There is an enormous amount of controversy surrounding fracking and/or conventional oil and gas extraction in the UK. Groups of "Frackavists" paint lurid images of corrupted aquifers, poisoned rivers and vast environmental damage.
Along with that come the other scare stories. Rumours abound of potentially collapsing house prices and ugly scenery-scarring derricks. These scare stories do have an effect and many people develop a negative opinion about gas/oil extraction, especially in their locality.
But are these stories true?
We could look to the USA that has been massively exploiting shale gas for close on to twenty years. But we do not need to. We can look to our own (long term) experiences with on-shore oil/gas exploration and exploitation.
Most people do not actually realise that the UK has a large on-shore oil/gas field and that it has been exploited for nigh on forty years. This oil/gas field is known as Wytch Farm. Wytch Farm is by far the biggest on-shore oil/gas field within Northern Europe. Its production hub sits within Poole Harbour in Dorset. Wytch farm has over 100 oil/gas wells. Currently the site is owned by Perenco Ltd. Prior to Perenco's take over of the site a few years ago, the site was run and managed by BP.
|Looking down from Purbeck across to Poole Harbour. Below is the largest on-shore oil/gas field in Northern Europe with over 100 wells. Can you see any?|
Wytch Farm sits within one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the World, laying on the edge of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. The main operational centre is on a small island in the heart of Poole Harbour and sits about one mile (and in direct line of sight) from the area known as Sandbanks. Sandbanks is the second most expensive area in the world for residential property. If you wanted to buy one of the properties nearest Wytch Farm you would be lucky to get any change out of £10 million.
Wytch Farm is a large industrial complex yet it is so unobtrusive and environmentally benign that most local people simply do not know it exists.
But what about fracking?
Fracking is usually associated with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the well hole.
Wytch Farm was one of the world's pioneers in the development of horizontal drilling. Some of the many wells that radiate out from the operational hub of Furzey island within Poole Harbour stretch out for up to 10 km. Most of the production wells running out from Wytch Farm have been “optimised” (i.e. fractured) using a technique known as water flooding. This technique (I believe) uses the weight of the water column in the well to cause the hydraulic fracturing in the horizontal well at the bottom
So Wytch Farm is an extremely good guide for how new oil/gas exploration/exploitation (including fracking) affects the local area.
Particularly for Wytch Farm we can state:
- Wytch Farm has not damaged an area of outstanding natural beauty.
- Wytch Farm has had minimal impact on the environment.
- Wytch farm has provided many good quality jobs for local people.
- Wytch Farm has invested heavily in the locality and in environmental protection.
- Wytch farm has reduced UK dependence on foreign oil and gas.
- Wytch Farm clearly has had no affect on property prices.
Wytch Farm, as far as local residents are concerned is virtually invisible. Occasionally when a new well is being drilled, a derrick pops up for a short while but is soon gone. If Wytch Farm were to badly affect the local area does anyone seriously believe that the likes of Harry Redknap (whose house is arguably the closest to Wytch farm) would pay millions to live there?
So how would new oil/gas exploration/exploitation in the UK affect Global Warming and Air Pollution.
The first and most obvious fact is that whether or not any new oil/gas fields are developed in the UK the number of fossil fuelled cars/trucks on our roads will be totally unaffected. As will their emissions. All that would happen is that the shortfall from UK production would be made up by importing oil/gas from international suppliers.
Crucially, this imported oil/gas would have to be shipped here.
One little known fact is that the fifteen largest ships in the world (mostly oil tankers) actually pump out more Sulphur Dioxide and particulate matter than all the cars on All the roads in ALL the world.
For the UK, all noxious emissions from cars are matched by a single supertanker.
By simply producing oil locally and so reducing the use of large oil tankers there would be a reduction in Sulphur Dioxide pollution and other noxious large ship emissions.
Keeping it in the ground is a wonderful slogan, but really, unless and until there is a valid replacement for oil based fossil fuel used for transport, it is better and more environmentally responsible to use local supplies rather than remote and uncontrolled foreign supplies.
So, if there is the prospect of an oil/gas development close to you, ask those who are telling you the lurid tales of doom and desolation what they think about Wytch Farm.
Ask them why should any new development be any different from Wytch Farm.
Of course you will probably find that they have never even heard of Wytch Farm in Dorset let alone know it is the biggest oil/gas field in Northern Europe.
Just in case you think I am indulging in the Frackavist diseases of selective quotation and open deceit – here's a few links that may further enlighten you.
Large Ship Pollution: