Fracking North Conference

FRN14BURepresentatives of the fracking industry, and other interested parties, were in Salford on Friday to attend Fracking North Conference, put on by Govtoday at The Lowry.
This was the nearest thing to a debate about fracking Greater Manchester has seen and, although at £350 a ticket it wasn’t for the Plebs. A picket of protesters greeted the frackers, possibly causing CEO Chris Faulker – alias ‘The Frack Master’ – to stay away. However what the delegates heard inside may have been even less welcome.
Proceedings were chaired by veteran broadcaster Jim Hancock who said he wanted to take “a cool look at both sides of the argument”.
Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth
The first speaker was Friends of the Earth’s Climate and Energy Campaigner.
He mentioned the recent poll by the UK Onshore Operators Group which apparently showed support for fracking which was described by an expert as “one of the most misleading polls he’s ever seen” and also advert described by the Advertising Standards Authority as “misleading, unsubstantiated and exaggerated”.
Tony told the audience the Lord Stern had said fracking was “baseless economics” and that in the Marcellus Shale area of America 31 jobs per well had been promised but only 4 had been delivered.
He said that whilst gas was a lower carbon fuel than coal, it was still a fossil fuel. Tony said that if your Doctor told you you had lung cancer “would he suggest you smoke low tar cigarettes or give up?”
Tony quoted John Ashton, the former Foreign Office Special Representative for Climate Change “You can be in favour of fixing the climate. Or you can be in favour of shale gas. But you can’t be both at the same time.”
He said good engineering can make fracking “safer but not safe”.
Tony finished by saying he saw a future for shale gas only “if you could power a country by hype alone…
John Blaymires, Chief operating Officer of IGas
The next speaker admitted at the start that he was a “pariah of society”.
John said that the “size of the prize” was enough gas to meet the UK’s requirements for 40-50 years if 10% was extracted.
He then said “My controversial point is – this conference is completely named incorrectly. Fracking is not the issue. Well integrity is the issue.” On the claims of water contamination he said “there is no evidence it is because of fracking” only poor well integrity.
John compared the small size of a fracking bore hole to the size of the crossrail tunnel (perhaps missing the point that crossrail will not be pressurised to 15,000psi) and talked about IGas’s record of safe onshore oil extraction.
He said people had an understandable “fear of the unknown” and that gas in water was “a natural phenomenon”.
John said the industry had been “poor at communicating” and “The critical issue is at the local level…we need to be transparent.” He said they had to communicate with stakeholders and “we have to be good neighbours”. He admitted “we’re not always popular…nobody wants a rig in their back yard. Yes, there will be an impact for a period of time…it will be disruptive.”
He said that the fracking industry would invest £33 billion at 100 sites which would produce 66,000 jobs. The Northwest Ocean Gateway project would be a £10 billion investment producing 3,500 jobs. He said the “skill sets would also be able to service wind and solar”
As for a reduction in the price of gas he said “personally I don’t think so for the foreseeable future”.
If the industry is not developed in the UK the danger is that jobs will move to the US.
He said he saw shale gas as “part of the energy mix, it has to help us displace coal.”
John said “We are self regulating. We are accountable.” If there is a problem “I am the one who will go to jail.”
John then took questions. Jane Burston of the National Physical Laboratory questioned his reassurances on well integrity as there was research that fracking well suffer higher failure rates than conventional sites.
He was also asked about the effect on house prices by Paul Trainer from Barton Moss and about the volume of water required by a Hull councillor, to which he replied that he hoped I future the industry would be able to use sea water.
Asked whether fracking was a fait accompli he replied “No”.
Finally john was asked to say what he most liked about Tony’s speech. He replied “The big issue is Climate Change…we can’t continue with just a totally fossil fuel thing.”
Sarah O’Hara, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Nottingham
Sarah spoke about the polling evidence for what the public thought about fracking.
She said the polls had sample groups of between 2700 and 3800 people, which was enough for the data to be meaningful. The polling started with a gateway question to see if people could connect fracking with shale gas. 72% of respondents were now getting this right, indicating a good level of knowledge of the issue.
There was a strong difference between the responses of men and women suggesting that “shale gas is a gender issue”.
The polling evidence over the last two years shows that the concerns the public has about fracking causing earthquakes has gone down, whilst concern about water contamination has gone up.
Support for the industry was rising until you came to what she called “the Balcombe turn”. Those in favour still outnumber those opposed, but the difference has dropped from 39.5% to 22%.
As for the link between fracking and Climate Change the “don’t knows” are actually in the majority. Sarah predicted this would be “the point of the argument over the next ten years”.
The people who supported fracking mainly saw it as providing “cheap energy for them”. Men are more likely than women to see economic benefits in fracking.
Support for fracking based on energy security has continued to drop despite the Ukraine crisis.
Men are overall more positive about fracking than women, and older people more in favour than younger. However the biggest change over the last year has been the opinion of young people.
When asked their views on different forms of energy renewable are the most popular and fracking the least.
As for where people get their information from it is mainly the BBC with very little from social media.
Comparing percentage of voters who are for and against fracking amongst supporters of the major political parties, Tory voters are plus 60% in favour whilst Labour voters overall are 3.5% against. However amongst Labour voting women the difference is 22% against.
Damien Short, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights, University of London
Damien looked at the changing attitudes to fracking in communities where it has taken place.
Before shale gas extraction most Americans were very much in favour. However a study of the Haynesville area (Ladd 2013)shows that benefits are seen to be equally balanced out by damage to water and roads.
In a study of fracking in Texas Wise County seven years after the industry arrived people unanimously reported the cost of fracking outweighed the benefits.
Damien also spoke about the anti-fracking campaign over here “the fastest growing movement in the UK”.
He and his assistant have interviewed members of anti-fracking groups around the country (including several of us at Frack Free Greater Manchester) for his forthcoming paper and he talked about the de facto criminalisation of anti-fracking campaigners by the authorities.
Hugh Richards, Barrister No 5 Chambers
Hugh gave some sensible advice for anyone seeking to consult local communities about a shale gas project. Don’t turn up with colour drawings of your proposed site, he said, turn up with a blank piece of paper. if they tell you they are worried about lorries going past the local school come back with plans to show how you will avoid this, and if they tell you never to come back, don’t.
He advised companies to “get a grip of their scientists” citing the Sinfin incinerator report where a scientist’s estimate that 1% of the population would have their life expectancy reduced by 0.07 of a second was used to stop the project.
Hugh said that local authorities making decisions must “assume the regulators will do their job”.
He said applicants can’t bride planning boards, but that can offer money to mitigate against and compensate for damage.
Gordon Wignall, Barrister No 5 Chambers
Gordon said that “there is bound to be some damage somewhere from a fracking site”.
He said that as if you trespass the law allows you to get an injunction the trespass laws must be changed “or the industry can’t get anywhere”.
He said that in his experience Environment Agency officers were “variable” and he “has seen appalling things”.
I asked if he saw any prospect of anti-fracking campaigners getting acquittals on charges using a ‘just cause” defence by citing concerns about Climate Change. He said such a defence would not work “in front of an English judge” but admitted there would continue to be acquittals like the Greenpeace Kingsnorth case “as long as there’s a jury system”.
Paul Mobbs, Freelance Environmental Consultant
Paul described himself as an “ecological futurologist”.
He said “the fundamental problem (with fracking) is that we have not had a debate.” Mentioning the failure of the pro-fracking side to show up in Manchester for “Lets talk about fracking” he said “when they talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about, they lose.”
The other problem,” Paul said, was that “the media aren’t reporters, they’re repeaters.”
Anti-frackers too often ignored the data. He said that the research evidence was that the primary cause of fatalities from fracking was actually road accidents between fracking lorries and local cars and pedestrians.
He said that even using the best figures for well integrity, if there 3000 wells then 6 to 8 will leak. Waste water is a huge problem and “most of the earthquake risk is wastewater reinjection.” He said “you cannot put it into a sewage works as it stops the process”.
The current problem, Paul said, was a result the Special Adviser system. The result is “the government is bent”. Current administrations fail The Porter Test – named after the disgraced ex-leader of Westminister Council. All forms of independent oversight has been removed so the public are left with no alternative other than just saying “no”.
The estimates for methane leakage from fracking wells he described as “a very dodgy figure”. He predicted there would be no net jobs as the North Sea Oil industry is declining and those losing their jobs there will take up any new jobs in fracking.
Describing himself as someone “for whom data matters” he said “we do not know what the impacts are…we know it is not safe, but do not know how bad it is.”
On the US shale bubble he told the audience “half of all the wells lose money”.
He finished off “What we know is that we don’t know, and until we know we shouldn’t be doing it.”
Matthew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory, The University of Nottingham
Matt talked about the politicisation of shale gas. His researcher, Will Knight, has visited fracking sites and interviewed activists. His research shows the main concern of those in the camps is water pollution.
Returning to the polling figures Sarah O’Hara had discussed, Matt said that they showed that as time has gone by “the don’t knows break for ‘no’”. He said “there may be an electoral advantage for a party coming out against shale.”
He predicted that the opposition would be in the form of Direct Action. He quoted an activist “After Balcombe, more of the same, only different.
Talking about the issue-attention cycle he said that usually public opinion on a particular subject will return to a certain baseline after a while, but Balcombe appears to have had a permanent effect on views on shale gas. Considering why, he said “It’s all about timing…there is no normal for public views to return to.”
The success rate for the gateway question has doubled and as people become “more aware, views harden.

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  1. […] Representatives of the fracking industry, and other interested parties, were in Salford on Friday 26th September to attend Fracking North Conference, organised by Govtoday at The Lowry. Frack Free Greater Manchester reviewed the proceedings and argued that ‘this was the nearest thing to a debate about fracking Greater Manchester has seen’ and, although at £350 a ticket it wasn’t for the general public. A picket of protesters greeted the participants, possibly causing CEO Chris Faulker – alias ‘The Frack Master’ – to stay away’. Read more  […]

  2. […] the 30th the Fracking North Conference was held in Salford. FFGM were both inside and […]

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