www.counterbalance.org.uk

 

fylde counterbalance logo

search counterbalance

plain text / printout version of this article

countering the spin and providing the balance


 

Gas Exploration

Gas ExplorationSt Anne's YMCA's cavernous and echoey sports hall formed the (we thought) rather unlikely venue for a public meeting yesterday to explore the plans to drill for gas using a controversial technique that is new in shale geology called 'fraccing'

(That's American slang for fracturing the rock to release fuel bearing gas for collection).

The meeting was called by the local Green Party - who are very concerned about the idea.

About 30 folk turned up to hear what was said.

What we did learn was that a firm called Cuadrilla Resources has been drilling in a series of rocks known as the 'Bowland Shales' (For more info on the rocks see the British Geological Survey), and they're looking at three sites in Fylde.

The first - at Preese Hall, Weeton - is somewhere near the railway line and the M55, another site at Singleton, and the most recent - at Anna's Road, Westby.

Preese Hall Site, Weeton

We thought the meeting was a bit heavy on rhetoric and short on real facts.

The main speaker was Phil Mitchell, Chairman of Blackpool and Fylde Green Party. Our readers will remember Mr Mitchell when he stood for Parliament last spring (see Runners and Riders for MP 2010).

He had pretty much made his mind up this scheme was a 'bad thing' and was really looking for people to help him to oppose the scheme.

The first fracking meeting in Fylde

He was supported by two others, one sensible chap who seemed measured and open-minded and wanting to find out more about it, and one whose zealous opposition to the idea of drilling (almost for anything it seemed to us) bordered on obsession, and who seemed ready to line anyone with a drill up against a wall and shoot them without compunction. He didn't seem too keen to let anyone else have much of a say either, and flew rapidly to argue with (rather than discuss with) anyone expressing a view differing from his own, (or just if they asked a question that didn't imply enough criticism of the plan).

We were given a lot of views and beliefs from the various presenters, notably the zealot. One belief was that about 9 million gallons of groundwater were about to be contaminated with poisonous chemicals and sucked out of the ground under St Annes. It was said that that water would be lost forever, and this could lead to subsidence, poisoning the drinking water, and so on.

But we didn't see any evidence or facts to support these - quite inflammatory - views that were expressed.

That's not to say the views were wrong.

They might have been right.

But we were expected to take them on face value - and taking stuff on face value isn't our style.

As another example we were told there were hundreds of chemicals - some used in the drilling process and some used in the 'fraccing' process - that were highly poisonous, but we only heard the name of one, (which sounded to us like a sort of anti-freeze).

We were also told at various times that the 'fraccing' process used a cocktail of chemicals that was pumped in under high pressure to cause the fractures, and at other times that it caused a series of explosions like a miniature earthquake, and we were still none the wiser as to how the process actually worked (or indeed whether subterranean pyrotechnics were involved at all)

Another assertion was that we need to man the barricades now and stop the test drilling because the American company had granted itself exemption from health and safety legislation.

This was either poor reporting, or pure scaremongering, and we thought the Green Party risked serious damage both to its case, and to its credibility, by allowing stories of this sort to be put about under its banner.

It may be (as we later established) that one of the key shareholders of the drilling company has more than the ear of some in the US, and it has secured some exemptions from environmental legislation across the pond, but the idea of that happening in the UK is, frankly, preposterous, given the exceptionally strong European environmental regulations that operate here.

There was mention in the meeting of a film called 'Gaslands' which the Co-Op is distributing from later this month, and there seemed to be hope that would be critical of the plans. There was also mention of a Select Committee that would be considering the broad issues on 17 January.

So as our readers can probably tell, for the most part, we were not that impressed with the content of the presentations.

When it came to questions, the audience seemed to fall into two main camps.

There were those who seemed to be 'the faithful' of the Green Party who were already converted to the evils of gas exploration. They mostly seemed to be seeking empathetic reassurance of how awful the idea was. One of the more cogent had experience of it in America and he said we needed to be very careful in what was allowed.

There were a couple who had been involved in the UK's gas and oil exploration industry - albeit not with the shale rocks now being considered.

To be honest, we thought they talked more fact and logic than the official presenters.

One, now retired, had been in the oil and gas industry in Morecambe Bay. He said the process of drilling using the fracture technique had been around for decades and was a proven technology, the only difference here seemed to be its use in shale rocks.

Another said what people may not know was that there was a gas wellhead in Elswick, and had been since 1962. It became unviable and was closed down, but re-opened in 1991 and has been producing gas ever since - just as it is today.

This chap worked on the project and said hardly anyone knew it was there.

And to be honest, although we knew there had been drilling in the 1990s we had no idea it went back to the 60s, and absolutely no idea it was producing gas and turning it into electricity for the National Grid on the site at Elswick today.

Even people that we know who were born in Elswick don't know about it.

Admittedly, as the chap told us after the meeting, that well is drilled into a pocket of natural gas that stretched from the River Wyre to Freckleton, and it didn't use the 'fraccing' technique, but he said it did show that natural gas could be extracted and contribute to our energy needs without causing unsightly scars on the landscape, and poisoning the earth and water.

We'd gone to the meeting to find out what information we could for our readers - so they are well informed - but sadly we're not able to present any facts that we're happy to rely on from the meeting.

One thing that did come out was the hope that, subject to approval by the Green party, and clearance of copyright issues etc, there would be a pre-release showing of the Gaslands video (that someone had obtained on a DVD) next Tuesday 11th January at 6pm in the Pavilion on Hope Street Recreation Ground.

Sadly we can't go to that as we have other fish to be frying for our readers on that night. But if any of our readers want to go, we think they might usefully contact Mr Mitchell to check all is OK before setting off.   philip.mitchell@greenparty.org.uk

For us, the saddest point in all of the public meeting was the mixing up of lots of prejudices - the same sort of thing that happened in the foxhunting debate a year or two ago. All sorts of agendas were in play there, as there were at the YMCA on Saturday.

Some seemed to object to the idea of using natural gas under any circumstances.

Some objected because someone might make money out of the scheme.

Some of the objection was based on a perceived threat to groundwater, others to the anticipated threat to wildlife.

Some were concerned about the use of 'fracturing' technique at all, and others by its use in this type of geology - the shale rocks where it is largely untested.

In this mêlée of concerns, it was impossible to separate out what the real objection was, or indeed, should be, if one needed to be made.

The Green Party did do a 'party political' for help and support toward the end of the meeting.

That's fair enough. They paid for the meeting room, and they were not secretive about their aims.

They also put out a clarion call for anyone present to stand for election to the Council next May, and we couldn't help wondering whether they risked this issue being seen as a political bandwagon that might help their chances at the next election.

Again, that's fair enough if that's their aim.

But if there is a real problem with the use of this fracturing technique in shale geology, they risked it getting lost in the politics of the message.

So the meeting was not what we'd hoped for.

We've tried to do a bit of factual research ourselves, and present it now for our readers.

We don't think we're anywhere near a conclusive view yet, and we certainly haven't seen enough hard information on the specifics to come to conclusion, but readers might find some of it of interest.

We begin with the shale. (We think of that as a sort of gravel, but in this case it's not). From what we can establish, the Bowland Shales are basically a huge area of marine-based mudstone stretching in one form or another from the Isle of Man to the Pennines.

Something like 300 million years ago, these rocks were deposited as sediments in a coastal environment where large river deltas were building out into the shallow, tropical marine waters that covered much of Britain at that time. Continuing deposition over the millennia led to the further building out of the deltas and the formation of an extensive low-lying, swampy land area in which coal measures were deposited.

And within those hard rocks, (as opposed to pockets, voids and reservoirs that can simply be drilled into and tapped), the molecules of gas can be 'unlocked' for harvesting and consumption.

It's a complicated business involving drilling down thousands of feet underground. We've heard that at Weeton something in the order of 4,500 feet is involved (That's drilling down nine times deeper than Blackpool tower, then drill horizontally for anything up to a mile, then do vertical drilling that has the mixture pumped into it under high pressure and that pressure causes the fracturing of the rock into multiple fissures from which the gas is collected).

We're pretty much impressed you can actually drill that deep and then turn the drill horizontal. (We struggle to keep our drilling of the house wall for rawlpulgs straight and to the right depth)

This British Geological Survey was contracted by the UK Government to report on the matter. Follow this link for a copy of their detailed report which can (at least at present) be found as a pdf file.

They note issues with waste water and the denser population of the UK, putting people in closer proximity to the drilling. They conclude: "Even if one assumes that the American shale gas producing analogies are valid, many of the operating conditions are different in the UK. In the UK, land owners do not own mineral rights, so there is little incentive to support development, and local authorities must grant planning consent. The US has relatively permissive environmental regulations, low population densities, tax incentives, existing infrastructure, well developed supply chains and access to technology. Cumulatively, these factors mean that it is far from certain that the conditions that underpin shale gas production in North America will be replicable in the UK."

Additional information is available at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) website. This includes licensing regulations, maps, monthly production figures, basic well data and where to view and purchase released well and seismic data.

In Lancashire, planning permission for minerals exploration is controlled by Lancashire County Council, and Cuadrilla currently has eight applications or permissions:

These are not lightly-taken decisions as the documents available from the previous links will show you. For example, the documents that comprise the Anna's Road site application and decision are:

  • 003 AR Rev0 060710 - Location Plan
  • 005 AR Rev1 160810 - Planning Application Area
  • 008 AR Rev0 270710 - Designated HGV Routes
  • 007 AR Rev2 160810 - Photo Location Plan
  • 004 AR Rev 0 - Petroleum Exploration Developmemt Licence
  • Planning Application Photos Of Site Area
  • Plan No C10040/C/001 - Proposed Schematic Layout
  • Planning Application Supporting Statement
  • Appendix A - Licensing System And Planning Policies
  • Appendix B - Geological Summary
  • Appendix C - Drilling Testing Operations
  • Appendix D - Background Noise Study
  • Appendix E - Ecological Study
  • Appendix F Highway Statement
  • Appendix G - Site Restoration Details
  • Appendix H - Lighting Details
  • Appendix I - Screening Opinion
  • Application Forms
  • LCC Archaeology comments received 14/09/2010
  • Westby with Plumptons Parish Council comments received 15/09/2010
  • Environment Agency comments received 27/09/2010
  • Fylde Borough Council comments received 06/10/2010
  • LCC Ecologist comments received 06/10/2010
  • Environment Agency comments received 08/10/2010
  • LCC Landscape comments received 12/10/2010
  • Traffic And Safety 27/10/2010
  • Committee Report 17Th November 2010
  • Decision Notice
  • Blackpool Airport comments received 22/11/10

And those documents are only for the single test boring at one site.

We know the folk behind some of these. For example, Dr Sarah Manchester from LCC's Ecology department is nobody's fool and pretty much as good as anyone we've ever seen on identifying the threats and measures needed to prevent or mitigate harm to wildlife. We have confidence in what she says.

We also know and trust the judgement of some of the folk on Westby Parish Council - (whose patch this is on) and they supported the application. Readers can follow this link for a copy of the main application from Cuadrilla

So what of Cuadrilla itself?

Cuadrilla was formed in September 2007 as a privately held exploration and production company.

The headline company is Cuadrilla Resources Holdings Ltd. based in Lichfield, Staffs.

We did a bit of digging and we also found that sharing the same postcode for Cuadrilla House, Stowe Court, Stowe Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire were:

  • Bowland Resources Limited
  • Cuadrilla Resources Limited
  • Cuadrilla Well Services Limited
  • Cuadrillco Limited
  • Elswick Resources Limited
  • Publicity Services Limited

and a number of others

An Australian company - AJ Lucas Group Limited - ('Lucas') was a founding shareholder in Cuadrilla and has supported the management team since the company’s inception. Lucas is a leading provider of specialist infrastructure and mining services. It is the leading supplier of drilling services to Australia’s coal and coal seam gas industries. It is also one of Australia’s largest builders of long distance gas pipelines. It is also a leading developer of unconventional hydrocarbon properties.

A drilling rig

Cuadrilla's near term focus is on its unconventional resource portfolio in the UK, Netherlands and Poland, while continuing to evaluate other prospective countries throughout Europe. To date, the company has applied for, and in some cases been granted, exploration licenses totalling in excess of 1.5 million acres in a number of different basins. In addition, Cuadrilla has designed and overseen the manufacture of state of the art cementing and fracture stimulation equipment and is soon to take delivery of a DrillMec HH220 top drive rig.

Cuadrilla’s management has global experience and technical leadership in finding unconventional hydrocarbons. It is lead by Dr Chris Cornelius and Dennis Carlton.

One of the other directors of Cuadrilla (whose Companies House Number is: 07147040), is Edmund John Philip Browne (now Baron Browne of Madingley), the former Group Chief Executive of BP.

In Feb 2010, Cuadrilla was acquired by 'Riverstone' who have offices in Texas, London, and New York.

Riverstone Holdings LLC, is an energy and power-focused private equity firm founded in 2000. It has approximately $17 billion under management across six investment funds,

The Riverstone / Carlyle Global Energy and Power Funds, are one group of energy-focused private equity funds managed by Riverstone Holdings LLC ("Riverstone")

Carlyle has been profiled in two notable documentaries, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, and William Karel's The World According to Bush.

In the film Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore alleges that the Bin Laden and Bush families were both connected to the Group and that after 9/11 the bin Laden family sold their stake. He also said that the Carlyle Group was one of the larger defence contractors in the US. He focused on Carlyle's connections with the Bush family and alleged members of the family had served as advisors to the firm.

Most people are likely to have heard of the Carlyle group in connection with the Iraq war where they are alleged to have had won contracts to undertake work that some regarded as being, in effect, private armies, involving security and specialist/technical people.

The names of Cheney, Perle, Bush (both father and son) and others have been linked to the group.

This is really big money.

There are those who believe that Blackpool's failed Casino bid (or possibly Fylde's former incompetent financial management) could be replaced by the riches of a shale-gas exploration and extraction industry in Fylde as the re-generator of wealth in this area.

Or, of course, it could poison all the groundwater, kill off all the wildlife, and cause subsidence and plague for years to come.

Cuadrilla's public face - A. J. Lucas - issued a statement on 7th December 2010.  It said:

Drilling Activity Preese Hall

Drilling of Preese Hall #1 will be completed by close of business Wednesday 8th December 2010. Management considers this well to be very successful thus far.

This well is the first "true' shale gas well ever drilled in Europe (drilled and operated by Cuadrilla Resources) and will reach a target depth of 9,100 feet in the Clitheroe Limestone Complex – 900 feet deeper than originally planned.

Total core samples of approximately 260 feet have been taken which indicate hard, brittle rock – fractured both horizontally and vertically, and producing substantial gas flows, as well as a large presence of methane and other hydrocarbons.

The core samples will be analysed in laboratory conditions and the well will be fracced. Initial indications are that Preese Hall #1 confirms and possibly exceeds the original expectations of management as to the prospectivity of the Bowland shale.

Preese Hall #1 is deeper than originally planned in order to encounter all of the prospective shale sections – in excess of 4,030 feet and, has taken longer in order to take additional core samples, as well as to penetrate the hard formations encountered.

The Cuadrilla rig will be relocated to Grange Hill #1, approximately 15km away, for commencement of drilling scheduled for January 2011. The workover rig, fraccing and testing equipment will be mobilised immediately to Preese Hall and a pre-frac well test conducted in December. The duration of this test will depend upon the well response however, it is likely that the full frac test will commence in January 2011.

Preparations for a third exploratory well in the Bowland Shale, Anna's Road #1, are being undertaken – with a planning permit approved on 17 November 2010.

The equipment and drilling rig (one of the most advanced in Europe) have performed well in excess of expectations and, the well (together with outside and additional scientific data), confirms in entirety the science and engineering undertaken prior to the commencement of drilling.

Results thus far warrant completion of the full work programme originally envisaged. It must be noted however, that management will not be in a position to make a detailed decision as to the most appropriate way forward in terms of commercialisation until drilling and fraccing of Preese Hall and Grange Hill have been completed and analysed. This is expected to be around the end of 01 / 2011.

Cuadrilla holds acreage in the UK, Holland, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic totalling approximately 2.25 million gross acres.

Cuadrilla is applying for an additional (approximate) 650,000 acres of land in central/west Europe; which would complement our existing acreage extremely well. This will occur in early 2011.

Drilling will commence in Holland in Q1 2011 (following completion of Grange Hill) — for which permits have already been obtained. Fraccing in Hungary is scheduled for end Q1 of 2011.

Both of these are significant as far as the future prospects for Cuadrilla are concerned.

The business plan is on track, fully funded for the time being and may be expedited; depending on results obtained during the first half of calendar 2011. Cuadrilla intends to fast track its initiatives during calendar 2011, commencing with the Bowland shale prospect.

Shale gas in Europe has matured significantly during 2010. Cuadrilla believes that its decision to design and build the most advanced drilling and fraccing capability in Europe has proved to be wise and prescient—the full impact of which is likely to be seen during the next two years.

All of the assets inside Cuadrilla are held by Cuadrilla except the two UK assets: the Bowland Basin and the Weald Basin; which are held as to 25% directly by the Al Lucas Group of companies.


One final thought from us.

The mineral rights under land are a complicated matter. Sometimes it's the farmer, sometimes it's the Crown or Duchy in Lancashire, sometimes they go with manorial titles.

There is still a Lordship of the Manor of Westby with Plumptons in which Anna's Road is situated, And it may be  that in order to reach the gas Cuadrilla will need to reach an accommodation with the current Lord of the Manor.

We've not heard the last of Cuadrilla and their plans, which we think are being vastly underrated at present. There's more to come.

Dated:   9 January 2011

UPDATE: 18 Jan 2011.
For as long as it lasts, the BBC has published a page about shale gas drilling at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12212361
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12242840

UPDATE: 21 Jan 2011.
We've has a few emails from around the worldf on this (Holland, Australia etc). Mostly these are concerned or opposing the idea but there are some interesting links which readers might like to use when weighing their views.

coaunterbalance is not responsible for, or in control of, these external websites. The links are provided on this basis.

LOCAL PAPER
Evening Gazette  25 Jan 2100

HOLLAND
My interest in this matter has to do with some explorations Cuadrilla does in the Netherlands, in Boxtel and Haaren. I have been digging into the company as well (no pun intended :)) as can be seen from
http://www.mindmeister.com/71168914/cuadrilla-resources

Furthermore I have collected relevant information on the matter of shale gas, and the politics surrounding the explorations on
http://www.scribd.com/schaliegas
(the latter beiung dutch for "shale gas").

AUSTRALIA
1. Hunter Valley Protection Alliance Website
This has a wealth of information - especially the page about "Why we are concerned about CSG". There are many links to excellent sources of information, including video clips, such as the 60 Minutes Episode.

2. Hunter Valley Protection Alliance Facebook Page
This gets updated every day with lots of current & topical information re CSG & mining issues.

3. Lock the Gate Alliance Website
This has some good information & details what the LTG Alliance is all about.

4. Lock the Gate Alliance Facebook Page
This gets updated every day with lots of current & topical information re CSG & mining issues.

4a. Lock the gate Questions to Gas Companies
A PDF file of questions that concerned people might want to ask of the prospective gas companies

5. Gasland the Movie Website
This has loads of information about coal & shale seam gas.

6. Gasland Facebook Page
This gets updated regularly with the latest news regarding Gasland the Movie.

7. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Website
This has a wealth of information about fracking, fracking fluids and the health effects of exposure to these contaminants.


info@counterbalance.org.uk

To be notified when a new article is published, please email 
notify@counterbalance.org.uk