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To Frack Or Not To Frack?

Apologies to Shakespeare for twisting the well known quote by Hamlet but for those of you with a literary bent, the Prince of Denmark’s dilemma could be one to consider here.

The famous monologue is about moral cowardice, especially:


Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer

The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?


As things stand now, Prime Minister David Cameron can’t be accused of moral cowardice in the issue of fracking for shale gas. How could he when the prospects are so mouth watering? It promises to be a potential source of energy that could make the worries of supplying the nation with secure supplies that would be free of political and economic convulsions elsewhere in the world. In short, a politician’s dream.

He could point to the findings of one report released this month on what the public thought of fracking and shale gas. Commissioned by UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), it found that 57% were in favour. The poll (undertaken by Populus) of 4,000 people found that only 16% were opposed, and 27% where undecided about the controversial process.”Shale gas and renewables are complementary, and our survey confirms that the public would like to see a balanced mix that includes both sources of energy,” said a jubilant Ken Cronin, Chief Executive, UKOOG. Not surprisingly, environmental groups, like Greenpeace, were quick to dismiss the report as being partisan.

However, figures like this cannot be entirely discounted and it could account for how the other political parties in parliament are gingerly tiptoeing around the issue. The Liberal Democrats have given a cautious thumbs up to shale gas extraction, while the Labour Party refuses to condemn the process. During a visit to Lancashire recently, Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, said: “I think we’ve got to look really carefully about this. There’s strong local feeling and we’ve got to look at, and investigate, the issue very seriously.”

There are no such reservations by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP. “We have a gift horse and it is called shale gas and the potential it has is massive in two ways,” said Nigel Farage, UKIP leader. “There are 5 million households living in fuel poverty which means they struggle to pay their bills. Second, manufacturing industry needs electricity but because of renewable obligations, their fuel price is 10% to 15% higher than it should be. On top of that they have to purchase carbon credits for their emissions.”

Mr Farage has cast his hat into the ring and has declared his intention to stand as M.P. in Thanet South, Kent, one of the areas that has been identified as rich in shale gas reserves. What every politician needs to be aware, however, is the NIMBY effect. Although the poll above talks about the majority of people being in favour of shale gas, especially when the holy grail of lower prices is mentioned, how will they feel when a drilling operation comes to a place near them? This is especially so with the change in the laws of trespass that will allow operations to be done without the need for permission.

A recent government into fracking has been accused of tampering with the facts and that there were 63 deletions concerning environmental impacts in rural areas, house and property prices.

Vested interests are coming into play and here we are likely to see a battle royale over the facts involving fracking, especially in relation to any possible detrimental effects on water quality and emissions from drilling. More often than not, we know that such huge reserves might outweigh environmental concerns.

Should this cause concern for those involved with heating installation, I hear you ask? Probably not, as this means that a secure supply of gas will be there that needs installation and servicing for a good many years.

But let me throw something into this debate; namely, the quality of shale gas itself. According to an article that appeared in the US magazine, Pipeline and Gas Journal in 2011: ‘Produced shale gases observed to date have shown a broad variation in compositional makeup, with some having wider component ranges, a wider span of minimum and maximum heating values, and higher levels of water vapor and other substances than pipeline tariffs or purchase contracts typically allow.’

Another part of the article might interest viewers: ‘Because of these variations in gas composition, each shale gas formation can have unique processing requirements for the produced shale gas to be marketable. Ethane can be removed by cryogenic extraction while carbon dioxide can be removed through a scrubbing process. However, it is not always necessary (or practical) to process shale gas to make its composition identical to “conventional” transmission quality gases. Instead, the gas should be interchangeable with other sources of natural gas now provided to end users. The interchangeability of shale gas with conventional gases is crucial to its acceptability and eventual widespread use in the U.S.’

Now, this article was published in 2011 and we have not heard too much about quality and variability of shale gas being mentioned but it remains of great interest to see if this aspect ever comes into the mix in the UK.

Michael Gannon




Caption            Fracking for shale gas in the UK is causing concern for some, although reports indicate a majority of the population remains in favour.


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