wrong - we come back to the fact that with these projections there is little to be gained in pursuing onshore fracking at all, especially when many see fracking as a distraction from the overriding and urgent need to concentrate on energy stra tegies to combat climate change .

4. Evidence Base – Problem under consideration – safety of surface landowners

4.1 In the absence of a significant benefit for the country it becomes necessary to consider potential disbenefits. The IA, as the RPC points out, has not adopted a rigorous approach to identifying risks to surface landowners, and refers back to the access law change consultation document.

4.2 Water contamination and implications for drilling depth

4.2.1 The consultation (e) states that there is no evidence that in the US groundwater aquifers or drinking supplies have been affected by fracking. This ignores recent evidence which suggests – whilst not proving – the contrary. However the document refers to the 2012 report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering (RSRAE) (g) for support. However, the RSRAE report (section 4.3) accepts that fractures can extend for a considerable distance. Professor Davies then of Durham University (now of Newcastle) recommended a minimum distance of 1,200 metres between fracking horizontals and aquifers. There is no guarantee through regulation that injected fracking fluids will remain within the target formation and therefore – particularly in the UK geological environment , for example in the Fylde , where there is more faulting than commonly experienced in the US – no guarantee that by natural or induced fractures upward migration will not occur. The RSRAE report admits there is scarce data on possible migration paths.

4. 2 .2 The proposed IB minimum separation distance of 300 metres is therefore totally inadequate to guarantee safety of surface waters, rivers, streams, or water wells supplying farms or households from shale gas activities or any other conventional reservoir fracking activities through horizontal wells to which the IB applies equally . This is one further consequence of the hasty preparation of this bill, which also bundl es gas with geothermal energy . ( The question of ownership of underground heat energy, not relevant to shale where ownership rests with the crown, is likely to meet future legal objection and also deserves scrutiny.)

4.3 Seismic activity

4.3.1 The consultation document referred to states only that events of magnitude 3 or less may not cause structural damage to buildings or infrastructure.

However this ignores the deformation of the Preese Hall 1 well by the seismic event of April 1st 2011. This is a major concern for abandoned well integrity and one which will persist decades and more into the future.

4.4 Subsidence

4.4.1 It is stated that there are no documented cases of subsidence due to fracking. However in 2012 an enquiry to the BGS revealed that there had been no investigations and none were planned into potential subsidence due to fracking – particularly relevant again in the geology of the Fylde. At the same time a similar enquiry to the United States Geological Survey showed there, too, there had been NO related research or background knowledge of subsidence consequences of fracking.

Without any data it is speculative to state there will be no consequential effects at the surface. This is an issue that needs investigation, preferably by BGS research, before any fracking should take place, particularly on the Fylde, as I have had sight of an unpublished report which raises significant concerns there.

4.5 Permanence of underground waste facilities

4.5.1 The IA does not refer to the IB proposals to allow the leaving by operators of "any substance" underground. This is in effect legalising the creation of underground waste dumps (as currently subject of Environment Agency permission for underground waste management facility) and is open to interpretation as removing some activities from regulation, since there would be rights under law. Such a proposal did not form part of the public consultation on access rights, and is unacceptable on that ground alone.

The proposals are ill-drafted as although the leaving of any substance underground could be considered subject to the right of use purposes – 39 (2) of the proposed Bill – those purposes themselves only include, and are not restricted to, energy exploration and production. If the intention is simply to legalise the known outcome of a fracking operation - that a high proportion of waste fracking fluid and chemicals and radiation leached from the target rock formation do not return to the surface - this is not evident, and the provision could be construed as, for example, opening the door to the use of exhausted shale wells for dumping of nuclear waste or CCS storage.

If under this provision the injection of fracking waste water is allowed as a disposal method this opens up a new and disturbing consequence. It is now widely accepted that most seismic activity associated with shale gas wells in the US has until recently been associated only with wastewater wells, rather than fracking production wells. This again was not part of any public consultation. Nor was it considered as part of the RSRAE investigation.

4.5.2 The underground waste dump created by normal fracking activities, including but not restricted to fracking fluids and chemicals and radioactivity leached from the target shale formation, is a permanent result of exploratory or production fracking. However the IB makes no reference to how this is to be treated by planning authorities, who are faced then with the dilemma of a "temporary" planning application for exploration being a de facto permanent application.

5. Wider impacts

5.1 This section of the IA refers to the Mackay Stone report on climate change effects of fracking. This is a highly contentious and disputed subject and report. No valid research has produced a definitive assessment of how much carbon dioxide saving would be outbalanced by unquantifiable methane emissions. Although the government claims to have accepted the Mackay Stone report in full, several of the recommendations require investment in further research which has not been carried out.

5.2 Reference is made to the RSRAE and more recent PHE reports. We meet again the argument that fracking is an acceptable risk if it is properly regulated. It is not well-regulated in the UK. It is becoming clearer, for example, as mentioned above, that abandoned wells will be a long-term risk of which no risk assessment can be made, particularly relevant to the Mackay Stone conclusions. The RSRAE report made ten recommendations of which the government has implemented only one. They recommended further research before production level fracking began, as they had not studied, for example, cumulative effects.

The PHE Report of June 2014 (h), whilst widely taken as endorsing fracking subject to regulation again, like the RSRAE report before it, stressed gaps in knowledge and the need for further research. PHE refer also to the need for monitoring post-production.

In the evidence he presented to the Lords as mentioned above, Sir David Young also referred to this gaping hole in onshore regulation, the fact that no monitoring was in place or projected for abandoned wells. This is a vital issue to which attention has been drawn by others, including the RSRAE and Professor Davies in a recent REFINE report (e). Professor Davies also confirmed to me in private correspondence that "Cements crack and steel corrodes in the long term.  So periodic monitoring and insurance so that wells can be repaired decades later is key." However, the government has consistently refused to address the issue of monitoring or ensure financial guarantees from the industry.

5.3 It might be noted at this point that the justification for the IB section on maximising UK energy resources was stated to be in order to follow the recommendations of the February 2014 Wood Review (i). In fact this report referred only to offshore resources, not onshore. However, and significantly, Sir Ian recommended a single regulator to cover on- and offshore for reasons of efficiency and consistency. Although setting up a new offshore regulator, in its haste to push through onshore shale gas the government has refused this advice, to the detriment of the public purse and the regulatory experience and knowledge base.

5.4 The inadequacy of the UK Office for Unconventional Gas has been recognised as recently as 25th November in Parliament by Fylde MP Mark Menzies. He also effectively implied that the "Gold Standard" regulations he had called for previously were not in place, and drew attention to the Environment Agency’s failure to take responsibility post-abandonment of the Preese Hall well in his constituency.

5.5 The conclusion is that it is irresponsible to force through legislation to streamline fracking when – totally contrary to the statements here in the IA – the government has failed to develop the regulation or carry out the research that senior scientists and academic bodies have called for.

5.6 4.6 In view of the matters unaddressed to improve regulation and reduce risk, it is impossible to guarantee safety of fracking. Apart from undermining public confidence by employing an unpopular measure, hastening fracking is therefore in defiance of the precautionary principle, given the significant unknowns about the potential risk of UK onshore fracking. The lack of adequate research, and ina dequate onshore regulation, add weight to the desirability of a slow and measured approach, i . e . in the IB terms a do-nothing option. Remedial work for any failures or accidents, in the absence of industry guarantees, would have to be paid for from the public purse. The cost could cumulatively be significant and is an additional factor for making no access right law change.

6. The justice system impact and further public and community costs

6.1 Regarding the justice system, the whole argument for streamlining by removing access rights is undermined unless it is admitted that the government has no confidence in itself nor the fracking industry to persuade landowners that fracking is safe. The fact that many landowners may be relu ctant to sign agreements for undergroun d wayleaves is clearly the motivation behind the IB access rights law change.

6.2 Whilst it may be correct to say that implementing access law changes may reduce some industry spending on court procedures, what is avoided is the fact that by pushing ahead without consent the public, including landowners, will strengthen their resolve to oppose fracking in other ways. We have already seen a significant use of police resources tackling anti-fracking camps, and numerous appearances in magistrates’ courts, where public money was wasted because charges were dismissed or the police failed to bring forward evidence to justify their charges. We will expect to see more of this if the government is seen as pressing fracking on an unwilling public, and indeed I am sure that we would also see protestors willing to go to jail for their deeply-held beliefs. All this would result in sign ificant public expenditure which has not been used in the IA report to offset against any company economic benefits of the do-something options.

6.3 The reference to the DEFRA report on impact on rural economy and community is revealing. The clear implication is that the report is very damaging, particularly regarding house prices. It was confirmed, after a heavily redacted version was revealed following FOI/EIR requests, that the public will not be allowed to see the report. As a side issue I suggest the Committee recommend this report be released in full to inform the shale debate and for their own information.


Main documents referred to in submission










January 2015

Prepared 6th January 2015