A few weeks back I had the pleasure of joining a panel at the Durham University Union for a Question-Time-style debate. On the panel was Rebecca Taylor, whom I now know to be a Lib-Dem MEP representing Yorkshire. She entered the parliament in 2012, replacing Diana Wallis who resigned in interesting circumstances. Ms. Taylor has adopted such a low profile since joining the parliament that frankly I did not recognise her as a fellow-MEP until she was announced.
A question arose on fracking and unconventional gas. I said that I recognised that fracking was a simpler proposition in the USA, with its wide open spaces and low population density. Nevertheless, I said, we had some factors going for us in the UK. The Bowland shale in the UK’s North-West is reportedly around five times thicker than the large Marcellus field in the States. This means that you can frack from one well at several levels. In a thinner field you might need say five wells with single-layer fracking. In the Bowland, it may be possible to frack on five levels from a single well. This (I argued) is evidently more economic and less intrusive. It will offer cheaper gas to consumers and less disturbance for local residents.
Not that fracking is particularly intrusive in the first place. The drilling rig is in place for only a few weeks. It is then replaced by a well-head no more intrusive than a garden shed. Compared to coal mines or wind turbines, it is practically invisible.
Ms. Taylor was having none of it. I was wrong. Deeper wells were much more expensive, even with multi-layer fracking. The deep stratum of the Bowland made matters worse, not better. I insisted that my position was self-evident and common sense, but she stuck to her point. In the end we agreed to differ, but I fear that the audience would have been left in doubt.
Last week I attended a briefing meeting with senior figures from the industry, and I raised the question with them. They agreed immediately with my position, and were considerably surprised that Ms. Taylor, an elected politician on a public platform, could be so misinformed and dogmatically wrong. Multi-layer fracking — only possible where the gas-bearing stratum is deep — is better in just about every way, for the industry, for the consumer, for local residents and for the environment.
So, Ms. Taylor. Would you like to produce some substantive evidence to back your proposition? And if you are unable to do so, will you publish a retraction, and will you apologise to the Durham University Union for misleading them?
At my meeting, I also heard of the huge efforts made by Friends of the Earth to obstruct planning applications for exploratory wells. They seem to have rather a great deal of money, and are able to hire top-class barristers. Not surprising, because they are partly funded with your money, via the European Commission in Brussels. As I recently Tweeted, not so much “Friends of the Earth”. More “Enemies of Jobs, Prosperity and Investment”.
There is something deeply disturbing about tax-payers’ money being used in this way to obstruct and frustrate government policy.
FoE says that fracking causes earth tremors, and that drilling bore-holes, possibly through aquifers, and pumping in liquids under pressure, is self-evidently dangerous. So they want us to adopt cuddly-bunny, eco-friendly “green” technologies, like hydro (which causes earth tremors) or geo-thermal (which involves drilling bore-holes, possibly through aquifers, and pumping in liquid under pressure). Ho Hum.
There were some other issues about the importance of gas to the economy, entirely over and above its rôle in electricity generation. But that is material for another day.