Hydraulic fracturing of
’s Bowland shale in search of natural gas began on the Fylde during March 2011. Whilst the recent earthquakes on the Fylde have thrown some light on this activity, which is currently suspended whilst information gathered during the latest earthquake is considered by the British Geological Survey and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the process still remains a mystery to much of the Fylde population. Lancashire
The project so far has been furtive with minimal information released for public attention. The secrecy surrounding the exploration has bred concern amongst Fylde residents and environmental groups, leaving local people feeling cynical about the activity. There is a sense amongst residents of Weeton, Singleton and surrounding towns that independent information should be made readily available for locals and opportunities to engage in open discussion about this activity should be organised by the authorities. Many are disconcerted that residents were not engaged in any consultation at the early stages of this process by Fylde Borough Council or the company carrying out the gas exploration, Cuadrilla Resources.
FRACKING – THE SCIENCE
Hydraulic fracturing also referred to as ‘fracking’ or ‘hydrofracking’ is a process that uses pressure, created by fluid pumped under the landscape into reservoir rock formations through deep drilled wells, to open and extend fractures in the rock with the ultimate aim of releasing fuel bearing natural gas or oil for recovery.
Typically, the fractures which are created in the rock during this process are maintained after the injection by the introduction of a ‘proppant’ into the injected fluid. Proppant is a specially engineered material which may consist of naturally occurring sand, resin-coated sand, high-strength ceramic or other substances, which prevents the fractures from closing once the pressurised fluid injection is stopped. Fracking is the second phase of the exploration exercise that is being undertaken on the
. Fylde Coast
Phase One of the exploration, which involved drilling an exploratory well 9000 feet, almost two miles, into the earth below the Fylde Coast at the Preese Hall site near Weeton, began in August 2010 and completed on December 8.
During the first phase core samples were taken and analysed “indicating hard, brittle rock… producing natural gas flows, as well as a large presence of methane and other hydrocarbons” confirming the prospective lucrative potential of gas extraction from the Bowland shale formation.
The site at Preese Hall is the first shale gas well drilled in
Now the second phase of the exploration is underway at the Preese Hall site, with other sites in the locale set for exploration this year. This phase involves stimulating rocks that surround the vertical well using the controversial hydraulic fracturing process and once Phase 2 has been completed, Cuadrilla will be able to determine whether there are viable commercial quantities of natural gas present in the Bowland Shale.
The company carrying out this exploration and production are Cuadrilla Resources Holding Ltd.
Cuadrilla Resources are keen to point out that they are a “UK company”, their website and all of their promotional materials reiterate this fact, however just a Google search away is a much clearer explanation of who exactly is behind Cuadrilla Resources and who are the true beneficiaries that will be cashing in on this controversial fuel extraction from under the Fylde.
Although Cuadrilla is a UK Limited company, headquartered in
, Staffordshire, it is a holding company, a front established in 2007 by Australian shareholder company AJ Lucas to hold its investment in unconventional hydrocarbons exploration within Lichfield . AJ Lucas holds 40.93% of Cuadrilla together with a direct 25% interest in the Bowland shale prospects. Europe
The other major shareholder in Cuadrilla Resources Holding Ltd is Riverstone/Carlyle Global Energy and Power Funds, an energy-focused group of private equity funds managed by American firm Riverstone Holdings LLC.
It is reported that currently Cuadrilla has applied for, and in some cases been granted, exploration licences for over 1.5 million acres of land across
including sites in the Europe , UK and , Holland Poland . Spain
IT'S NOT ALL BAD
Shale gas, whilst controversial, does have some benefits and is billed by some supporters as the most important development in energy sourcing of recent years. Supporters are keen to point out that carbon emissions from shale gas energy production are significantly less than the process of other fossil fuels, some reports suggesting it produces around half the carbon emissions of coal.
The availability of shale gas also renders it an enticing prospect. If the latest estimations are correct then
alone has in the region of 1,000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas which would be sufficient to meet their natural gas needs for the next 50 years. Recent analysis by energy groups has predicted that shale gas could be providing up to 50% of North America ’s gas supply within the next ten years. America
Development of this process in the
is argued to offer much needed improvement in our energy security for the future, and enable reduction in our dependence on expensive foreign fossil fuels. UK
Shale gas extraction is also predicted to help decrease energy costs worldwide. If the industry is allowed to grow it would likely cause a significant decline in natural gas prices across the globe.
IT'S NOT ALL GOOD
The shale gas extraction process is known to unearth more than just the desired fuel. Potential leakage of methane gas from the gas wells could offset the benefits of carbon dioxide reduction achieved by a switch from coal to shale gas, thus raising the question of whether there is any real environmental benefit to this switch in fossil fuel.
Environmental groups point out that the rapid development of this industry could seriously hamper further development of the renewable energy industry. It is argued that investment in another essentially limited source of fuel is a false economy when funding and research could be better spent on progressing clean, renewable energy options that could serve the planet for an indefinite period.
There is also the question of whether the fracking process could lead to pollution of underground water where drilled boreholes pass through aquifers. Harmful natural gases could be allowed to escape as well as chemicals that are pumped into the earth as part of the fracking process.
A lack of research around the impact of drilling sites frustrates environmental groups and nearby residents who are concerned about the hazardous effect of this process to the local ecosystem. Pollution of the aquifer close to the Weeton and Singleton drilling sites is particularly worrying as a number of farms in the area rely on wells on their land that are fed from the Fylde aquifer.
In a dramatic turn of events the fracking process has also been linked to the recent earthquakes experienced on the Fylde coast, an area which historically has not recorded much seismic activity at all. On April 1 an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.3 was recorded, the British Geological Survey calculating the epicentre approximately 2 km from the Preese Hall shale gas drilling site. Whilst BGS are unable to conclusively determine if this earthquake was related to the ongoing hydraulic fracturing the report published on their website states that “the results are similar to those often obtained for shallow coalfield earthquakes in the UK” which seemed to support the view that the fracking process was to blame.
This connection was strengthened further when a second seismic event was recorded by BGS on May 27. Analysis of data from two temporary instruments installed close to the drill site by BGS after the April 1 earthquake, places the epicentre of the May 27 event within 500 metres of the Preese Hall site and at a depth of approximately 2 km. In the published report following this latest event BGS confirmed “the recorded waveforms are very similar to those from the magnitude 2.3 event on April 1, which suggests that the two events share a similar location and mechanism”.
In a statement on May 31 Cuadrilla Resources announced that their operation at the Weeton site would be ‘postponed’.
Considerable controversy surrounds the current implementation of hydraulic fracturing technology in the
and United States , where exploration and extraction of shale gas has been an increasingly important source of natural gas over the past decade. Environmental safety and health concerns have emerged which are being debated at state and national levels. Canada
Environmental and health organisations across
say the risks are simply too great to allow fracking to continue. Shale gas drill sites have been linked with air pollution in rural gas fields, contamination of drinking water and chronic health problems among populations living close to fracking operations. North America
An expose in the New York Times earlier this year titled ‘Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers’ provided insight into how the expansion of energy production from tight formations like shale is damaging water supplies and creating health risks. And award winning 2010 documentary film ‘Gasland’ also highlights the dangers linked to this energy extraction practice. As well as investigating health issues amongst residents of communities affected by shale gas fracking; contamination of their air, water wells and surface water, film maker Josh Fox met families who were able to light their tap water on fire due to the level of methane present.
Fracking is also blamed for an increase in the severity of earthquakes across
with many residents now calling for an end to this practice. Records published by Arkansas Geological Survey confirm there have been more than 700 quakes in the state during the past twelve months, including a magnitude 4.7 – the strongest earthquake recorded in Arkansas in 35 years. Arkansas
As with any industry or operation which engages in the use of chemical agents, the risks of mechanical failure are also present. A disastrous gas well blow-out in
during April of this year caused thousands of gallons of fracking fluid to spill over containment walls and through the surrounding area onto farming land and property. This is the second blow-out to occur in Pennsylvania since fracking began there, according to reports the first incident which occurred last June caused the fracking fluid mixture of water and chemicals to be propelled more than 70 feet into the air. Pennsylvania
AT WHAT COST TO THE FYLDE?
In an age where fuel sources dwindle and the cost of energy is ever increasing it is understandable that there would be a degree of enthusiasm and excitement around the uncovering of, what has been billed as, a cheaper, cleaner, readily available fuel.
It is the lack of detail presented that is misleading communities and allowing the shale gas fracking companies to tear apart countryside and disrupt eco-systems without challenge.
Most people would agree that there are benefits to the production of shale gas energy, but all of the facts should be in the public domain so that the people who are directly affected can decide if they think this fuel is worth the risks that accompany the extraction process. Is it worth the cost?
, Cuadrilla currently has applications or permissions at Anna's Road Westby, south of Grange Lane Singleton, north of Hale Hall Farm Wharles and Preese Hall Weeton. Lancashire
When the process is over and the drilling company leave the Fylde it is likely that the area itself will be none the richer and could be left with a devastated environment that might never be pieced back together.
The health risks for local population through air pollution or contamination into the Fylde aquifer could be severe. Increased seismic activity, which has begun at this early stage of the process, indicates that if fracking continues earthquakes could become a regular occurrence on the Fylde.
There is always a chance of disaster through mechanical failure with any endeavour of this kind and this shouldn’t be ignored given the close proximity of the sites to housing, farmland and schools.
Looking at the established industry in
North America we can examine the risks for communities when shale gas drilling is welcomed into an area.
It would be ignorant for us to not take any lessons from the hardship currently being experienced across the
where hydraulic fracturing has been in operation for a decade. US
Recently the Fylde was named in a survey of the Top 10 places to live in the
. If this exercise continues on the increasing scale that is planned then it may be that the area will never be thought of in this light again. UK
The only certainty in all of this is that Cuadrilla Resources shareholders stand to make a lot of money.
Will we allow greed to be the downfall of the
? Fylde Coast