Coal mining vs. Fracking: a comparison

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“How would you like to work down a coal-mine?” 
 
 

The coal strike of 1984/85 was a defining moment for the British trade union movement, and for the government of the day.  Much of the understandable hurt and resentment in the mining communities affected remains to this day, and although in economic terms the outcome was both necessary and inevitable, at the time the government attracted huge opprobrium.

We shouldn’t forget that the UK’s Industrial Revolution a couple of centuries ago was built on coal.  Without it, Britain might today be an insignificant agrarian country on the North-West fringes of Europe.  It was that important.  It resulted in wealth and economic success on a scale previously unimaginable.  And despite the social upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, it set the stage for steady progress in living standards which has continued (with the occasional hiccup) until the present day.

But the coal industry came with major downsides.  It had a devastating impact on the landscape.  For many years it resulted in severe atmospheric pollution.  It even caused minor earth tremors.  It required huge shafts, big enough to carry large lifts, to be dug down through the level of the water table, with potential for water pollution.  It required tens of thousands of men to spend their working lives deep underground, more or less in darkness, breathing foul air and coal-dust.  Thousands died horrifically in accidents.  Tens of thousands ended up with debilitating and eventually lethal lung diseases.  Yet the workers valued their jobs; they passed them on to their sons; they fought tooth and nail to protect them when the pits eventually became uneconomic.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some new energy extraction technology came along, here in Britain, which offered the same sort of economic benefits as coal, but with much less visual intrusion and damage to landscape?  One that created jobs, but didn’t require workers to spend their working lives down the pit, or risk suffering from foul lung diseases?  A fuel that burned much more cleanly than coal?

Of course we have such a technology.  Unconventional gas.  Fracking.  So it’s a crying shame that an unholy alliance of “green” NGOs (some financed by our taxes through the EU), together with conventional gas producers like Russia’s Gazprom, threaten this amazing opportunity to develop our economy, to achieve security of supply, and to provide jobs for our children and grandchildren.  Jobs not just in the gas industry, but in all the other industries that will prosper as a result of indigenous gas.

The worries of local residents in Balcombe and elsewhere are legitimate (rather more legitimate than the professional agitators who have joined the protests).  But they are misplaced.  They are based on deliberately mendacious propaganda.  And they risk doing huge damage to our country’s economic prospects.

I’ve met people who simply parrot the wild accusations from the propaganda film “Gasland”.  I’ve been told that fracking will devastate Britain.  I’ve been told that no one in America can get potable water out of the tap any more — they all have to drink bottled water.  I think my American friends might be surprised by this news.  It really is nonsense, yet these wild stories threaten what is probably Britain’s greatest economic opportunity since North Sea Oil, if not since coal.

I’ve also met people who tell me very authoritatively that “No matter how much shale gas we discover, the prices won’t come down”.  But the truth is that until we do more exploration, and drill a few test wells, we just don’t know how the economics will work out.  Maybe prices will come down, maybe not.  They’ve certainly come down dramatically in the USA.

What commercial shale gas would do, regardless of price, is cut our dependence on imported fuel.  It would increase our energy security.  It would transform our balance of payments.  It would pay for our old people’s pensions and our young people’s education.  We can say pretty much for sure that our taxes will be lower, and our energy less expensive, with shale gas than without.  These are massive benefits.

So let’s consider shale against coal.  Coal needs big surface sites.  Pithead equipment.  Waste mountains.  And even more visual/landscape intrusion with open-cast.  A shale well needs drilling equipment for two or three months — but after that, the well-head is little more intrusive than a garden shed.  Certainly a great deal preferable to a wind turbine, visible for miles.  Both coal and shale require drilling down through aquifer levels (as does geo-thermal, which the Greens love).  But while the coal shaft may be ten feet across, the gas bore-hole may be a mere six inches.  Fracking has gone on in the US for many decades, with no evidence of significant water pollution.  And the technology and regulation are getting better all the time.

Fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes.  It may result in minor tremors, comparable to natural back-ground seismic activity.  Or comparable to the tremors caused by coal mining.  And the workers work on the surface, not a thousand feet down.  This is a dramatically healthier industry.  Gas is also very much cleaner than coal and (if it matters to you) produces much less CO2.

It’s time for former miners and mining communities to demand fracking to replace lost mining.  All the benefits of coal, very few of the downsides.  And it’s time for politicians to speak up, to lead public opinion, not simply to jump on the next protest band-wagon.

Some UKIP members ask me how we can be against wind farms yet not against fracking.  The answer is simple.  Wind farms are a non-solution to a non-problem, a vast waste of money that does huge damage to our economy.  Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity which can potentially transform our economy and ensure jobs for future generations.  It would be wholly irresponsible to ignore it.

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40 Responses to Coal mining vs. Fracking: a comparison

  1. edmh says:

    At last a politician with education, engineering understanding and common sense.

  2. catalanbrian says:

    Shale gas v coal is not the question. Both are fossil fuels. Both are sources of Co2. Both are finite. Shale gas MAY get the UK over the next energy hurdle but it is not the solution that you would have us believe.

    • David says:

      Neither is wind, by a very long country mile.

    • The point is, Catalanbrian, that we have fossil fuels for decades, probably centuries, and as I never refrain from saying, the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. It ended when we found a better technology. And the same will be true of fossil fuels. But for today, and the next few decades, gas is a vastly better option that intermittent technologies. Especially if we want our grandchildren to have jobs.

    • “Shale gas v coal is not the question. Both are fossil fuels. Both are finite”. Catalan Brian, you put me in mind of a charcoal-burner in 1600 worrying if we’re going to run out of trees, especially with all that wood going on new-fangled ships. One thing is sure — the energy sources we will be using in a hundred years time are simply beyond our power to imagine today. You can’t prescribe technologies for the far future — but we can and should worry about the next few decades. And coal, gas and nuclear are the best options we have to keep the lights on.

  3. Joseph T Croft says:

    most people protest out of fear , also they all want fuel and the latest technology , but they don’t want it on there doorstep , they would be all for it if it was on some body else’s doorstep , it reminds of the people who see a field next to there property is going to be built on , suddenly they are up in arms protesting about the habitat , yet they seem to forget that there house was once a green field , but none want to demolish there house and turn it back into a green field , most are just hypocrites

  4. Tony says:

    catalanbrian, Roger Helmer is NOT claiming that shale gas is the permanent solution, but it should see the UK ok for a 50yr time horizon. That provides breathing space to find the next technological breakthrough, and will save UK industry from going down the pan due to higher energy costs than our competitors. In the US, gas prices have fallen to around a 1/3rd and the economy given a chance to be revitalised. Inaction will only see the UK reduced to a Third World country.

  5. GUY JACKSON says:

    A common sense response as usual Roger, What a pity more of your political colleagues (regardless of Party) are unable to take a similar approach. Guy 

    ________________________________

  6. I agree, as usual, with Mr Helmer’s view. I believe in developing nuclear but as Tony, (above) writes, shale gas is a technologically manageable gift for the short to medium term. There is, as usual in human affairs and politics, too much wrong information being pushed by interesterd parties and common sense sometimes needs to be applied. We should at least drill a few exploratory holes and make some assessments as to potential. Where these explorations are to take place I daren’t say but if factual information and an honest approach from a developer combined to give local people a chance to consider then it would be a start. I really don’t think we can ignore the issue.

  7. David says:

    I hope our politicians do not sell this vital asset to an overseas outfit, its ours and must stay our resource, yes sell some of the gas when it arrives, but not the motherload. I expect we will find more of this than we already know about, so the life of this supply may well extend beyond 50 years. I support SAFE fracking, so come on Gov, stop fracking about.

  8. neilfutureboy says:

    I have been considering the same comparison between wind and nuclear.

    Delingpole recently did an article on the damage caused by low frequency sound from windmills. This is clearly a genuine and proven widespread health risk. It thereby differs from low level nuclear radiation which, despite the official fear campaign, is not in any way proven and indeed, such radiation is arguably proven beneficial to health (the hormesis theory).

    Both involve the assumption that there is no proven safe level – so no matter how dilute the radiation or how far the sound has travelled they cannot be provably safe. But because sound is certainly a real problem it ought to be taken 1,000 times more seriously.

    Thus all environmentalists who actually believe in the precautionary principle must be spending 1,000 times as much effort in fighting windmills as they do nuclear. Which appears to prove that no “environmentalist” leaders (or indeed anybody at the BBC) actually believes in a word of the scare stories they are pushing.

    • catalanbrian says:

      But let us not forget that Mr Delingpole is rather well known for his ability to ignore any argument with which he disagrees. Yes, it is a fact that wind turbines are not silent, but there again nor is the environment as a whole. As someone who has experience of living close to a wind farm (nearest turbine is less than 1km from my house) I can state categorically that the noise is only heard when the wind is at a low level, so that there is no other wind related noise such as rustling leaves etc. and is blowing from the turbines towards my house. Then I can hear a gentle swishing noise . And even then the background noise such as crickets and birdsong is much more intrusive. Mr Delingpole has chosen to base his argument on a 1987 study but has chosen to ignore subsequent studies that disagree with his viewpoint and particularly to studies that have established that the “perception of the noise generated by a wind turbine has more to do with the individuals attitude to the wind turbines, than the actual noise itself. Oh and by the way I am pro nuclear in addition to other renewable energy sources.

      • neilfutureboy says:

        “I can state categorically that the noise is only heard when the wind is at a low level”

        Which demonstrates my point. Can you imagine a press report about Fukushima which says “I can state categorically that the radiation from the accident is only equal to natural background radiation when the wind is blowing in the right direction.

        Of course not, partly because radiation levels outside the fence round the reactors it never has been remotely that strong but also because it it risk, and anybody who does so simply cannot honestly believe in the principle.had ever been so it would never have been reported in the reassuring terms you use.

        I think you misunderstood what I said. I did not say that windmill noise, miles from the windmills, was definitely dangerous, I said that by all the standards used, it must be at least 1,000 times more dangerous than low level radiation, comparable to the background radiation that everybody lives with. There is a strong possibility that, at least at such ranges, neither is dangerous. But anybody who believes in the precautionary principle simply cannot as you put it, “has the ability to ignore” the greater risk and honestly pretend to believe in the lesser.

        Incidentally I* do not think Delingpole does behave with similar dishonesty – perhaps you could give an unambiguous example?

      • ex- Expat Colin says:

        Repetitious noise…why would anybody want that…swishing? About 5% to baseload and fossil fuel back up. Interconnectors connected, Diesel BS…just in case?

        Seems madness is further toward the infinite end than I originally thought.

      • Catalanbrian: It is well established that individuals vary greatly in their susceptibility to infrasound. It may well be it doesn’t affect you personally. But the research shows it significantly increases levels of insomnia, depression, migraine etc. in the surrounding population.

      • Charles Wardrop says:

        Can you assure us that you do not benefit financially, or in any other way, from wind turbines, since the rest of us, and the nation, are only handicapped by them?

      • catalanbrian says:

        Charles, you can rest assured that I have no financial interest whatsoever in any organisation that is involved in wind farm development or operation and do not benefit directly from wind turbines. I don’t even benefit directly from the electricity that they produce (the ones at the back of my farm have turned pretty much constantly since they were installed over a year ago) as I have no public power at my house and rely on solar panels to provide power. Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain exactly how you are handicapped by them?

      • neilfutureboy says:

        Cata if the claim about your identity were true you would know that people who produce solar power, and are connected to the grid can nott only sell their excess for about 1

  9. ex- Expat Colin says:

    We are largely interested in most anything that lies between finite and infinite. That would be the stuff that assists us in life of course. Have not seen infinite stuff yet but whats in the DECC/EU and related gets close to an infinite supply of madness. Wind Farms and CO2 levels are BS but Solar PV is interesting (to me) – I need some on my wide Conservatory to bounce some heat/light away in summer. I don’t want FIT either.

    Proven Safe Levels is a bit tricky because that requires identified risk and allied satisfactory mitigation. It then becomes acceptable risk or acceptably safe. Elimination of Catastrophic and Major incidents being the name of the game. Anything less or the occurrence of the former will need money reserved for outlay by an owner of the risk(s). Wonder who that might be on these subjects….probably a lot of them I suspect.

    Anyway, need to submit my Wind Farm scrap yard layout to planning…need those rare earth things before China gets them back.

    And Shale Gas will get screwed up I am very sure.

  10. MartinW says:

    Now try to get that common sense on to the BBC. No chance. That irredeemably biased organisation brooks no dissent.

  11. johnd2008 says:

    On tonight’s 6 o’clock news the BBC were busy spreading the bull about CO2 causing global warming and that we are all going to die if we don’t immediately switch everything off.

    • Tony says:

      The simple answer is for them to stop broadcasting so much junk and for so many hours, but they would never admit that their output is responsible for so much electricity usage! Not that I believe that CO2 is a problem – lovely plant food.

  12. Chris says:

    What the UK needs is a balanced source of energy generation. That is coal, gas and nuclear. I’ve left out wind farms because they are useless.

    Coal is still a large contributor to the UK’s energy production at around 40%. As of 9pm on 5th August, it is currently producing 36% of our electricity production.

    The largest earthquake in the UK due to fracking was 2.3.
    Mining earthquakes are up to 5.6
    Therefore, the difference is 10^(5.6-2.3) = 1995.
    So, fracking earthquakes are nearly 2000 times smaller than ones from mining.

    A Richter value of 2-2.9 is classed as minor; Felt slightly by some people. No damage to buildings.

  13. Richard111 says:

    What the UK needs is a balanced education system. If CO2 could do the same as H2O I would understand the fuss. There is around 100% more H2O in the tropics as CO2 and H2O is far, far superior at transferring heat energy through the atmosphere than CO2. But you can’t tax H2O.
    Problem with solar panels is even if the sun is shining they generate zilch when covered in a foot or so of snow and that is just when you need the energy. If blades of wind turbines ice up the ice breaks off in lumps and unbalances that huge propeller such that it will break if not shut down in time. So when the cold comes only the thousands of diesel generators currently being built in China will provide what little electricity we get.
    Good luck to the UK this coming winter. I hope the food riots don’t get too bad.

  14. Richard111 says:

    By the way, you cannot hear low frequency noise, your body can only react to it. It can make you feel ill and depressed. Different people react differently. If you find it doesn’t bother you then have a look through the housing market. There are some lovely homes being almost given away because they are close to wind farms.

    • neilfutureboy says:

      I note Cant that you have decided you specifically cannot produce any evidence to support your previous accusation of dishonesty against Delingpole.

      Nor do you produce any slightest trace of evidence to support what your case.

      Instead you go for a completely non sequiter fact free smear by the Guardian. W”hile I accept this as normal tactics among those paid to promote windmillery perhaps in this case you would care to provide some evidence that this particular Guardian story is far more honest than the standard of honesty to which Guardian staff aspire to.

      Perhaps not.

    • Don’t ask me to explain the excesses of the American legal system. The fact is that all systems for generating energy arguably do some damage to the environment. But all the evidence suggests that fracking is one of the safest energy technologies we have available. And if generating energy is dangerous, having the lights go out is worse.

  15. neilfutureboy says:

    Cata if the claim about your identity were true you would know that people who produce solar power, and are connected to the grid can nott only sell their excess for about 10 times the normal price but gets a grant of about 9 times normal for what they produce and use themselves. If you were what you claim this refusal of such large amounts of money available to ecofascist parasites would be remarkable (as would your ability to keep your lights on at night using only solar power).

    I repeat my request to find anybody identifiable who comments on sites like this or newspapers in the “warmist” cause who is provably not a government funded activist.

    • catalanbrian says:

      I object to being called a liar and an ecofacist parasite. I am not connected to the grid and thus do not sell any electricity. There is nothing remarkable about my lights being on at night because I store power in batteries. Perhaps an apology would be in order.

      • neilfutureboy says:

        Firstly since you consider apologies appropriate and you have declined to produce any evidence for your claims about Delingpole you will wish to apologise for them

        Then you will wish to apologise for not making it immediately.

        Then you will wish to apologise for asking for an apology when you had failed to make it in such circumstances.

        Then you will confirm whether your lie about Dellors did or did not represent the standard of honesty expected from the ecofascist movement and either apologise for the movement or for showing it in a bad light, as the case may be.

        Then you will wish to provide the requested evidence that what you have said, despite its inherent improbability, is true.

        If you do all these, particularly the last, then I would consider it proper to apologise.

        I await you doing so.

  16. catalanbrian says:

    I am sorry but I am sure that Mr Helmer would probably agree that this is not the forum for puerile yah boo arguments, so I will post no more on this matter

  17. andrewh00 says:

    The final paragraph of the article is spot on. Continuing to waste millions, we are proving that current wind technology is all cons with no pros whatsoever. For the overall needs of the country, fracking at least appears to have pros that considerably outweigh the cons, and this should be given chance to be properly tested and tried.

  18. catalanbrian says:

    This is fracking. OK it is mainly fracking for oil but is still valid. Is this what you want for the UK?
    http://www.alternet.org/fracking/10-photos-oilfields-north-dakotas-bakken-shale?src=newsletter887050

  19. crisbd says:

    The usual fracking method involves millions of gallons of water for each and every frack, which is then highly polluted and needs to be disposed of. But, if you don

  20. neilfutureboy says:

    It isn’t “highly” polluted and it doesn’t need disposed of because it is under the ground. The normal sort of Luddite scare stories.

    (I would say the same about Cant’s last 2 posts but since he has said he won’t post here they must be optical illusions)

  21. peter mack says:

    I dont remember hearing one peep from the NIMBY/Green types about the the many deaths & mutilations occurring to our coal miners -this socialist wants this new natural clean source of energy to belong to us -not the profiteering sharks -so NATIONALISATION !_DEFFO !

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