Press Release: `Lord Smith` demonstrates his contempt for the environment

The announcement by Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, that he supports the use of fracking for shale gas in the UK is a further demonstration the gulf between the concerns of ordinary people and the profit driven motivations of government and industry.

Frack Off activist Nathan Roberts said “Lord Smith’s endorsement of commercial-scale fracking in the UK suggests the Environment Agency are either ignorant of the facts or ignoring them.”

He continued that “The environment agency is not regulating fracking at present as they do not consider it an activity that requires a permit and hence are not actively monitoring the activity.”

He concluded that “Lord Smith talks of any ‘dash for gas’ necessarily coinciding with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. CCS does not exist and is not likely to be practical. The government dangling
£1 billion grants has so far failed to get any company to attempt a trial in the UK”.

More detailed comments on the announcement can be found below:

  • The Environment Agency is not regulating fracking at present (they do not consider it an activity that requires a permit and hence are not actively monitoring the activity[1]). There is no sign that they
    are changing their position on this, despite all the spin from politicians such as Chris Smith. Given the close links between the Environment Agency and industry [2], no one could have any confidence anything substantive will be done to monitor these processes. Fundamentally shale gas cannot effectively be regulated in any case. It is a more extreme form of energy extraction that requires greater environmental destruction and its nature (spread over thousands of sites and involving millions of lorry movements) could never be effectively overseen by the EA, even if they had the money to do that [3].
  • The overwhelming evidence from the places like the US where shale gas extraction has been happening for many years is that it is very damaging to the environment and human health. This includes not just
    leaking methane [4], water pollution [5] and earthquakes [6], but also air pollution [7], massive waste disposal problems [8] (including radioactive materials [9]), massive industrialisation of the countryside [10], excessive water usage [11], increased road traffic and damage to roads [12] and serious health effects [13]. This is in addition to the huge threat extreme energy processes like shale gas extraction pose in terms of intensifying the climate crisis [14].
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) does not exist and is not likely to be practical (the government dangling £1 billion grants has so far failed to get any company to attempt a trial in the UK [15] and a string of projects around the world have been cancelled in recent months [16]). Even if CCS did work as advertised it would be impossibly for it to make any significant difference to the climate crisis due to the limits on its usefulness [17] and the speed with which it could be implemented. Ironically an expansion in drilling and fracking for shale gas would also compromise the integrity of the very aquifers that are proposed CCS storage sites [18].
  • The emerging evidence is that due to fugitive emissions of methane (which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide [19]), natural gas is no better than coal in terms of its effect on the climate. A Cornell University study has shown that due to methane leakage shale gas is worse than coal [20] and this has now been backed up by the direct detection of excess methane around gas fields in Colorado [21]. Given the latest worrying signs of methane leaking through cracks in melting artic ice, contemplating deliberately adding more to the atmosphere is completely insane [22].
  • The promise of cheap gas as the pay-off for all this environmental destruction is also a fantasy. Shale Gas is extremely expensive to extract and requires high gas prices to be viable [23]. The amount of Shale Gas in the UK is equilavent to little more than one year of current consumption [24] and it would take a long time and the drilling of thousands of wells to produce [25]. There is not enough Shale Gas in the the UK to even temporarily slow the decline in North Sea as production [26]. The choice that we face is between expanding extreme energy extraction methods (with higher prices, more environmental destruction and severe social consequences [27]) or abandoning the present system that demands more, more, more and concentrating on maximising human happiness rather than corporate profits.


[1] “For example, at Cuadrilla’s first site, the Environment Agency has decided no permit is needed for fracking as part of their current operations”

[2] Dr Paul Leinster, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, has previously worked for SmithKline Beecham, BP International and Schering Agrochemicals

[3] “Environment Agency, are to face deep budget cuts starting from April”

[4] “A study by Duke University researchers has found high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites. The scientists collected and analyzed water samples from 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York.”

[5] “A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing”

[6] “Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey said that for the three decades until 2000, seismic events in the nation’s midsection averaged 21 a year. They jumped to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011.”

[7] “The Environmental Protection Agency has sent a letter to governor Matt Mead, saying it will be formally listing Sublette County as an area in violation of federal air quality standards.”

[8] “The drilling involves injecting vast amounts of water and chemicals into underground shale to release the gas. Should it begin in New York, the gas wells could generate hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater annually, and it is not clear where it could go.”

[9] “New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation … analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought thousands of feet to the surface from drilling and found that they contain levels of radium-226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.”

[10] MARCELLUS AIR : Aerial photographs of Marcellus Shale construction, drilling sites, frac pits, compressor stations, pipelines and impoundments.

[11] “At Colorado’s premier auction for unallocated water this spring, companies that provide water for hydraulic fracturing at well sites were top bidders on supplies once claimed exclusively by farmers.”

[12] “A leaked report warns that heavy truck traffic from hydraulic fracturing operations in New York State could cause as much as $222 million worth of damage annually to local roads.”

[13] “Invasive breast cancer is on the rise in Denton County and five neighboring counties, even as the incidence rate for the disease is lower in the state and falling across the rest of the nation … The six counties with the most production equipment are Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties – the same six counties with high breast cancer rates.”

[14] “large-scale extraction of shale gas cannot be reconciled with the latest international climate change commitments, enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord”

[15] “Chris Huhne announced the failure to reach a “deal” with power companies to capture carbon dioxide emissions at the plant and pipe them under the sea. Mr Huhne blamed problems with the length of pipeline needed.”

[16] “The UK’s abandonment of the Longannet project reflects a growing global trend … five projects had been called off in the US and Europe in the past year. Most surviving schemes are associated with fossil-fuel drilling sites – not power plants – and have as their main purpose using CO2 to flush oil and gas out of old wells, the institute said, rather than curbing CO2 emissions”

[17] “This will require from 5 to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions.”

[18] “Celia says 80 per cent of the US’s potential CO2 storage volume overlaps with shale gas fields. In time, the impermeable shale will be poked through with so many holes from fracking that it will no longer form an effective seal for any aquifer below”

[19] “NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon”

[20] “The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells”

[21] “Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system.”

[22] “The researchers found significant amounts of methane being released from the ocean into the atmosphere through cracks in the melting sea ice. They said the quantities could be large enough to affect the global climate. Previous observations have pointed to large methane plumes being released from the seabed in the relatively shallow sea off the northern coast of Siberia but the latest findings were made far away from land in the deep, open ocean where the surface is usually capped by ice.”

[23] “Even before the most recent gas price crash, the shale gas producers were spending two, three, four, and even five times their operating cash flow to fund their land, drilling, and completion programmes. The widely accepted claims of huge volumes of cheaply produced energy did not square with this deficit financing.”

[24] “the UK’s shale gas reserve potential could be as large as 150 bcm (billion cubic metres). This is equivalent to approximately 1.5 years of the UK’s current gas consumption”

[25] “[to] produce the 4.7 tcf that the BGS has estimated … would require drilling and fracking something like 1500 wells, a similar number to all the petroleum wells that have been drilled onshore in the UK in the last 100 years”

[26] UK primary energy production from 1830

[27] “This is in stark contrast to the mindless fixation on growth of the present system which has more in common with a virus than it does with more sophisticated lifeforms. The path we are on is one where the net energy available to society is progressively driven to zero while the rest of society is eviscerated and our environment is rendered increasingly uninhabitable.”

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