According to The Guardian, the chief executive of the company pioneering shale gas “fracking” in the UK is to face his home county critics, as leading scientists urged closer monitoring of new drilling.
Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla – the shale gas company whose initial drilling near Blackpool was found to be “highly probably” reasponsible fore two minor earthquakes last year – will confront a new set of opponents in the south-east’s stockbroker belt. The company is widening its attention to Sussex, Kent and Surrey, where it believes major resources of shale gas lie trapped in rocks thousands of metres below the surface. But it is already facing local opposition, as it did in Lancashire.
Cuadrilla confirmed that Miller would attend a meeting on Wednesday night of the “No Fracking in Sussex” group in Balcombe, west Sussex, one of the areas to be targeted in the quest for new sources of gas, to explain the company’s proposed operations and offer reassurances on its transparency, compliance with regulations and environmental impacts. Balcombe is normally a quiet spot – the parish council’s latest news is that two springer spaniels were believed stolen – but residents are objecting to the potential for gas exploration on the basis of its being an area of outstanding natural beauty, and close to a reservoir.
Vanessa Vine, a local resident and spokeswoman for the group, said: “This site is in an AONB [area of outstanding natural beauty]. It is less than a mile from the reservoir, one mile from Balcombe village and three miles from the Millennium Seed Bank. By Cuadrilla’s own admission, their technology has caused earthquakes in Lancashire. For legislators to allow it to be used within yards of the main London to Brighton railway line, simply beggars belief. We will not stand for this irresponsible, short-sighted, greed-driven, nonsense that does not even make economic sense.”
Fracking is the controversial process of blasting dense shale rock with water, sand and chemicals under high pressure, opening up tiny fissures in the rock that allow bubbles of methane to escape and be harvested. The process – which has become economically viable as gas prices have soared – has taken off in the US in recent years, leading to a glut of natural gas there, but critics have accused companies of contaminating water supplies and of potentially dangerous gas leaks.
Two of the UK’s leading geologists moved to calm some fears on Tuesday, saying contamination of the water supply from shale gas drilling was unlikely if this was conducted responsibly, and that any new seismic activity in the areas affected was likely to be minor. But they also called for closer monitoring of drilling sites.
The geologists also said Cuadrilla’s estimates for how much gas could be recovered in the UK were many times higher than their own calculations. Last year, Cuadrilla put the potential shale gas resources in the Lancashire region alone at 200 trillion cubic feet – an amount that could supply the whole of the UK’s gas needs for more than five decades.
But using more conservative methods, the British Geological Survey put the likely resources at 4.7 trillion cubic feet, one-fortieth of the company’s figure. Even then, only about 5 per cent to 10 per cent of that figure is likely to be able to be recovered, meaning the true potential for shale gas in the UK is likely to be small.