Saturday, 24 September 2011

Keeping the fracking lights on

As the voices of Moving Planet ring out across the globe, as we pledge to move beyond fossil fuels, in the UK , the energy firm Cuadrilla has discovered a motherlode of shale gas under Lancashire.  The Guardian reports that it is estimated to be as much as 5.6 trillion cubic metres.  Given some of the experiences of people in the US, there is understandable concern about the effects of fracking on the local environment. 
There is also the issue that shale gas is a fossil fuel, and the discovery and exploitation of this source of energy is not really compatible with the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the question of how fracking will affect investment in renewables?  In short, I do  not think we should be doing this. 
 I believe that this desire on behalf of the government comes from desperation, a desperate need to "keep the lights on" in the face of declining North Sea gas reserves, energy insecurity and looming peak oil.  When peak oil hits us, we still face collapse.  Oil provides us with many, many things which gas cannot.  Plastics, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals and so many other things. 

While there is tighter regulation of fracking in the UK than in the US, investigation by The Guardian has exposed some alarming weaknesses in the regulatory regime.  Among the most chilling  are :-

• The recent energy and climate change select committee inquiry into shale gas did not consider tightening regulations, citing a lack of resources

• Confusion between the DECC, EA and HSE, the three government agencies which each have different responsibilities.

Donald Dobson, HSE's head of discipline, well engineering, says in a letter to former oil and gas engineer Mike Hill, that it is financially impossible to check each well. "Verification of an individual well is not the role of the HSE. The resource implications would be immense."

The citation of lack of resources as a reason for not tightening regulation and for a weak regulatory regime is worrying, in the present financial climate, adequate resources are not likely to be found for this.  The confusion between the regualtory agencies allows the passing and hiding of responsibility (at least until a major mishap). 
Without a strong regulatory regime, we fall back on asking the industry to self-regulate and I have no faith in that. 

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