The Bowland Shale, which will soon be fracked, is north of London running under Liverpool through Manchester past Leeds.
Here are 9 scenes from Marcellus Shale drilling and fracking from the past 14-years that I would really hate to see repeated in the UK:
It’s been quite impressive to see the tenacity and dedication of so many English ‘fractivists’ over the years, camping-out at well pad locations, blocking roads and using great creativity in their banners, signs and protests. Your battle is far from over now that fracking is about to begin.
(A longer version of this blog can be found below)
Best of luck!
Note: This blog contains my personal opinions and not necessarily those of any private, business or employment affiliations.
LESSONS LEARNED ON UNCONVENTIONAL DRILLING AND HVSWHF
(High Volume Slick Water Hydraulic Fracturing)
It’s been interesting to monitor the news out of the UK related to future onshore gas production. Much of it is déjà vu to what has transpired in our Pennsylvania county (Washington) since the first shale well was fracked here 14 years ago by the modern day 'Mothers of Fracking.' The fracker’s playbook on the British Isles appears to be identical, with attempts to sway public opinion using a large dose of the old “Don’t worry, be happy.”
One major difference between the UK and stateside is the British government owns all the gas rights, while individuals often own them under private land in our part of the US. That difference eliminates one major scheme from “the industry playbook” which is playing the 'haves' against the 'have nots.' You would definitely call it ‘divide and conquer’ since industry nurtures their allies and antagonists among the populace in gas land.
Families have also been split by fracking issues -- the pro-drilling believers vs the non-believers -- and the typical greed that easily comes with money. It sometimes only takes one family believer signing a lease to secure the gas rights of all the rest who have a stake for the drilling company, whether or not they also elect to sign a lease to share in the royalties.
That being said, the 'haves' now know far more than they did when the landman first came a knockin'. A common tune: "Big upfront money now, with potential royalties down the road, your neighbors already signed."
Many lessors have found the royalties, or lack thereof, ain’t what they were first cracked up to be. It’s common for some local producers to take 30 to 40 percent out of every royalty check for gas processing and delivery. Some stories about negative balance royalties from NE Pennsylvania even border on the bizarre!
Another twist is a "split estate" where the surface owner of the land does not own the gas rights below, leading to problems of property access and use, since ‘mineral rights trump surface rights.’
Some of the latest battles regard zoning. Imagine building your dream house in an area zoned for only high end residential housing only to find there can be a gas well site or processing facility 500 feet away. There is strong logic for industrial activities like drilling and fracking to be confined to industrial zones, but it all may come down to who has the best arguments and lawyers.
No one really wants these industrial activities close to vulnerable populations in schools, hospitals and nursing homes, but it is happening more every day. You might call it, “No gas left behind.” As more drilling pads begin to infill between the original ones, it's easy to see why heavily drilled landscapes have so many blotches in aerial photos -- industry would like to have a drilling site on every square mile.
Some likely similarities as fracking invades the British Isles:
Truck traffic (trucks are called ‘lorries’ in England) is a nightmare near drilling sites and often destroys small rural roads. Tanker trucks hauling in water or hauling away brine are very top-heavy. Just recently, another frac tanker rolled over onto a family’s car while they were waiting at an intersection. One thousand truck trips per gas well is a common number and most trucks spread diesel-fume particulate pollution during their round trips.
Disposing of wastewater from fracking is one of the industry’s major problems. It just goes to figure when fracking one well can require an average of 4-million gallons of water, with about 1-million gallons returning to the surface as ‘flowback’ or ‘produced water’ -- What are you going to do with it all?
Concerns not only revolve around the chemicals going ‘downhole’ during fracking, but also what Mother Nature sends back up to the surface including radioactivity, high salt concentrations and heavy metals. Ten years ago in the Pittsburgh area, this toxic waste was being hauled into sewage plants to be lightly processed and dumped into the same rivers used as drinking water sources.
On the flip side, 'free' water was being withdrawn from every small stream possible even if the stream was suffering from low-flow conditions due to summer drought conditions. Fracking was often referred to as being like the "Wild West" in western Pennsylvania ten years ago.
Solid drilling waste continues to be another huge issue, especially with the higher level radioactive waste that has been shipped to special facilities in the western US, while large volumes of low level radioactive waste is continually hauled into multiple local landfills in Marcellus Shale country.
There isn’t much talk about pipelines during the early days of drilling. Few realize initially that there has to be a ‘gathering pipeline’ from every well pad location to transport the gas to market. Furthermore, this gas requires compressor stations to move it through the pipelines. More wells equal more air polluting compressor stations.
Promises of ‘money and jobs’ are typically at the core of most industry cheerleading but the details have to be closely checked with accurate statistics since this is not a labor intensive industry and it’s also well known for its ‘booms and busts.’
Projections of shale gas production can be easily inflated to pump-up investors and those with financial interests in the wells. The early public presentations by industry here often spoke of good well production and royalty checks extending out 30 to 50 years, but the stark reality is that most production from local shale wells takes place in the first few years, while some wells have been plugged in less than 10 years due to their piss-poor ongoing production.
Heavily drilled areas in the US have typically begun to have problems with ozone pollution leading to ‘Code Orange’ days that are especially dangerous for the elderly and individuals with asthma. Recent reports indicate that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania air recently got worse for the first time in 15-years, even though multiple coal-fired electric plants have been shuttered recently. Go figure! Massive gas production activities are taking place upwind in Ohio and the panhandle of West Virginia in addition to the burgeoning gas industry in western Pennsylvania.
England has already experienced earthquakes related to drilling activities and while those have most often been related to wastewater injection disposal in US states, there have been some quakes tied to hydraulic fracturing itself. Some quakes have occurred in NE Ohio and NW Pennsylvania, but nothing like the 'quake storm' that's hit Oklahoma over the past decade of fracking.
Fracking is still somewhat of a grand experiment since fractures from fluids pumped at 900 to 1500 p.s.i. can travel for distances much farther than anticipated in any direction and make unexpected connections (‘communicate’) with old oil and gas wells in the process. It's not uncommon for water wells near fracking to be adversely affected by nearby fracking with replacement water hauled in for use from plastic tanks known as 'water buffaloes.'
Mining for frac sand has created issues in several states due to the high volumes of sand required for fracking, especially the new ‘super fracks’ being used now on well laterals extending 2-miles or more. And while industry began on a smaller scale with well sites only having one to six gas wells, we’re now seeing the development of ‘super pads’ with 20 to 30 wells each.
Then consider the unknown headcount of dead wildlife, aquatic life and other animals from pipeline spills, storage pits and blowouts. While livestock deaths and cattle birthing issues have been largely covered-up and hauled away undercover, we remember our old friend Terry Greenwood who so wisely said, “First it will be the animals, then it will be us.” It wasn’t very many years later that Terry died from fast moving blastomas in his brain. As Terry always said, “Water is more important than gas.”
Where forests are involved, we’ve seen large areas of trees cut to create well pad locations and subsequent pipelines, creating troubling issues with forest fragmentation and invasive weeds. In some cases, the most desirable large mature trees have been removed since they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yield to gas you mighty oaks!
You have to wonder what insurance issues might appear for landowners and homeowners living close to gas production and and pipelines in the UK, that’s another concern that often comes far too late. As outlined in driller's financial 10-K reports, this is risky business.
Political contributions and other monies have played, and continue to play too large of a role in drilling and fracking decisions. You can’t drink money, but who says it can’t buy influence! Trouble is, that influence is not always in the public’s best interest.
In many of the worst contamination cases from fracking, those affected have been ‘gagged’ with nondisclosure agreements just to get replacement water or the money needed to move away from the nearby pollution. Most of the information seen in those sorts of court cases will never see the light of day. However, there is a book that will soon be available (June 2018) telling one such story and being billed as a legal thriller:
“Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America” by Eliza Griswold
In closing, it’s been quite impressive to see the tenacity and dedication of so many English ‘fractivists’ over the years, camping-out at well pad locations, blocking roads and using great creativity in their banners, signs and protests. Keep fighting the good fight, future generations are counting on you.