Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all on an issue that has come to dominate my life over the last three and a half years.
As a former geography and geology teacher, I have a good grasp of the technical and planning aspects of the issue;
As an activist I have been to Balcombe and Barton Moss and represented The Vale Says NO campaign group at the Llandow Public inquiry
And as an ecosocialist, like Leanne Woods, I recognise that it is the people of Wales that will pay the price for the reckless pursuit of extreme fossil fuels, while corporate capitalist interests plunder us yet AGAIN in pursuit of a quick buck.
Kelvin has asked me to touch on 4 themes, namely the size of the extreme energy resources; the timescales involved; activity in Wales so far; and key local impacts. All in 5 minutes he insists!! I’ll give it a go.
So what is the size of the resource we are talking about?
Well, it is actually complete guesswork, no matter who you choose to listen to. Supposed experts like the British Geological Society, have offered varying estimates from 5 trillion cubic feet, to 1000 trillion cubic feet for the UK as a whole.
Meanwhile Eden Energy, who held interests here in Wales until quite recently, produced an estimate for South Wales of 34 trillion cubic feet in 2011. At this point time, the BGS was still sticking to its 5 tcf UK estimate – so who do you believe?
In this industry you choose who you want to believe, and don’t believe the BGS is completely impartial either!
What you need to understand is that this is a very imprecise science. Essentially, what happens is that they drill and take core samples that are often smaller than this (2L) bottle of coke. They than analyse the gas content and extrapolate this across the whole region.
This is utter nonsense in real terms. Firstly, the gas content can vary greatly over quite small distances. And secondly, the recoverable % also varies enormously depending on local conditions within the rock strata and the success, or otherwise, of the fracking operations.
Industry sources quote what they call the Technically Recoverable Rate, typically around 20%. But this is also a gross over-estimate of what is actually recoverable. Experience around the world has shown that 10% recovery is hard enough to achieve.
This has led to many fracking operations, that started with claims of 20 or 30 years production, shutting down after as little as 3 or 4 years production.
Reasons for this include:
1. Much greater technical problems than anticipated
2. Production rates dropping off exponentially, such that 90% of what proved to be recoverable was achieved in the first 3 years
3. Large initial production rates impacting on wholsale prices in the USA such that profit margins quickly disappeared.
Such experiences are causing many operators to be a lot more cautious – even where there are huge incentives from government. For example, after huge amounts of hyperbole, every major player has withdrawn from Poland in recent months, claiming that the reality is nothing like the potential that was talked up just a couple of years ago.
So what is happening in Wales?
The short answer is ‘very little’ as yet, and certainly nothing resembling the mythical ‘dash for gas’.
There was a spate of test drilling operations around 2008, long before most of us had heard of fracking. They all pretty much dismissed the potential at that stage.
Subsequently, astute speculators, like Gerwyn Williams, picked up the PEDL licences across South Wales for a song. He is the man behind tinpot companies like Coastal Oil & Gas and UK Methane, based in Bridgend but with no assets worthy of the name.
Their modus operandum seems to be to pick up PEDL licences cheaply; ponce around putting in planning applications for test drilling here and there – even though they don’t have the resources to do the drilling themselves; talk up the potential and try to secure some backing from somewhat bigger companies like Australian firm Eden Energy (who after some initial interest and a little investment have now withdrawn); and they then hope to make a killing selling on their licences to the really big boys, if and when full-scale production appears on the horizon.
Gerwyn is a retired miner, getting on in years. This is his Ponzi Pension Plan!!
FINALLY, just in case the frackers are ever let loose here, let me quickly list of my top 13 key local impacts, in no particular order:
1. Hundreds of HGVs on narrow country lanes
2. 24 hr drilling causing noise, light and air pollution
3. Dramatic impacts on house prices
4. Loss of tourism
5. Impacts on agriculture, such as losing organic status
6. In total, more long-term jobs lost than short-term jobs created
7. The threat to water supplies from the massive abstraction of scarce water resources to feed the fracking process
8. Potential irreparable contamination of aquifers
9. High probability of spills of frack fluids and toxic flow back water
10. Likely minor earthquake activity that will cause and increase leaks of gas and fluids, and can cause some structural damage that will not be covered by insurance companies
11. Long term severe health impacts from exposure to some of the chemicals involved (even in minute concentrations)
12. Industrial injuries from chemicals, explosions, and silicosis associated with the type of sand used.
13. The local consequences of climate change exacerbated by this reckless pursuit of extreme fossil fuels rather than focusing on the ample renewable resources that offer Wales genuine energy security and virtually free domestic energy in due course.
I will leave it there – thank you.