Feeds

Frack me! UK shale gas bonanza 'bigger than North Sea oil'

Extraction to restart ... until the next tiny tremor

3 Big data security analytics techniques

Analysis The government has given the go-ahead for further exploration of the UK's shale gas reserves. Independent surveys suggest these reserves may yield more energy for the nation than North Sea oil.

The shale gas will be collected using induced hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking", which splits rocks thousands of feet below ground using high-pressure liquid.

This is a defeat for environmentalist activists and the powerful renewables lobby - but they have a valuable consolation prize few have noticed. Under the proposed regulatory regime, during the fracking process any tremors that measure 0.5 or higher on the Richter scale may trigger an automatic halt to operations under a "traffic light" scheme outlined by the Lib Dem energy minister Ed Davey.

What does this mean? Well, tremors below magnitude 3.0 are considered to be barely noticeable, and bear in mind that the Richter scale is logarithmic: the energy released by a tremor of magnitude 0.5 is equivalent to the energy released by a large hand grenade.

But don't forget this is happening thousands of feet below the surface: a 0.5 event escapes the detection of all but the most sensitive seismic monitoring equipment.

Yet one 0.5 event alone will be enough to halt fracking and it can only be restarted by the minister. Which, in practice, means it's in the hand of the fanatically pro-wind Whitehall bureaucrats at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

By contrast, the UK consortium Cuadrilla - which halted exploratory fracking near Blackpool in early 2011 after causing two minor earthquakes - uses the German safety standard, one of the world's more conservative standards. This sets the maximum permissible tremor magnitude at 2.6 and recommends mitigation measures if seismic activity exceeds magnitude 1.7 - after which the drillers halt water injection and reduce the pressure on the shale.

Davey admitted that the 0.5 red-light threshold is "far below a perceptible surface event, but larger than the expected level generated by the fracturing of the rock", which he considers "an appropriately precautionary approach". But he admitted: "We received representations in our consultation that this is too cautious."

Environmentalists fear that deep drilling may disturb Silurians,
the race living under the Earth's crust in Dr Who

The combination of fracking and horizontal drilling techniques can be used to unlocked new reserves of exploitable gas. (The combination is also deployed to unlock renewable geothermal energy.) The consequences for the energy market have been dramatic. US gas prices have fallen by two thirds, the country is now self-sufficient on gas - and the United States enjoyed the largest fall in CO2 emissions of any major country as its power generators switched from coal to gas.

Reports suggest that the UK sits on one of the richest deposits of shale gas in the world. An unpublished but independent estimate of UK gas potential by the British Geological Survey suggests it may be more significant to the UK economy than North Sea oil. Cuadrilla initially estimated the UK has enough gas to make it self-sufficient for 15 years at current consumption rates - but this may be underestimated by a factor of four.

We just don't know - and today's announcement allows Cuadrilla to further explore the Bowland Shale in Lancashire.

Shale exploitation and the cheap energy it produces - with lower-than-coal CO2 emissions - poses an existentialist threat to the renewables industry as the stark contrast in price and reliability are inescapable.

On Monday the Mayor of London Boris Johnson characterised objections to fracking as irrational and psychological, writing of the environmentalists:

Beware this new technology, they wail. Do not tamper with the corsets of Gaia! Don’t probe her loamy undergarments with so much as a finger — or else the goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge. Dig out this shale gas, they warn, and our water will be poisoned and our children will be stunted and our cattle will be victims of terrible intestinal explosions.

This is not an original observation. It's one we've made it here before. There is a powerful symbolism in the Earth Goddess Gaia being penetrated. However, here at Vulture Central we fear the fate of any undiscovered subterranean reptile-human hybrids that fracking may disturb. (This is a joke. We are merely extending the environmental lobby's favourite rhetorical weapon - the precautionary principle - to its natural conclusion.)

Curiously, the "carbon capture and storage" systems, which grab CO2 from fossil-fuel power stations and bung it deep underground, are favoured by environmentalists, but they too require fracking. Activists thus find themselves in the peculiar position of praying for earthquakes when shale gas is recovered from fracking, but not when CO2 gas is being buried using fracking.

Energy consultant Nick Grealy, an advocate of shale gas and whose predictions have proved accurate, had some thoughtful advice for the environmental lobby in this piece.

"UK Greens have to start thinking more about climate change and less about the Committee for Climate Change," he wrote.

Taking his point one step further, environmental activists ought to think more about ways to reduce CO2 rather than setting targets for power generation from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. As Voltaire wrote: le mieux est l'ennemi du bien - the best is the enemy of good.

In reality, the renewables target strategy died in George Osborne's autumn mini-budget statement last week. The chancellor said he is looking forward to shale gas production in 2015, and 30 new gas-fired stations.

The installation of a hand-grenade-triggered "red light" is very much a rearguard action. It is very hard to imagine the Ofgem-predicted power cuts rolling across Britain while shale gas extraction machines lie idle, halted by a safety "traffic light".

One rather fears for the safety of the hippies should that ever happen. ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
EU: Let's cost financial traders $400m a day, because EVIL BANKERS. Right?
Wait 'til this one hits your pension fund where it hurts
Systems meltdown plunges US immigration courts into pen-and-paper stone age
Massive outage could last four weeks, sources claim
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
prev story

Whitepapers

Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.