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Ministers reject 40,000 objections to allow fracking below homes without owners’ permission.
by Damian Carrington.
Prime minister David Cameron during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/PA
Fracking will take place below Britons’ homes without their permission after ministers rejected 40,000 objections to controversial changes to trespass laws.
The UK government argued that the current ability for people to block shale gas development under their property would lead to significant delays and that the legal process by which companies can force fracking plans through was costly, time-consuming and disproportionate.
There were a total of 40,647 responses to a consultation on the move to give oil and gas companies underground access without needing to seek landowners’ permission, with 99% opposing the legal changes. Setting aside the 28,821 responses submitted via two NGO campaigns, 92% of the remaining responses objected to the proposals.
The government response to the consultation, published online on the eve of the parliamentary vote on military strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, concluded: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”
New laws will now be passed giving automatic access for gas and oil development below 300m and a notification and compensation scheme will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.
Should fracking trespass laws be changed?
“It is essential that we make the most of home-sourced energy and start exploring the natural energy supplies beneath our feet. As the cleanest fossil fuel shale gas provides a bridge to a much greener future,” said a statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. “By removing barriers to deep underground drilling access, we are speeding up oil and gas and deep geothermal energy exploration. ”
The Conservative energy minister, Matt Hancock, said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”
“This is an important day for the future of energy supply in the UK,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry’s trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG). “Landowners on the surface will not notice this underground activity [usually a mile deep] and it will have no impact on their day-to-day lives.”
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This sham consultation exposes the government’s disregard for the growing public concern about the major environmental and health risks of fracking. The decision to deny people the right to say no to fracking under their own homes is outrageous. It shows that ministers are putting the greed of oil and gas companies above the public interest in tackling climate change.”
Simon Clydesdale, from Greenpeace, said: “The roar of opposition to this arrogant policy is deafening, yet ministers are determined to blithely ignore what the overwhelming majority of the British public thinks and wants. There will be a hefty political price to pay for this massive sell-out to the narrow interests of the shale lobby.”
Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This government seems hell-bent on fracking irrespective of widespread opposition. You’d think with a general election approaching politicians would listen to public opinion and get behind the popular energy solutions of cutting waste and backing renewables.”
The changes to the trespass laws were also criticised by Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing: “UK government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes, without so much as debate in the Scottish parliament, flies in the face of Scotland’s cautious, considered and evidence based approach on this issue. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.”
In January, another controversial pro-fracking legal change was passed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. The change, which ditched the requirement to notify homes individually of future shale gas operations, was criticised by a Lords committee as having been rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Fracking companies will still need to obtain regulatory permissions, such as planning and environmental permits.
Earlier in September, the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority voted unanimously to reject an application by Celtique Energie to undertake exploratory drilling as a precursor to fracking at Fernhurst in West Sussex.
By Neela BanerjeeTanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)
Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.
Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.
Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.
Fears about possible water contamination and air pollution have fed resistance in communities around the country, threatening to slow the oil and gas boom made possible by fracking.
Fracking into underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers.
The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.
“Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,” concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.
The scientists cautioned that their research, which is ongoing and has yet to be peer-reviewed, “does not say that drinking water has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.”
Rather, they point out that there is no way of knowing the effects of fracking into groundwater resources because regulators have not assessed the scope and impact of the activity.
“The extent and consequences of these activities are poorly documented, hindering assessments of potential resource damage and human exposure,” DiGiulio wrote.
Underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, are a category of aquifers under the Safe Drinking Water Act that could provide water for human consumption.
“If the water isn’t being used now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future,” said DiGiulio, a Stanford research associate who recently retired from the Environmental Protection Agency. “That was the intent of identifying underground sources of drinking water: to safeguard them.”
The EPA documented in 2004 that fracking into drinking water sources had occurred when companies extracted natural gas from coal seams. But industry officials have long denied that the current oil and gas boom has resulted in fracking into drinking water sources because the hydrocarbon deposits are located in deeper geological formations.
“Thankfully, the formations where hydraulic fracturing actually is occurring…are isolated from USDWs by multiple layers and often billions of tons of impenetrable rock,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, an industry group.
Industry officials had not seen the Stanford research.
DiGiulio and Jackson plotted the depths of fracked wells, as well as domestic drinking water wells in the Pavillion area. They found that companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area.
“It’s true that fracking often occurs miles below the surface,” said Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford. “People don’t realize, though, that it’s sometimes happening less than a thousand feet underground in sources of drinking water.”
Companies say that fracking has never contaminated drinking water. The EPA launched three investigations over the last six years into possible drinking water contamination by oil and gas activity in Dimock, Pa.; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo. After initially finding evidence of contamination at the three sites, the EPA shelved the investigations amid allegations by environmentalists and local residents that the regulator succumbed to political pressure.
Jackson said the Stanford study’s findings underscore the need for better monitoring of fracking at shallower depths. “You can’t test the consequences of an activity if you don’t know how common it is,” he said. “We think that any fracking within a thousand feet of the surface should be more clearly documented and face greater scrutiny.”
The Stanford study focuses on Pavillion, in part because of DiGiulio’s familiarity with the area when he served as an EPA researcher in the latter stages of the Pavillion water study. Industry and the state of Wyoming questioned the EPA’s methodology after its 2011 draft report found the presence of chemicals associated with gas production in residents’ well water. In June 2013, the EPA turned over the study to Wyoming regulators, whose work is being funded by EnCana, the company accused of polluting the water in Pavillion.
The EPA study looked at whether chemicals migrated upward from fracked geological zones into people’s well water. The Stanford research does not explore the possibility of migration, focusing instead on the injection of fracking chemicals directly into geological formations that contain groundwater.
The EPA does not keep track of whether underground sources of drinking water have been hydraulically fractured as part of oil and gas development, said Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman. “EPA does not maintain a database of all the wells being hydraulically fractured across the country,” she said in an email.
In their presentation, DiGiulio and Jackson noted that the EPA considers the Wind River formation and the Fort Union stratum below it to be underground sources of drinking water. The conventional image of tight geological formations where fracking occurs is that they are monolithic stretches of rock. But the scientists say the geology of the two formations is mostly sandstone of varying permeability and water.
“People think these formations are impermeable, and so they wonder, ‘Why are you worrying about water?’” DiGiulio said. “But it is an extremely heterogeneous environment, with areas of low and high permeability mixed together and with many lenses conducting water.”
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Anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss – but as far as the Government is concerned, dissent is unimportant. Photo: Manchester Friends of the Earth via Flickr.
The UK Government’s policy is to frack at all costs, against public opinion and compelling evidence of environmental damage and poor returns, writes Paul Mobbs – a timely reminder that as far as the Government is concerned, it has a God-given right to rule over us, no matter what we think or want.
On my recent travels through London I’ve been trying to get here as it’s a nice place to sit and ponder – with its own unique and prophetic story to tell.
For the past three days I’ve been at the Frack Free South Wales gathering. In Wales I met a lot of people who, just a few months ago, didn’t know about ‘fracking’ and the Government’s project to carve-up the country for hydrocarbons exploration.
Despite an uncooperative and often indifferent mainstream media, we’ve got the message across at the grassroots.
Now I’m trying to get people, especially the ‘fractivists’ carrying the movement, to focus on ‘what comes next’ – to be proactive instead of reactive.
What happens next?
The Government’s strongly anti-environmental / pro-fossil fuels agenda has been coming for some time. As I’ve been talking about for a year or so, we just have to trace the influences on policy to see where it’s come from and where it’s heading.
It started with David Cameron’s recruitment of the Australian lobbyist Lynton Crosby – the architect of Cameron’s new policy to “get rid of the green crap”. That grew into a set of policies which made the environment expendable in order to maintain, forlornly, the great mantra of ‘growth’.
What I’ve tried to get people to understand is that we’ve been here before – where social movements sought to oppose a seemingly insurmountable political agenda.
If we want to understand ‘what happens next’ there are two relatively recent examples we can learn from.
The GMO lesson
Firstly, the campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops, the response of the agribusiness lobby, and how that influenced Government policy.
In 1996 I got a list of the sites across Britain where genetically modified crops were being tested from the Health and Safety Executive – and put it on my web site.
A short while later, spontaneously, people started to pull up the crops. One of the groups I subsequently became involved with was genetiX snowball, which drew many influences from the peace movement.
genetiX snowball was a great campaign… Then came the civil injunctions from the High Court. (more…)
Fracking company Celtique Energie presented data that hugely underplayed the number of heavy lorries needed for its planned drilling operations in Sussex, according to local highway officials. Other experts for the South Downs national park, in which Celtique plans to drill, said the company’s claims about noise were “opaque” and underestimated the increase in noise levels.
Celtique denies submitting misleading environmental statements. But it has sought to delay meetings at which its planning applications are decided while revised statements are put forward. If the delay is not granted, the company has said it will withdraw and re-submit the application, which would drive up planning costs. Ministers have repeatedly stated that the UK has “the most robust regulatory regime in the world for shale gas”.
As part of its planning application, Celtique claimed heavy goods vehicle (HGV) traffic would increase by 11-13 per cent at its Wisborough Green site, but highway officials from West Sussex council concluded the actual increase would be 50-64 per cent. The council made a similar objection about Celtique’s nearby Fernhurst site, with officials concluding the traffic assessment was not “a realistic or accurate representation”.
“It beggars belief and it is very concerning,” said Marcus Adams, who lives a few hundred metres from the Fernhurst site. “If Celtique can’t even do a traffic survey properly how can they drill safely? The government says we have gold-plated regulation for fracking, but I don’t believe it.”
Simon Clydesdale, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The pollution and disruption from industrial lorries clogging up small country lanes is one of people’s main concerns about the impact of fracking. This is an area where energy firms should be scrupulously upfront and transparent with local communities. This is a major blow to Celtique’s credibility and their efforts to win the trust of local people.”
A company spokesman said: “Celtique have been very careful not to be misleading. We believe we have been overly cautious in our environmental statements and presented the ‘worst case’ in all areas. Our reputation is important to us as a responsible operator. We are confident this will all be demonstrated soon.”
In September 2013, the chief executive of Celtique, Geoff Davies, said: “We recognise that the vehicle movements associated with the proposals has been a key issue for many.” He said the environmental statements submitted at that time were “comprehensive”. However, the company now says it will submit a new traffic analysis shortly. “Celtique are currently preparing a response to these objections and are confident that the points raised can be adequately addressed in our response,” the spokesman said.
The planning decision meeting for the proposed Wisborough Green well is due to take place on Tuesday, unless Celtique’s request for a delay until September is granted. The main objection raised by West Sussex highways officials centred on the fact that Celtique’s baseline traffic survey had counted any vehicle over 1.5 tonnes as a heavy goods vehicle, despite the official Design Manual for Roads and Bridges giving 3.5 tonnes as the minimum weight of an HGV. “[Celtique's] interpretation and conclusions included 4×4 vehicles, such as a Range Rover, as HGVs which serves to inflate ‘baseline’ figures for existing HGV movements,” the officials said.
The planning decision for Fernhurst was due on 10 July, but has already been delayed to September after West Sussex highway officials made a similar objection. The Fernhurst site lies in the South Downs national park and its governing authority commissioned an expert analysis of Celtique’s environmental statement.
The report concluded: “We have concerns regarding the adequacy of the groundwater and noise assessments and do not believe that these are sufficiently robust to allow the impact to be assessed with an appropriate level of rigour.” The report’s authors said the noise impact calculations were “opaque and not reproducible” and that their own calculations suggested noise “levels exceed the adopted limit, suggesting that those reported in the environmental statement may be underestimates.”
In May, Celtique abandoned plans to drill horizontally out from its Fernhurst site and under other people’s land, but still plans to drill vertical wells.
This article first appeared at the Guardian
Graphic shows earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past three days; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in earthquake activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method could be to blame, especially the wells where the industry disposes of its wastewater.
Fracking generates vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into injection wells, which send the waste thousands of feet underground. No one knows for certain exactly what happens to the liquids after that. Scientists wonder whether they could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.
Oklahoma has recorded nearly 250 small-to-medium earthquakes since January, according to statistics kept by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s close to half of all the magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes recorded this year in the continental United States.
A study published earlier this month in the journal Science suggests that just four wells injecting massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably shaking up much of the state, accounting for one out of every five quakes from the eastern border of Colorado to the Atlantic coast.
Another concern is whether injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures.
Most of the quakes in areas where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve led some states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and California, to introduce new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injection wells as well as to monitor seismicity during fracking operations.
FILE – In this June 26, 2014 file photo, Austin Holland, research seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, hangs up a chart depicting earthquake activity at their offices at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in seismic activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater, could be to blame. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) (more…)