Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 7

But What Can I Do About It?

I've changed my light bulbs, lagged the loft, turned down the thermostat, don't take holiday flights and wear woollen underclothes and have solar panels on the roof. But is it enough? Is it any use at all?

No.  It's not enough and, in a way, it's no use at all.  We live in an energy constrained world where any fossil fuel we don't burn will just be burnt by someone else.  If I don't buy some energy, the world price will, marginally, fall, allowing someone else to afford that energy.  Every drop of oil produced gets sold and burnt and if more were to be produced it too would be used, no matter how frugally we as individuals choose to live our lives.

Of course all this frugality and energy saving is ethically sound and necessary if we are to live sustainably on a finite planet but the way the global markets work ensures that such personal actions have precisely zero effect on global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission.

If we want to actually do something that makes a difference we have to turn away, for a moment, from the demand side of the energy market and look at the supply side.  If we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we have to keep the fossil carbon underground.  Carbon capture and storage, if it can be made to work, is just tinkering at the edges.  The only thing that really counts is not digging the stuff up.

So what can we do about that?  Well, there are two things.  Firstly we can push for the only policy instrument on the shelf that could actually work, Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs).  If you don't know about this is or are not yet convinced it's part of the solution then read here.

Secondly, we have to stop oil, gas and coal being exploited. At source. Writing to the King of Saudi Arabia may not achieve much but this could be a case where, having done the global thinking, we act locally.  And locally to my neck of the woods means Biscathorpe in Lincolnshire, where Egdon Resources Plc has applied for planning permission to drill for oil and have and intention to produce gas from the underlying shale by fracking.

By their own estimates, they plan in the first instance to suck up 8 million barrels of oil.  All of which will be burnt and the carbon emitted to the atmosphere if we allow planning permission to be granted.  If we can persuade Lincolnshire County Council to refuse permission we will have done far, far more to mitigate global warming than all our collective efforts at energy saving could possibly hope to achieve.

So this is what to do:  Fill in the Online Representation Form (this form automatically goes to the right place but the planning reference number is PL/0179/13(E)N59/13)  The form allows space for a 3900 character comment but if you want to write more send it in the old-fashioned way to 
Lincolnshire County Council, Planning, 1st Floor, Witham Park House, Waterside South, Lincoln.  LN5 7JN quoting the reference.
The documentation is all at the planning website and of course we put together our own website complete with pretty pictures and lots of reasons why it's all a Bad Idea.  Please feel free to use any of the words on the website in whatever order you choose.  And there's a facebook group!

So now you know what to do about it.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 6

Biscathorpe, the New Balcombe.

Lincolnshire County Council have now published the Planning Application from Egdon Resources Plc., for an oil well at Biscathorpe. I've put lot's of serious information on this website, with a map and pictures. Here I'll just have a little rant.

Now bear in mind what I wrote in The Elephant in the Landscape, that there are lots of local environmental issues related to fracking in particular and on shore oil and gas exploitation generally, but that none of these will end life on Earth. The really important thing is that any further extraction and burning of fossil fuels will add to global warming and that does risk ending life on the planet. So, having thus thought globally, we must now act locally and make sure that the Biscathorpe well is never drilled.

That said, lets look at the reasons why Egdon's planned well site is just about the worst possible location one can imagine.

Firstly, this whole area is really, really beautiful. It's right in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Beauty so maybe that's to be expected, but this exact spot defies the superlatives. Two streams, headwaters of the River Bain, come together in a wide area of open grassland. The spot must have been valued long ago as it is overlooked by low hills with Bronze and Iron Age remains and covered with the tell-tale bumps and lumps of an LMV, a Lost Medieval Village. The only buildings in view are the little church and the Church Cottage. This was unoccupied for several years but has just been refurbished and is available to rent as luxury holiday accommodation.

And here I shall quote from Egdon's Planning Statement "The closest residential property is Church Cottage which lies approximately 500m to the west of the Site, but is currently abandoned." Wrong. Not in the least bit abandoned and I don't suppose 'view over oil drill site' is included in the luxury holiday accommodation's brochure.

And while on the matter of quoting from Egdon's Planning Statement, it rather seems that they wish to convey to those County Councillors on the Planning Committee who are unfamiliar with the site, the idea that this is a rather forsaken corner, perhaps even part of the 'desolate north-east'. Take this, "Approximately 500m to the north west of the Application Site the more open areas of countryside are contrasted by the site of a disused sand and gravel quarry, known as Top Pit. This quarry comprises a number of industrial units, ponds and significant areas of landscaping including woodland." The 'number of industrial units' is actually the old weighbridge office of the quarry and the outbuildings of the residential dwelling. The 'landscaping' is just what got left after the quarry was abandoned many years ago. It is all overgrown and forms the most marvellous nature reserve with second to none biodiversity, a combination of low-nutrient soils and little or no human interference, what with not being on public access land. All of which is nothing to do with the proposed drill site because it is over the hill and beyond the wood, out of sight and not immediately relevant. 

Egdon helpfully tell us that "The sparsely populated nature of the landscape determines that the number of occupants of residential properties forming highly sensitive visual receptors would be limited." Doh! That's the point - this is a beauty spot because nobody lives here!

And on archaeology Egdon admit that: "A desk based archaeological assessment has been undertaken", i.e. they haven't had anybody who knows anything actually visit the site. At least they noticed that the site is adjacent to a medieval village and therefore, "given the nature of the development the proposals do have the potential to have an impact on archaeological remains, though this is largely confined to top soil and sub soil stripping of the area". Right, so they realise they might destroy the archaeology and yet that won't stop them. After all, they also pointed out that "The remains of the medieval village of Biscathorpe lie approximately 300m to the north west. However, these remains are not designated as a Scheduled Monument." No designation so no bother.

So back to the site. Lorries. To prepare the site Egdon say they will be bringing over 200 lorryloads of material to construct the 'platform' (that's the area of hard surface they work on) and the roadway from the public road to the field. An all these lorries have to come down the tiny road known as Gayton Lane and across two fords. All utterly picturesque and utterly unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles. In fact it would be hard to pick a spot anywhere on Lincolnshire's road network less suitable. These fords were not designed with 32 tonne artics in mind, especially not after it's been raining!

Here's a picture of one of the fords. Imagine an articulated tanker carrying 34 tonnes of crude oil in the middle of that picture.

Egdon point out that the construction traffic will only be temporary and, of course, Egdon will have a restriction in the planning grant that they have to reinstate any damage to the road. Fine, except that will completely alter the character of the road. And what is not temporary is the continuing traffic of oil tankers that will be needed to take oil from the site once production starts. No pipelines will be involved - it will be tankers by road till the oil runs out.

To the site. There's a standard practice for these sort of site to reduce the risk of pollution. The whole site is covered with a thick polythene sheet and the hardcore put on top. Surrounding the site they dig a ditch, again polythene lined. This means that any rain landing on the site can only drain off into the ditch, taking with it any oil or other spilled chemicals, preventing these potential pollutants escaping. The ditch is periodically pumped out into road tankers and taken away to a 'licensed disposal site'. Fine. Unless something goes wrong. Of course accidents in the oil industry are extremely rare but any risk analysis has to take into account not only the likelihood of an accident but also the consequences. If there were to be, heavens forfend, a major incident such as an explosion, then the little ditch and bund walls would be of little use. Pollution could rapidly enter the stream that runs alongside the site, and on into the Bain, causing an ecological catastrophe in almost the whole length of the River Bain and the Lower river Witham within hours. It would be hard to pick a more vulnerable site with respect to potential river pollution. 

Egdon make much of the 'temporary' nature of the proposal, as if they do not actually intend to find any oil and spend the next couple of decades producing it. Nooo, it will be a dry well, they will restore all to its pristine glory and be gone in a few months. Come of it, no oil company is going to do work like this unless they have a case that has convinced their investors that oil will be found and a handsome return on capital will ensue. It would be absurd for Lincolnshire County Council to grant planning permission for this 'temporary' exploration well if the intention would be to refuse a subsequent application for a production well and its ancillary facilities. This is not even the thin end of a wedge.

And then there is fracking. For sure, the current proposal is for conventional oil in reservoir rocks and that's all that Egdon are talking about in their planning application. But what they are telling their investors is that there are 2 to 3 kilometres of gas-rich shale source rock of the Bowland Formation in this, the southern extension of the Gainsborough Trough underlying the site. Egdon's Petroleum Exploration and Development License covers both oil and the gas below. They will naturally take the low hanging fruit of easily obtained conventional oil before moving on to fracking for the gas sometime later.

And what about the water and the earthquakes, I hear you cry. Ah yes, but even though the drill will pass through significant aquifer horizons the drilling fluids will be isolated by the steel and concrete of the well casing. And such things never break. Do they? And the potential earthquakes resulting from fracking really are very small and should not be worried about. Except that this area is close the fault that produced the Market Rasen earthquake and we actually have a very limited understanding of how tiny movements can trigger larger ones.

(There will be more, in the meantime please check out the website and the facebook group.)

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war? Part 3

Further Reading

In the previous two posts about the Syrian conflict I have suggested that the roots of the disaster lie in climate change.  A key feature of the current coverage of the reporting on the conflict is the absence of consideration of the origins, particularly any reference to global warming. Global policy decisions are being made with reference to symptoms not causes.

It turns out that there is an extensive literature relating what may be the Fertile Crescent's worst drought since the Neolithic to man-made climate change. Importantly, warnings were made of social unrest and military conflict that would be the likely consequences if the effects of the drought were not mitigated.  These warnings were issued in timely manner but, at least to any meaningful extent, were left unheeded, action not taken.

I list below a selection of reading, from short blog-pieces and journalists' reports to academic papers and lengthy reports from international organisations.

Water resources management in Syria
The Fertile Crescent
18 May 2009
Climate change, water resources, and the politics of adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa
Jeannie Sowers·Avner Vengosh·Erika Weinthal
Climatic Change  DOI 10.1007/s10584-010-9835-4
11 August 2009
Syria Drought Response Plan
Report from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
24 November 2009
Syria: Drought response faces funding shortfall
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions: Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East
Oli Brown, Alex Crawford
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD
16 January 2010
Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business, threatens prized heirloom chiles
Gary Nabhan
17 February 2010
Syria: Over a million people affected by drought
25 March 2010
Syria: Why the water shortages?IRIN
13 October 2010
Earth Is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived
Robert F. Worth, Hwaida Saad
New York Times
Drought Vulnerability in the Arab Region – Special Case Study: Syria
Wadid Erian. Bassem Katlan & Ouldbdey Babah
June 2011
Global and Local Economic Impacts of limate Change in Syria and Options for Adaptation
Clemens Breisinger et al.
International Food Policy Research Initiative (IFPRI)
27 October 2011
NOAA study: Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts
16 February 2012
Sowing the Seeds of Dissent: Economic Grievances and the Syrian Social Contract’s Unraveling
Suzanne Saleeby
29 February 2012
Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest
Francesco Femia & Caitlin Werrell
June 2013
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict
Peter Gleick