The Fracking Fylde; Fracking comes to Lancashire- March 2014

Background; In 2010 the drilling firm Cuadrilla began prospecting for shale gas in the Fylde with several sites. At Preece Hall they began fracking  – hydraulic fracturing  – at about 8000ft and ruptrured the well, triggering off two tremors of 1.5 and 2.3.  They ceased work.

The Fylde is a lowland part of Lancashire between Preston and Lancaster. It is a farming area, with the Forest of Bowland to the east and Blackpool and the coast on the west. Parts are uninteresting farmland but here are some shots I have taken on cycle rides. DSCF2679                      DSCF2593 Few knew about fracking a few years ago but then a drilling company Cuadrilla began drilling for shale gas of the Bowland Shales which lies 8000 feet below the surface. After two terrible destructive major earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.3 on the Richter scale in 2011, they stopped drilling. I believe they caused tiny ripples in a teacup. Since then many anti-frack groups have been set up ; RAFF (Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking) and one for almost every small town and hamlet. It was the outcry after the earthquakes which caught my attention as I have lived through an 8.6 when a child and many 4s and 5s in the rift valley of Uganda when working there. The most serious earthquake made the organist miss a note while playing for a hymn in a church service. I felt there was something wrong with the media frenzy as even a 2.3 is of no consequence. So on retirement I followed up fracking with a vengeance, but instead of reading the latest journalistic hype, or anti-fracking rant, I decided to read only technical articles from Britain and the USA, whether the geological surveys , environmental agencies or academic articles. I ignored the “frack, babe, frack” and “frack off and fuck off ” diatribes. This picture is from the facebook page GAF – Garstang against Fracking ;


The concerns are environmental issues, concerns over water usage and pollution, air pollution, fears of industrialisation, worry about regulations  etc, and are much hyped by anti-frackers but the concerns are very real in the perception of many and need to be considered seriously. However I cannot deal with them except in passing, but the dangers are much less than some claim and fracking is essentially safe  – or as safe as any industrial process can be and safer than some processes which we don’t worry about!

After three years of local anti-frackers getting in a frenzy, Cuadrilla announced that they were coming back in February 2014. Not that they had ever left as they own the gas well at Roseacre, which was vertically but not horizontally fracked in 1992 and has produced gas ever since. This is what it looks like from half a mile away (the actual site covers about a fifth of the skyline) , and right by the fence 🙂

DSCF2846      DSCF2556

There are two new sites, one at little Plumpton and one between Roseacre and Wharles by Roseacre wood, pictured below. The site will be two hundred yards through the gate.

DSCF2686    DSCF2689 Already the impact of the Greenpeace “Not for shale” protest is apparent in the village and in mid-March the following had appeared at Roseacre, when one resident claimed their housesale had fallen through because of fracking.

DSCF2858 DSCF2859 The question is “who has caused the scare?” The second post answers that as this is what Greenpeace’s Wrongmove campaign is doing. The second reason is pure scaremongering; “Minor tremors” This implies possible damage and ignores that fact that the 2011 tremors were only 1.5 and 2.3 , which can hardly be felt, and that they were very unusual in fracking. Not only is this campaign scaremongering it is also less than honest.

Shortly after the announcement from Cuadrilla there were two meetings, which I attended . one by Cuadrilla at Elswick Parish Hall on 12th February and one organised by RAFF for the parish council at YIPS in Inskip on 6th March. These meetings could not be more different in format, style, and even bad language 🙂 Cuadrilla’s meeting was an open one from 3 to 8 pm and thus, to my knowledge, had no formal presentation. I arrived at about 5.30 and was greeted by an anti-fracker who gave me a leaflet. “Fracking for Gas threatens us all” produced by RAFF. Inside there were a number of stalls dealing with aspects of the exploration, from drilling, geology, environmental issues and for residents who have concerns. The staff were helpful and polite and willing to answer any question and direct you on to the right person. My questions were technical, either on the geology, issues of drilling or environmental questions. I was given straight answers and my portable BS-meter was not needed. (I am quick to identify BS as I have dealt with creationists for years!) They were not to know that I had fully researched the tremors at Preece Hall and knew of the two other instances and that the big tremors in USA were probably due to injection not fracking. They could have piled on the BS, which I would have quickly spotted! Neither did they know I once directed some diamond-drilling, so rigs etc are familiar to me. Nor did they know I had read loads of technical reports. It was good to speak to the person who drilled and fracked the well at Elswick in 1993. None of them were the liars and crooks portrayed on anti-fracking sites! If they were, then they were very clever indeed, and I had been terribly conned.


The RAFF meeting at Inskip could not have been more different. Their presentation was crisp and slick, and were very creative in  their descriptions both of processes and potential risks. They repeated the usual anti-fracking memes, which resurface in all anti-fracking literature; water pollution, problems of waste water, “at least as dirty as coal”, etc etc. all these memes have been refuted many times by independent groups. The leaders spoke with intensity and were full of the dangers of fracking. However as their arguments were tenuous. At best it was simply scare-mongering – and , of course, they were dealing with people with no or little knowledge of the technicalities of fracking.  After the presentation which contained two clips from BBC programmes there was opportunity for questions. The main clip included Mike Hill, whose credentials I cannot elucidate, speaking about regulations. It seems as though he wants an EA and elf’nsafety official present at every stage of the process. He does not seem to realise that most industry does not have such helicopter- regulating. Thus my garage is not visited every day to see whether he is doing MOTs right! Answers were hostile if they perceived you were amenable to fracking. At times the language of the presenters was offensive due to expletives. We were given several leaflets, including  Shale Gas the facts…. produced by RAFF or Frackoff ( One handout was  20 Impacts of Shale Gas, .  which was printedoff from It is a mixture of facts, fracts, errors and inuendos, with much scaremongering. Errors include claiming that shale gas ; causes pollution of aquifers, is more polluting than coal, 50% of wells fail as well as exaggerating various issues. It is not a fair and reasonable portrayel of shale gas. “There will be an increase in traffic with 500 trucks per well and up to 800 wells across the Fylde and nearby areas – that’s a lot of trucks on our roads”. This is contrary to Cuadrilla’s estimates of 2 to 6 km spacing, which is widely accepted ; see That would result in somewhere btween 12 and 80 pads. Frack-off go further and suggest over 7000 wells in the Fylde area. That is manifestly false and has simply been made up by a fertile imagination.

Below is frack-offs threat of thousands of well in Britain;


This kind of scarmongering is clear when we consider the leaflet RAFF handed out “Shale Gas the Facts”. Though they do not mention well-spacing as they do on their site, they give a photo of the Jonah gas field in Wyoming (RH photo below) where wells are incredibly close. In fact the Jonah field is made up of closely-spaced VERTICAL wells going down into tight sandstone and not shale. The Jonah field is of 80 sq km of Wyoming desert and devoid of population, as we discovered when we breakfasted at the nearest town – Pinedale.  We drove within a few hundred yards of part of the field and noticed a few well-heads – but took no photos. These below are of the Jonah field (LH) and one (RH) in New Mexico on Highway 64 on which my friend Kim Johnson worked when a student. In NM the well were no more than half a mile apart as they were vertical rather than horizontal wells. When I got out of the car there was no noise or smell.

5453290375_d1d7b01078_o DSCF1508



Thus jonah is neither of shale gas not an area of hydraulic fracking . It is vertically drilled into “tight gas”.  Frack-off super-impose this spacing onto a photo of the English countryside (LH photo), thus giving well-spaces of 200 yards . This gives a very misleading picture. However the photo serves its purpose of scaring people away from fracking. If fracking wells were emplaced on the Fylde at the same density as in the Jonah field their would be about 400 pads, as opposed to 12 to 80 from Cuadrilla’s estimate . The photo of the Jonah field is often used by anti-frackers to show what would happen to the English countryside. It is a dishonest representation, and its constant use shows little integrity.

The Jonah field (RH) and the supposed effect on the English countryside (LH)

fracking-sim-smalljonah The leaflet begins by saying ;”PR consultants have been employed to disseminate misleading information to strengthen the case to extract shale gas in the UK.” (surely this is a libellous statement.) Let’s consider Their information. The section on Hydraulic Fracturing is both misleading  and muddling (active or passive?). They try to define fracking as only “high volume, slickwater hydraulic fracturing” and dismiss any other hydraulic fracturing. Hence  they can deny that the Elswick gaswell was hydraulically fractured in 1993 – which it was ! They conveniently ignore that today’s “fracking” has been a process which has been evolving over the last 65 years. if not 165 years,  and what we call fracking today is crude shorthand for hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. A similar evolution  over the same period is the development from side-valve engines, to overhead valves to overhead cam , which is the norm today. The section on regulations falsely declares that regulations are lacking, and claim that “A lack of regulatory enforcement has already been evidenced …with a chemical spill of calcium Dihydroxide at IGas’ Barton Moss site…” That sounds scary , but on ebay you can buy edible Calcium dihydroxide or even 10 kg with no problem Clearly there should have been no spills from the lorry concerned but all documentation on Ca(OH)2 show that it is only mildy hazardous (and probably as nasty as cement). Thus you should use gloves, wash any off  your skin etc. The worst is to get it in your eyes, but that is unpleasant rather than serious. Beyond that, there would have been no regulatory enforcement wherever Calcium Hydroxide was used, whether in cooking or for any other industrial purpose.

Then we are told “Cuadrilla claims its frack fluid is non hazardous” yet they intended to use “hazardous chemical antimony trioxide at Balcombe”. As Wikipedia puts it “Antimony trioxide is an opacifying agent for glasses, ceramics and enamels.Some specialty pigments contain antimony. Antimony trioxide is a useful catalyst in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic) and the vulcanization of rubber. Flame retardant for textiles, leather, polymers, and coatings.” There must be some in our houses!! Shock, horror! Cuadrilla have declared their frack fluid and published it on their website and in Colorado the state governor Hickenlooper, formerly an oil geologist drank some to make the point. It sounds better than Coke but worse than Budweiser. I would prefer a Wyoming beer – Moose Drool.

Antimony trioxide is easily obtainable , including on ebay and needs to be used with care as these guidelines show.

There is no good purpose to continue disecting this section but these two demonstrate the use of scaremongering and feeding into the fear of chemicals. Howver they did not mention the commonest chemical used in fracking –  Monoxy-dihydride, which kills more people than any other chemical.

And so they continue with allegations that 50% of wells leak. What they fail to say that these do not refer to onshore fracked gas wells but offshore deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. They would do well to concentrate not on well integrity but their own. Given enough time, patience and digging up the appropriate references I could deal with whole handout but I hope this gives sufficient to cast doubt on the reliability of RAFF and Frack-OFF. Another problem with the leaflet is that it is very poorly referenced so that most readers cannot check the veracity of statements, unless you are familiar with the literature.

The section on water contamination describes the harrowing story of the Hallowichs of Pennsylvania. But it ain’t true. No gagging order was served on the children and 25 July 2011 the Hallowichs signed an affidavit agreeing there was no medical evidence of health problems caused by drilling.  Further the Pennsylvania Dept of Environmental Protection found no evidence that drilling had polluted their private well. It took me two hours to find the detailed documentation on this (having been previously aware generally of the case). I suspect that most readers will see the reference to the (poorly researched) National Geographic article and conclude fracking pollutes water supplies. I am not saying it never does, but in this case it did not. To digress slightly, if fracking is carried out in a cavalier manner there is liable to be water contamination, but that can happen in any industrial concern which ignores good practice. Fortunately regulations in Britain are tight, despite concerns of the National Trust , RSPB and Wildlife trusts in their recent report(which is flawed).

A useful summary refuting common misrepresentations of fracking is from NoHotAir


In Britain there are fairly tight regulations for all undustries and also manufactured products. So much so that many joke about “‘elf’nsafety”. One of the main foci of many, whether ardently anti-fracking or not, is whether regulations for the onshore gas industry are fit for purpose or not. The recent report of the RSPB, National trust and Wildlife Trusts implies that those for onshore gas are not fit for purpose, and then gave a list of suggestions, most of which are in place today!

The first thing about regualtions is that in all spheres they develop with time. For example cars even dating from the 60s, like the iconic E-Type Jaguar could not be built today because they do not fulfil today’s safety regulations as with crumple zomes, air bags etc. In the 60s few cars had dual braking systems – today regarded as essential. One only has to talk to an electrician to find out how regulations keep changing.

There are a host of regulations which are directly applicable to fracking; water use and disposal, emissions, noise, light , use of chemicals etc. Many from mining and onshore oil and gas extraction are directly applicable. An unjaundiced study of the way in which fracking exploration has been carried out demonstrates that these are being followed (or to be cynical, at least as much as any other industry). It should be obvious that when fracking takes place in earnest, the whole regualatory system will evolve, some will be tighter, some laxer. It is silly to expect every aspect to be covered at such an early stage. Maybe some may be like the regulation that cars could go at more than 4 mph until it was repealed in 1896.

One of the BBC clips which RAFF showed including a long spiel by Mike Hill claiming that regulations are not in place. It is difficult to work out his qualifications as an authority, as accounts of  his oil experience varies from 2 to 20 years. In one sense he is totally right to argue for robust regulation , but he needs to recognise what is already in place. At times the demands for tighter regulations would throttle fracking at birth – and I suspect that that is the aim of some fractivists. Ultimately even the strictest regulations cannot guarantee the fracking will be 100% safe, any more than electrical regulations for the home will eliminate domestic electrical accidents. Earlier we considered aspects of regualtions with Calcium Hydroxide. That example shows how regualtions are being used to throttle fracking by making regualtions impossible and requiring a vast armer of regulators to ensure not one ounce of Ca(OH)2 is spilt.

There are some aspects which are unique to shale gas. The two most obvious are the possibility of tremors and the composition of fracking fluid. These two issues give rise to concerns about damage through earthquakes and pollution of water. However, genuine concerns are frequently fanned by the scaremongers.

On tremors the basic facts of two scarcely felt tremors of 1.5 and 2.3 during drilling in 2011 are conflated with larger tremors in the USA caused by fluid injection into old oil and gas wells to dispose of waste. This practice is illegal in Britain and in the USA problems go back to the 80s long before fracking as we know what invented. Thus a report by Nicholson and Wesson in 1990 as USGS Bulletin 1951 discusses these which are frequently 3.8 or even 5.5 on the Richter scale, which have caused mainor damage in the USA. (see Wikipedia on Richter Scale) . (There have recently been a spate in Ohio – again – which the unscrupulous or ignorant put down to fracking.) To put things into perspective the Blackpool earthquake of 2013 at 3.2 was about 20 times more powerful than the 2.3 at Preece Hall. A 5 quake is about 2, 000 times more. An 8.6 is 4,000,000,000 times more powerful than Preece Hall. (A family friend Frank Kingdom Ward, a plant hunter, was staying above the epicentre during the 8.6 earthquake in Assam on 15th August 1950, and was missing for months due to the remoteness of the Himalayan valleys. ) The largest ever recorded in Britain was 6.1 in 1931. Since 1900 one person has died – an old lady who fell down the stairs. Worldwide there are over one million 2 to 2.9 tremors are year and several million between 1 and 1.9. In California quakes of 5 to 5.5 are very common and gain little attention. A recent u-tube clip shows the effect in an icecream parlour. The lights were swaying but nobody bothered. The greatest damage seemed to be broken wine bottles in a supermarket. The latest Californian quake at 5.1 was 20,000 times more powerful than Preese Hall.  This makes Greenpeace’s Wrongmove campaign ( see photo above) irresponsibible scaremongering as assuming 2.3  tremors will be the norm for drilling (there are, in fact, only three occurences , one each in UK, USA and Canada), a tremor of that magnitude directly below your house might just cause a ripple in your tea cup.

Compared to other extractive industries fracking causes the fewest and smallest earthquakes as Davies showed in his report on Preese Hall (26/3/14). Note that there are only 3 fracking quakes worldwide. In the words of Professor Davies himself at the Unconventional Gas Aberdeen conference this week 25/3/14, “in terms of earthquakes, shale gas [fracking] doesn’t even make it into the premier league”. (Probably the most dangerous area for tremors on the Fylde is by the old salt-workings by Fleetwood) Below is a diagram on the relative frequency and intensity of tremors due to extraction industries.


To illustrate the magnitides involved a large stick of dynamite is equivalent to a 1.2 quake. However the tremors at Preese Hall have been taken very seriously and the government-sponsored report have recommended seismic monitoring and that drilling should cease if there is a tremor above 0.5, which is equivalent to three hand grenades. (In comparison a train crossing a viaduct causes a tremor of 1.5). That is extremely vigorous monitoring and should put all at rest – except Greenpeace :).

The other is pollution of water, which was made famous with the burning tap in the film Gasland. That was caused by methane in the water and has been  common in parts of the USA, especially Colorado (where it was filmed) and Pennsylvania for decades. In fact burning taps only occurs in places where it was common way before fracking. It also occurs in Leicestershire and there’s an interesting example from Oregon in 1951. Scientific analysis is at best inconclusive as there are few base-line studies. Most of these occurences are in private wells, which often have poor quality water. An advice brochure produced in 2004 in Pennsylvania i.e. several years before fracking started shows how common methane in water is. It gave advice on how to deal with methane in your private well. And that was several years before there was any fracking.

At least Putin is an ally for fractivists;


There are many issues I have not covered but this blog is far too long as it stands. I will wait for a further blog to discuss fracking and Climate Change, as some oppose fracking on the grounds that it will make Climate Change worse. Like Prof Dieter Helm of Oxford I do not agree but that is another story.

I hope I have made the case that arguments against fracking collapse on thorough investigation. It is best to read reliable accounts as list below.


When I started looking into fracking I decided to ignore publications from fracking companies and look for experts outside the industry. I have to admit that my research made me angry as I found that anti-fracking literature had little substance, ignored expert studies and always assumed the worst case scenario. I began by reading semi-popular stuff, but soon found it suspect and running counter to what I knew as a geologist. The problem was that the internet was flooded with stuff from Greenpeace and the usual anti-fracking memes like “fracked gas is worse than coal”, or that acetic acid is a contaminant! To me it is,  as I loath vinegar but it won’t kill you! So much material is written to an agenda. The popular film Gasland is best seen as a sitcom and in the words of an American geologist, who is a little hostile to fracking,  is simply “crap”. Thus if we go to the website of Fracking Unsafe,(whose  their main sources are Gasland and an Earthworks study Hydraulic Fracturing 101 which which is out of date and only applicable to the USA. Their list of chemicals with health effects include acetic acid (vinegar) ethanol (Alcohol in drinks)  and urea which I must now pass in my pee! (They even used the same yeast found in Marmite to frack in Sussex in the 90s.) On groundwater contamination they cite a 2004 EPA report on coalbed methane contamination. This is not fracking for gas and the date of 2004 means that it is BEFORE widespread fracking for gas. The whole article is misleading, yet the groups below have signed up to the fracking-unsafe declaration. I would have thought these groups who support Fracking UNSAFE would have had more perception


As a geologist I started with reports from  the British  and US Geological Surveys and then onto the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), our EA and reports from the Royal Soceiety  and mongraphs by competent scientists. In a sense this was confusing as there is often diversity of opinion as over the claim Gas is worse than coal, which has its roots in Howarth and Ingraffea’s 2011 study which claimed that leakages of Methane in fracking  could make it worse than coal for emissions. Soon could become is, and conveniently the many other studies which challenged Howarth and Ingraffea were ignored – a clear case of cherry picking and lack of integrity.

Perhaps the one best source to understand fracking and whether it is safe and worthwhile is the 2012 Royal society report This never is rarely used by anti-frackers, and then only in a cherry-picking way yet it represents the best of what British scientists and engineers have to say. Rather than give a long list of publications I refer to a list by Dr James Vernon a geophysicist at Bristol University whose blog Frackland was a late and useful find;

That should be sufficient for most!

To come (hopefully);

The fracking gas filter – beginning of April

Fracking and climate change

The report from RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts


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