Monday 20 January 2014

Surveying Shale at the Start of Round 2

This blog isn't going to become a shale cheer-leader forum (go to NoHotAir for that) but our friend 'Hovis' has taken the time to bake a lengthy rejoinder (in the Comments) which deserves acknowledgement and response.  Echoing the 'phoney war' idiom from my earlier post, Hovis fairly recognises that Round 1 has finished, so now we contemplate the state of play at the start of Round 2.  I'm going to take his/her main points head-on rather than endlessly refer back to previous postings, and here we go.  Switch off now if the whole subject leaves you numb. 
I have not seen why, in a Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy type of way you believe it is a “Good Thing”
What I consider a Good Thing is the following:
  •  that private companies should be allowed to establish, at their own expense and risk, whether there are shale gas (and/or other 'unconventional') resources, in economically viable quantities in the UK and elsewhere
  • that this should be done in a safe and environmentally responsible way, under Proper Regulations
  • that bullshit on the subject from any party should be exposed to reasoned and factual analysis
  • Rule of Law should prevail etc etc
It may not be a Bad Thing that local communities see some direct share of economic benefit; and of course the planning process shouldn't be subverted by this (see Proper Regs passim).  For the avoidance of doubt, it is however a Bad Thing - not least because totally unnecessary - that tax breaks are being given (this just adds to my already poor opinion of Osborne).  As you surely know, around these parts we are generally hostile to the socialisation of normal business risk (again, in this case, completely unnecessary).  And, as you kindly acknowledge, I have always said it is Bad that the regulatory regime is so flimsy, though not, I think, entirely non-existent as you suggest - see final point below.

And finally, of course, I think it would be a Great Thing if plentiful economically viable shale gas were to be found.  By 'economically viable' I include bearing the full costs of producing the stuff in the safest and cleanest ways known to man - which isn't some utopian fantasy, it just means doing things properly.
I utterly disagree with you that anti arguments are mendacious
And I have never said that all of them are: there are several that have a grounding in fact, and need proper response.  But many of the 'environmental' scare stories are indeed mendacious; along with other crazy statements like 'there isn't enough water', or 'the UK isn't big enough'.  Space here doesn't permit.
"Shale will bring major benefits to the UK" [is] doubly mendacious
It is absolutely fair to say that some purely speculative tripe is being talked.  No-one even knows if any gas is there !  "74,000 jobs" is, of course, a finger-in-the-air exercise - I have no time for such stuff.  BUT - if  there is even a fraction of what is seen as the potential, there will indeed be huge benefits to the UK:
  • gas prices will soften, if not fall significantly (big topic, for another time)
  • to exactly the same extent the price doesn't fall (because of exports at the margin to continental Europe), tax revenues will increase
  • there will be a boost to UK jobs, industry, expertise and GDP generally
  • we gain greater security of supply in gas, a commodity we need in large quantities for the next several decades in all meaningful UK energy scenarios
  • we demonstrate the fallacy of 'renewables being cheaper in the long run'
  • plus a huge increase in PC Plod's overtime (whoops, sorry !)
At what point do yo [sic] recognise there will be no regulation Nick? ... My question to you is, if there is no regulation should Fracking go ahead on a large scale in this country ?

My answer is - No !    OK ?



hovis said...

Thanks for the reply, it seems we are the only ones interested in debating the detail where we will always find the devil, so to speak.

Demetrius said...

In the 19th Century there was a minority of people who felt that the Middle Ages were a better place and we should have left the coal below ground. More recently I have begun to wonder if the same idea might have been applied to oil.

Graeme said...


On an earlier thread (to do with Balcombe) you referenced a report by Dr Smythe about the massive dangers of the exploratory drilling that Cuadrilla were proposing. I only came across this rejoinder by someone who seems to have much more practical knowledge of drilling than Smythe long after the thread had died. So maybe you did not see it. The comments, by equally practical people, are also illuminating. Obviously it is difficult to know who are the experts in these areas but the ones who get things right seem to be better guides.

Blue Eyes said...

Yeah, modern life is rubbish.

ivan said...

Nick, while I agree there should be some regulation I have to ask who do you envisage creating that regulation? Engineers that know the practical aspects or civil servants?

If it is the latter then we will end up with over regulation just as we see in the nuclear industry where most of it was created under the influence of CND. In this case it would be under the green lobby, Greenpeace and the anti fracking organizations. Not the way to go by any means.

It is no good leaving it to DECC or the ministry because both are in the pockets of the greens that want to stop everything but the 'renewable' industry.

Budgie said...

Ivan, well said about the possible deleterious effect of regulations on shale gas fracking - depending on who writes them. As you imply, safe (as safe as we know how) Nuclear depends on good geology, civil and nuclear engineering, not on regulations written by civil servants or the green lobby who know none of these disciplines. And of course such bad regulation puts up costs, distorts the market, and fails to protect our environment.

Nick Drew said...

I well know the dangers: many of the would-be 'contributors' to the putative EU regs that Cameron has seen off (for the time being) were manifestly in outright blocking mode

but let's not be in any doubt: absence of regs causes shocking behavior by even large co's (I have written before about what goes on in some of the States - you would no more want to live around the Houston Ship Channel than on Mars)

yer man Hill whom I mentioned is a worthy engineer, and a lot of what he writes is eminently sensible

likewise (and not unrelated because he worked with them) the Royal Society / Royal Academy of Engineering recommendations were pretty fair

BUT in the UK the real issues are (a) silly loopholes, easily fixed and (b)enforcement: the Environment Agency is an FSA-style bad joke

rwendland said...

> "Nuclear depends on good geology, civil and nuclear engineering, not on regulations written by civil servants"

The UK nuclear regulator inspectors, while now civil servants, are also (older) engineers who have spent most of their careers in the nuclear industry before transferring to the regulator. So simply calling them civil servants does not illuminate the situation. (There is a potential conflict-of-interest issue though.)

To give a couple of examples of nuclear regulators at work evaluating new nuclear designs:

1) The UK nuclear regulator discovered thet the French EPR design secondary (emergency) control system depended on portions of the computerised primary control system still working. So it wouldn't reliably work if the primary control system completely failed. EDF has had to change this for Hinkley Point, and the other EPRs.

2) The US regulator discovered that the new building material/method (a form of concrete) that Westinghouse was going to use to build the secondary containment, had not undergone adequete sample analysis to provide convincing evidence it could sustain all design-basis accidents - Westinghouse/contactors had drawn invalid conclusions from the existing tests. So Westinghouse had to make changes.

Strikes me regulators are essential.

Budgie said...

Of course regulations are necessary but it depends on how effective and efficient they are - in other words on who writes them.

Rwendland, in another industry I know the engineers that have moved from industry to the civil service. Not only are they the type who will do so, but a couple of years in the civil service makes them even worse. They spend the majority of their time protecting their backs and playing politics.

A project will start with one set in the driving seat and they will insist that a job is done one way (if you're lucky). Then the politics kick in and the first set moves on to mess up another project elsewhere.

Meanwhile the new set insists the first job should be done differently, blaming the private contractor for the oh-so-silly way it has been done so far. Everything is undone and re-done and re-done and re-done.

Personally I wouldn't believe the examples you cite without asking the other sides' views, and then only if I talked to their engineers anonymously.