Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Claire Robertson (IB 43)

I am a Sussex resident and I hold a First Class BA (Hons) in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford, which I completed in 2013.

I have been independently researching and campaigning against unconventional hydrocarbon extraction in the UK since summer 2013 when I first discovered there were plans for exploratory drilling in the Sussex countryside. This area is beloved by me and many others, not only those who live here, but those also who visit.

1. Claims that there are no cases of water contamination are a matter of linguistics and made possible by industry secrecy

I note that Halliburton, industry leader in fracking, has given evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry into the risks of fracking stating that

"There has never been a confirmed instance of drinking water contamination due to HF [hydraulic fracturing] throughout its long history."

This is a misleading statement for two reasons:

a) Concentrating on ‘hydraulic fracturing’ vs ‘oil and gas operations which include hydraulic fracturing’

(i) It refers only to hydraulic fracturing, the process by which shale rock is cracked using a mixture of water, proppants (sand or ceramic beads) and chemicals. It does not refer to ‘fracking and associated processes’ i.e. the entire process of unconventional oil/gas recovery. The life cycle of a well involves not only fracking, but drilling the borehole, casing the well, fracking, gas extraction, well plugging and abandonement. In addition, there are the associated processes such as transport of water and chemicals to and from the site, storage and disposal of wastewater, and transport of the oil/gas itself.

(ii) If this wider definition is embraced, a different picture emerges. A big problem in the US is ‘Class II’ or ‘re-injection wells’, wells which are drilled for the purpose of injecting fracking-related wastewater back underground. A recent report from the US Government Accountability Office [1] found that some of these wells are known to have contaminated drinking water [2 article summary]. Wastewater frack fluid contains ‘NORM’ or naturally occurring radioactive material. A US Geological Survey study found the levels of radium in wastewater to be 1,100 times the maximum contaminant level of drinking water. [3]

(iii) Furthermore, reinjection of wastewater fluid was found by researchers at Cornell University to have caused a steep rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma, even triggering quakes 30km away from the injection site [4].

(iv) I think all this should be borne in mind whilst the committee are considering Part 5 of the Bill, Clauses 38 – 43, particularly Clause 39, part 1d) The ways in which the right of use may be exercised include "passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land or infrastructure installed in deep-level land and part" 2 d) for the purpose of "decommissioning, and other activity which falls to be continued or undertaken, in consequence of activities undertaken for the purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy."

(v) There are other cases of confirmed water contamination due to unconventional oil or gas extraction operations which involve hydraulic fracturing. This article compiled by ‘Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy’ (PSE Healthy Energy) lists those which have appeared in peer-reviewed scientific studies. [5] It does not include inspection records, for example that of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from August 2014, which confirmed 248 cases of private well water contamination. [6]

(vi) In general, PSE Healthy Energy have released a compendium [7] and fully searchable database [8] of all evidence of the risks of fracking, from scientific studies, media investigations and inspections. It is well worth a look. There is an easy-to-read summary at the beginning.

b) Industry secrecy in the US makes it near impossible to have any ‘confirmed’ cases

(i) It is well known that hydraulic fracturing activities are exempt from the US ‘Safe Drinking Water Act’ due to the so called ‘Halliburton Loophole’ which means companies are not required to disclose what chemicals they use in their fracturing fluids as they are regarded as ‘trade secrets’ [10]. In addition, the oil and gas industry in the US has received exemptions from six other major environmental federal laws [9], which removed mandates to collect or submit data on emissions of air and water pollutants from oil and gas operations.

(ii) Without knowledge of the exact chemicals used or baseline monitoring of chemicals, linking any high level of contaminants, let alone associated health problems, to unconventional oil and gas operations becomes difficult indeed.

(iii) Anyone who’s studied science knows that nothing can be 100% ‘confirmed’ and that there could only ever be found a ‘link’ between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination, seismicity or any other effect. The likelihood of this link is analysed statistically, but can never be 100%. Again, Halliburton are choosing their words carefully.

2. There would be a large number of other social, environmental and economic impacts associated with developing a large unconventional onshore oil and gas industry in the UK.

These include:

a) Air pollution

b) Occupational health and safety hazards to workers in this industry. There may be jobs created by maximising onshore oil and gas in the UK, but they are likely to be dangerous and cause long term health problems. As a group, oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate that is 2.5 times higher than the construction industry and seven times that of general industry.

c) Public health impacts e.g. increase in road fatalities, increase in STIs

d) Noise and light pollution

e) Social impacts e.g. erosion of public trust and community cohesion, stress, crime rates increasing, including sexual and drug crime.

f) Threats to agriculture and soil quality e.g. wastewater disrupted by flooding and spilling onto agricultural land

g) Threat to the global climate system. A recent study published in Nature from 5 different teams of researchers found that globally exploitation of shale is likely to increase total global greenhouse gas emissions, and not replace coal as a fuel [11]

h) Impact on current rural industries e.g. decrease in tourism, property prices falling.

There are too many studies to cite evidence for each of the above individually, so I will again direct the committee to the PSE Healthy Energy compendium, which references all the assertions I have given above [7].

I believe the committee should keep these potential impacts in mind when considering Part 5, Clause 36 "Maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum". This single clause, by advocating large development of the UK petroleum industry, could have extremely broad impacts, potentially changing our countryside, society and even the global climate system irrevocably as outlined above.

January 2015












Prepared 15th January 2015