A visit to Mansfield

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I’ve just spent a couple of days in Mansfield. Mansfield Pennsylvania, USA, that is. Not Mansfield Nottinghamshire.

I was there with the European Energy Forum to look at shale gas. Mansfield is in the Marcellus shale field, one of the largest in the USA, and extensive extraction of shale gas is taking place across the State. As Energy Spokesman for UKIP, and an advocate of exploratory shale gas drilling in the UK, I thought it was important for me to go and see a major fracking site at first hand.

I’ve often argued that shale gas is much less visually intrusive than, say, wind farms. So I have to put my hand up and admit that the first site we saw was a substantial industrial-type site, about the size of a football pitch, and with a great deal of equipment — a drilling rig, pumping, piping and cabling kit, compressors, tanks, trucks and so on. But this was the first stage of development (after geological surveys, environmental assessments and so on). The actual drilling process lasts a few weeks, and then the bulk of the kit we saw at this site is moved on elsewhere.

The second site was the next phase — the drilling complete, but the process of fracking still taking place. The site was reduced to about half of what we’d seen earlier, and reinstatement of the other half had already commenced. A fair amount of equipment still remained, especially winding, cabling and pumping kit. The main work at this site included hydraulic fracturing and the injection of a water-sand mixture to maintain the fractures and allow gas to migrate through the rock.

At the third site, the area was substantially reduced again, most of the equipment gone, and relatively small well-head pipe-work remaining. Again, reinstatement of the surrounding land was well under way.

That third site would look much the same for the next twenty or thirty years, until the yield from the well had declined to an uneconomic level. At that stage the remaining equipment would be removed from the site, and the whole area reinstated to the status quo ante. A few such sites would also include compressor buildings (each serving several sites), which from across the valley could be mistaken for agricultural buildings.

All that I saw confirmed my view that in terms of landscape impact and visual intrusion, shale gas is much more acceptable than wind turbines. And a gas well produces a continuous flow of useful, controllable and competitively-priced energy, whereas a wind farm produces an intermittent and unpredictable trickle of very expensive electricity.

I was also able to clarify the position on the potential contamination of aquifers. There has never been any instance of direct leaking of gas from fracking (which may be a mile or more down) and aquifers, which are typically a few hundred feet deep. There has been at least one case (amongst ten thousand wells) of a gas leak from a cracked pipe into an aquifer. But this of course can happen with any drilling — with geo-thermal (beloved of the Greens); with oil drilling or coal mines; even with agricultural wells. And as both technology and regulation are improving at a rapid rate, the risks are now vanishingly small.

The impact on the landscape may be limited, but the economic impact on a town like Mansfield is immense. Once a relatively quiet backwater, the last few years have seen several new hotels built (we stayed in one), plus many new businesses, some directly supporting the industry (cabling, pipe-work and plant hire, for example), others supporting it indirectly — retail, hospitality and so on. We hear fears in the UK that shale gas may depress house prices. The effect has been the opposite in Pennsylvania. The shale gas industry has created jobs, brought new people into the area, and created more demand for property. In North Dakota, another shale gas state, I’m told that population had been in steady decline for seventy years until the shale gas revolution, but now that’s reversed as the industry brings in money and creates a demand for labour.

Scraping the barrel: in their increasingly desperate efforts to avoid the compelling logic of shale gas, objectors have come up with another desperate attempt at a scare: shale gas (they say) may contain the radioactive gas radon at up to 15 times the level of that in other natural gas (although Public Health England (PHE), which raised the issue, admits that even then, the level will be low compared to other natural sources of radon).  The Telegraph’s report on PHE’s initial review was headlined “Watchdog gives fracking a clean bill of health”. In the US, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rejected claims that radon in shale gas represents a danger.  It’s worth noting in this context that for most domestic uses of gas, like central heating, gas fires and ovens, the combustion products are usually vented outside the house.

I’m very pleased to have had this opportunity to see the shale gas industry at first hand. And all that I saw was encouraging. I hope that my account of the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania will help to reassure those in the UK who may have been concerned about shale.

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34 Responses to A visit to Mansfield

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    There is a big difference between shale gas in the UK or Australia, and shale gas in America.

    In America, people have real property rights – you own the land + all mineral rights. That is why Americans welcome exploration of their land by mining companies.

    In Australia and I believe the UK, you only own the top 50ft or so – a ahale gas company with an exploration licence can get a court order allowing them to build a drill rig on your land, without the owner’s permission.

    Until this injustice is addressed, fracking shall have a much bumpier ride in countries which don’t protect the rights of landowners. Because the only way a landowner can prevent theft of their land by mining companies is to stop the whole exploration business in its tracks.

  2. I absolutely agree, and I’d like to see land-owners having mineral rights. But it’s not quite as clear-cut as some suggest. You may not own the minerals, but you can charge for access to your land. Unless they frack next-door and go horizontal.

  3. Me_Again says:

    As you were there with the European Energy Forum one assumes that there were other MEPs or Eu officials in the party?
    What were their conclusions?

    • Me_Again says:

      You must have missed this one Roger:-

      As you were there with the European Energy Forum one assumes that there were other MEPs or Eu officials in the party?
      What were their conclusions?

  4. Jane Davies says:

    I see you have glossed over the chemicals in the water Roger by calling it a “water-sand mixture” but in reality the water contains toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. 1 to 8 million gallons of this stuff may be used to frack a well and a well may be fracked up to 18 times. Then only about 30 -50% of this chemical mix is recovered and the rest is a toxic waste left in the ground which can end up anywhere. I can appreciate that LNG is a good source of fuel but let’s not fool ourselves this is good for the environment and even more important is politicians must be honest about the risks involved. Nothing personal Roger!

    • Eric Worrall says:

      One of the most prolific sources of low level aromatic compounds (benzene and derivatives) is plants. If you want to eliminate low levels of environmental benzene, you’ll need to pave over the forests.

      http://www.biogeosciences.net/9/3777/2012/bg-9-3777-2012.pdf

    • Me_Again says:

      Not sure your list of chemicals is correct Jane.
      However I’m also intensely puzzled as to why anyone would want to squirt lemon juice down there along with:-
      guar which is a gum used as a thickening agent -unless that’s exactly why.
      or glutaraldehyde which we used to use in hospitals known as Cidex – a long time ago
      or isopropanol which is an alcohol commonly found in many hand sanitizers and even the swabs for injection sites but unlikely to be in a deodorant I think, since it is highly flammable
      Dimethlyformamide is not nice to get on your case of skin (irritant, permeator), or in the eyes or sniff it and you wouldn’t sit down to a plate of it instead of corn flakes -but you wouldn’t do that for most things.
      Ammonium persulphate is a strong oxidising agent presume that’s the reference to hair dye but is not nice to touch or inhale etc
      sodium carbonate used to be called washing soda and is an alkali.
      At concentrations of less than 0.49% I should think all of the above are quite harmless.
      Wouldn’t want a pint of it -but I wouldn’t want a pint of pure lemon juice either.

      Toluene and xylene are highly dangerous Jane, are you sure they’re using them? Waterproof paints and stuff might still use that sort, and we used xylene in histology.

      Still, I’d like to know what petroleum distillates are, I think petrol is one, and so are half a million other hydrocarbons.

  5. Mike Stallard says:

    We often hear about MEPs and MPs going on a jolly to somewhere lovely. As a taxpayer, I am very glad you went there and am ashamed that our backward, bureaucratised little country has not been a world leader in – for heaven’s sake – exploiting this excellent new source of energy.

  6. Richard111 says:

    Jane Davies, please provide a link to your claims.
    From an article by Matt Ridley published on August 16, 2013.
    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/the-five-myths-about-fracking-(1).aspx
    “””Fourth, the ever-so-neutral BBC in a background briefing this week described fracking as releasing “hundreds of chemicals” into the rock. Out by an order of magnitude, Auntie. Fracking fluid is 99.51% water and sand. In the remaining 0.49% there are just 13 chemicals, all of which can be found in your kitchen, garage or bathroom: citric acid (lemon juice), hydrochloric acid (swimming pools), glutaraldehyde (disinfectant), guar (ice cream), dimethylformamide (plastics), isopropanol (deodorant), borate (hand soap); ammonium persulphate (hair dye); potassium chloride (intravenous drips), sodium carbonate (detergent), ethylene glycol (de-icer), ammonium bisulphite (cosmetics), petroleum distillate (cosmetics).”””
    Chemicals have multiple names so help needed in explaining which is what.

    • Jane Davies says:

      Richard I can’t find the article which listed the chemicals I highlighted but here is another..if 600 chemicals can be used then of course these articles are only going to list a handful http://www.dangersoffracking.com/
      Those of us who are enthusiastic about fracking are naturally going to pick on the positive articles as those who are against are going to pick on the negative. I’m somewhere in the middle, just being cautious and concerned we are not opening a Pandora’s box. As I said in my comment LNG is a good source of fuel, but let’s be honest about the risks.

      • Neil Craig says:

        I remember hearing a similar scare in a speech in favour of the smoking ban – that every mouthful contained 27, or it could have been 97, carcogenic chemicals.

        The point is of course how much of each chemical and how carcogenic?

        Any piece of air is bound to contain millions of chemicals, if you go down to the atomic level, and almost everything is carcogenic it you eat it by the ton.

        I know of no evidence that shale driliing will release into the atmosphere anything remotely as nasty as burning coal. Indeed I know of no evidence that it does anything 1,000th as dangerous as the low frequency sound windmills produce.

      • Me_Again says:

        Which is great if it isn’t your water at potential -I say potential- risk.
        The problem with everything nowadays is that entrenchment of opinion occurs after about 10 seconds.
        Those of us able to view a coin from both sides are richly abused by both sides for not being fanatics.

      • Jane Davies says:

        The risk of pollution is not to the air we breathe Neil, but to the water table therefore the water we drink. As for comparing the poisons in cigarettes any amount however small is harmful to ones health when one thinks of the delicate membranes that make up our lungs, but then to smoke is a personal choice but we all need to drink water and use it every day for cooking and various other uses. As Me-Again has pointed out those of us who can view the the issue from both sides, and advise caution should not be brushed aside. We have fracking here in Canada and their are a growing body of protesters concerned with the effects on the rivers especially in the hunting grounds of the First Nations people who are concerned the about rivers and therefore their fish which they need to survive on are at risk from pollution. Canada is a vast country compared to the UK so the impact on the environment in my homeland (UK) is a concern for me although I no longer live there. If I did live near a potential fracking site I would indeed be seriously concerned. In the rush to exploit in the short term it’s as well to be aware of the possible long term price we may have to pay.

      • Me_Again says:

        The big difficulty, as with politics, as with global warming, is that the two sides quickly become entrenched to the point where only divine intervention could convince either side to accept the other’s idea.
        In the meantime those of us who refuse to be bullied in either direction and, reasonably, require empirical evidence have real difficulty in falling on either side of the fence. This is especially the case when either side have been caught being disingenuous [generous].

        I cite the ‘hoo haa’ over the hockey stick in the gloabl warming debate as one example and on the fracking subject how the financial aspects are glossed over.

        I’ll try to be clearer about that. I read a perfectly sensible sounding report which suggested that the cost of extraction means that the price on the market has to be higher than it currently is, in order to make a profit. It also stated that the wells run out very quickly and that they have to keep starting new ones to keep the volume up.

        It is so difficult to get ‘unspun’ data.

      • Richard111 says:

        Indeed Jane. Let’s be honest. I looked at your link and when I saw the words MERCURY and URANIUM I stopped reading. And the layout of that information?

      • Me_Again says:

        Got to admit the list is a bit ridiculous. Love to see a rationale behind them. I mean Uranium? Radium?

        Jane, that’s a bag of poo. Some of these elements will be present in the ground -as they are naturally occurring- that’s as bad as the frackers who say ‘no problems ever’ and expect you to believe them without question.

      • Jane Davies says:

        Hey don’t shoot then messenger!
        So where do we find a reliable list of the chemicals that are mixed with the sand and water because in spite of Roger glossing over them they are there and everybody should be concerned about those who are set to profit from this whole business and who pat us on the heads saying “there, there don’t worry your little head about this …..we know best”!

      • Me_Again says:

        Complete absence of any response from Roger so far to any of these points. I guess he must be off somewhere.

      • Neil Craig says:

        Coincidentally a mention on Bishop Hill of a couple of executives drinking the fracking fluid in question to show it is completely safe even in a concentration one could not find in the wild. http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/11/5/frack-fluid-on-the-rocks.html

      • Me_Again says:

        If it is true, it would certainly convince me, however there will still be zealots who are immune to reason -usually because of money somewhere.
        Rather like the people who stood before a senate committee in America and ate DDT to prove it was harmless when ingested. It didn’t work then because DDT was cheap and big chemical concerns had far more expensive options available -far more toxic too but they didn’t give a shit.

      • Neil Craig says:

        I am compelled to say that there is no evidence of DDT ever harming a human being, whereas the banning of it has killed about 80 million people (more than Hitler). Another instance of the damage done by the “environmental” movement’s deliberate promotion of false scare stories. And why, under no circumstances, should anything they be listened to without strong independent evidence.

      • Me_Again says:

        Never feel compelled to tell the truth, just tell because it is the truth Neil.
        I totally agree.
        By banning it they killed millions from malaria, they killed millions from starvation and they killed tens of thousands through direct exposure to the supposedly ‘harmless’ replacement pesticides.

  7. Well done Roger, a clear and encouraging report

  8. Neil Craig says:

    What we repeatedly see is that “environmentalists” express horror at the possibility of some environmental effect of a new technology when they are happy with far worse, genuine, effects in older or subsidy dependent projects. For example, as Roger points out, the visual impact of shale drills is so enormously less than windmills; coal power stations give off far more radiation, as radon, than nuclear ones; the burial of hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 is obviously far more dangerous than a few square metres of solid reactor waste; GM, because the change in genes is limited to a few genes whereas normal breeding means the change of a vast number of genes & so on.

    There is also evidence that the low frequency sound windmills make is seriously dangerous (whereas there is absolutely no evidence that low level radiation is).

  9. Jane Davies says:

    I will just add I’m not an “environmentalist” and I usually embrace new technology but I’m advising caution in the case of fracking….too late once the damage is done, but when one is up against those who can see the potential to make big bucks, aside from the advantage of the use of LNG as a fuel, then our voices of caution tend to be drowned out by the big boys. By the way, we need environmentalists in this world so we mustn’t mock them.

    • Me_Again says:

      Anyone who is not environmentally concerned routinely is an idiot. Being fanatically concerned is foolish but being aware and watching out for the money grubbers who don’t give a fig for the damage they do is sensible.

      I live in a world where I cannot believe the politicians and I cannot believe the moneymen, this I find immensely sad.

      • Jane Davies says:

        The days of being shamed when caught out in a lie have all but disappeared. I was brought up to be an honest person and to tell lies was a big no no. I think I have honoured my upbringing as I have a conscience that is alive and well. Sadly it would seem that to many telling lies is the norm and many politicians cannot be trusted for that very reason but what really makes me mad is that those who lie to us believe we are stupid and cannot see through it all. I have been on a jury twice now and watched people swear to tell the truth then lie their heads off!

      • Me_Again says:

        Truth is the first casualty of war…..
        Wonder if it’s the war on terror for the current excuse?
        Maybe we’re in a war on honesty, because getting honest information, raw, unspun, is so hard you have to get it yourself -then no one believes you.

  10. oldbrew says:

    There is no risk to public water supplies from fracking as it’s all filtered by the utility companies before going into the supply system.

  11. Jane Davies says:

    The drinking of fracking fluid reminds me of John Selwyn-Gummer MP years ago force feeding a beef burger to his small daughter in front of the media in the vain attempt to convince the population that there was no need to worry about BSE in beef. A stupid pointless exercise that proved nothing. Where is JSG now I wonder? Consigned to the garbage dump of failed and ineffectual MP’s?

    • Neil Craig says:

      He is now “Lord Deben” who is diligent in the Lords in pushing the catastrophic warming cause as well as renewables. Particularly the need for massive subsidy of a Severn Estuary barrage. He has a significant financial interest in the leading (assetless) company in line for the subsidy but Parliament’s climate committee do not see this as a clash of interest.

      And that, friends, is how it works.

  12. Jane Davies says:

    Oh yes I forgot to say….where are you Roger? Hopefully looking into the chemicals that are used, along with the sand and water and giving us an honest answer because someone needs to be upfront about this issue and you are a rare (old?!!) bird, an honest MP!

  13. Pingback: Vast resources under our feet. | UKIP Hillingdon

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