Tuesday, May 27, 2014


We went to a funeral
In the rain.
A green burial
A poem.

When most folk had left
A lone woman stood by the grave
Singing a song
In a strange language
In the rain

Then we went to the pub and had cakes and ale.
There will always be Sunshine.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Open Letter to Mark Abbott, Managing Director of Egdon Resources.

 22nd May 2014
Dear Mark,
Thank you for coming to Donington-on-Bain Village Hall in Lincolnshire on Wednesday 21st May 2014 to present your plans for oil exploration at Biscathorpe in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And thank you for having the patience to listen to me politely for over half an hour while I told you to change your job.  I found it an interesting conversation.
You and I both started our careers as geologists; you became a successful businessman and I a campaigner against the exploitation of fossil carbon.  We have some common ground but we are operating in different paradigms.
You came to our community to assure us that you operated in a well-regulated industry, acting at all times within the law, in accordance with UK government policy, and that you took your responsibilities towards protection of the local environment seriously.  You think you can manage your planned operations in such a way as to produce little nuisance for local residents and with little risk to the natural environment including the world-wide rare habitat of a chalk-stream.  By and large, I believe you.  There is the issue of low-risk/high-consequence events such as a major well-head explosion but let’s keep fingers crossed and leave that to one side.
I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to see no mention of global warming and climate change on your display material.  When I questioned your colleague, Martin, who has responsibility for environmental protection compliance, it became clear that he was only concerned with the ‘local environment’.  Somehow the atmosphere is not part of this.  In common with other oil and gas companies involved in the UK prospect, you appear to be happy to engage with the public about the local environmental threats, which, perhaps correctly, you regard as manageable risks, but are reluctant to draw attention to global warming caused by greenhouse gasses, the end waste products of your industry.  Carbon dioxide, you might argue, is the responsibility of he who burns the carbon, not the producer.  An arms manufacture would deny responsibility for the actions of the man with the trigger finger in the same manner.  That logic cannot be applied to fugitive methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas in the short term.
I was also disappointed, and actually quite surprised, that you had not heard of Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Here’s her website: http://figueresonline.com/ Her job is to deliver an agreement between 194 nations at the Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015, replacing the Kyoto Protocol, to provide a mechanism for carbon reduction that leads to a safe climate.  Her many recent speeches to the oil industry, governments and other significant players have highlighted the danger of the ‘carbon bubble’ and stranded assets.  These are matters that directly affect the profitability of your industry and as a managing director I am surprised that you are not keeping abreast of these developments.  You told me that you had heard of fellow geologist Jeremy Leggett and were aware of Carbon Tracker but, again, you seemed unaware of the significance of the issues raised.  I suggest you seek a meeting.  He can be contacted here http://www.carbontracker.org/site/
You pointed out that Egdon is a very small player and that these are really matters for the big boys.  Did you read the letter from Shell last week?  http://s02.static-shell.com/content/dam/shell-new/local/corporate/corporate/downloads/pdf/investor/presentations/2014/sri-web-response-climate-change-may14.pdf  They say “In summary, Shell does not believe that any of its proven reserves will become ‘stranded’ as a result of current or reasonably foreseeable future legislation concerning carbon”.  Thus they believe that Christiana Figueres will fail in her task and COP21 will not deliver the agreement required to limit climate change safely.  Sadly, they may be right, but that will spell the end of civilisation as we know it and perhaps worse.  The consequences of failure have begun to be spelled out by the World Bank http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange particularly in their report Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/11/18/Climate-change-report-warns-dramatically-warmer-world-this-century Shell admit the problem in their 16th May letter: “We concur with the view in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that there is a high degree of confidence that global warming will exceed 2° by the end of the 21st century.”
From our conversation, Mark, it seems to me that your position is aligned with that of Shell.  You accept that global warming and the consequent climate change are real and are caused largely by man’s emission of greenhouse gasses.  You expect the continued use of fossil carbon, though declining over, as you put it, ‘the next few decades’.  You argue that exploiting the UK’s resources of oil and natural gas, in line with government policy, helps the UK economy and energy security and the generated wealth can be used to speed the transition to a low-carbon future.
All well and good, if only we had the luxury of time.  Sadly we don’t; there is no longer a ‘carbon budget’ left.  David Spratt explains this in his blog this morning at http://www.climatecodered.org/2014/05/the-real-budgetary-emergency-burnable.html 
Last night the topic of ice melt came up in our conversation.  You said that you had read about it on the BBC website.  I was disappointed that you use the main-stream media as a filter for information central to your industry’s long term future.  As a geophysicist, you are part of that small proportion of the population able to read und understand the scientific literature, even in a field not directly your own.  Yet rather than reading the source papers you rely on journalism for a lay audience.  I suggest you follow the references given here by Roz Pidcock at Carbon Brief just the day before yesterday.  http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/05/ice-picks-five-pieces-of-ice-news-revealing-earth%E2%80%99s-ice-cover-is-in-serious-decline/  You will see that we are already committed to the loss of many of the world’s largest cities and vast stretches of the best agricultural land to rising sea level, even if we stopped all carbon burning today.  On your journey to Donington-on-Bain, perhaps you visited the nearby market town of Louth.  Next year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the completion of the church spire.  In another 500 years it will only be visible to the jellyfish.  The areas most at risk are graphically illustrated in this piece published yesterday by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme: http://www.igbp.net/multimedia/multimedia/deltasatrisk.5.62dc35801456272b46d351.html
In announcing the forthcoming UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York this September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “I challenge you to bring to the Summit bold pledges. Innovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement through the UNFCCC process.”  He was addressing all of us but particularly those of us who are privileged to hold positions where we can make the required pledges.  That means people like you, Mark, who have an influence in the fossil fuel industry as well as people like me who have the resources to campaign.  No matter how small our individual influence may be, we have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Veteran campaigner, Bill McKibben, released his ‘Call to Arms’ yesterday http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/a-call-to-arms-an-invitation-to-demand-action-on-climate-change-20140521 asking that people come to New York in September, engaging in the democratic process that you talked about last night.  Democracy, Mark, cannot be left to an occasional vote (and I trust you voted Green in today’s EU election) for as 20th century history has shown, the most evil governments can arise through democracy.  Your reasoning that Egdon acts within the law and according to the policies of a democratically elected government form a weak defence, the defence of ‘only carrying out orders’.  Ultimately we all have to take personal responsibility for our actions.
So Mark, I think you are an honest man, trying to do your best for the world as well as for yourself.  I ask you to step out of your comfort zone, study what real Earth-systems scientists are saying, unmediated by politicians or journalists, and confront the inescapable conclusion that we have to stop burning carbon pretty damn quick.  Use the resources at your disposal to turn our path so that you may one day say to your grandchild, I was part of the problem but then I tried to be part of the solution.  It’s a big ask, because the first step will be to forego submitting that planning application to drill for oil at Biscathorpe.
Regards, Biff Vernon.

27 May 2014

Dear Biff

Many thanks for your emailed letter dated 22 May and for attending the exhibition in Donington on Bain Village Hall last week about our proposals for a conventional exploratory oil well at Biscathorpe. It was good to meet you and hear your views.

I hope you found the information in our displays and discussions with the Egdon team to be helpful.
We will continue to inform the local community of our plans by updating our project web page: www.egdon-resources.com!Wellsite Biscathorpe

You will have another opportunity to submit your views when Lincoinshire County Council’s planning department undertakes its statutory public consultation, following receipt of our planning application.

Yours sincerely

Mark Abbott

Managing Director
Egdon Resources U.K. Limited Tel: 01256 702 292

Monday, May 05, 2014

What the fracking industry does not want to talk about

According to the British Geological Survey, fracking could release considerable fossil fuel resources contained in shale rock formations around the UK. Fracking is controversial, and even the government accepts that it will not reduce the price of gas, but much of the debate around fracking has centred on local pollution, which the industry seems happy to discuss.

It argues that the risks are manageable and can be worked around with appropriate regulation.  However, there is an undeniable issue which the fracking industry does not seem to want to talk about: climate change.

We have already discovered more than enough oil and gas to push temperatures way through any notional safe limit.  According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, “Only 20% of the total reserves can be burned unabated, leaving up to 80% of assets technically unburnable”.

Climate change, resulting from the emission of carbon dioxide and accidental escape of methane, is the inevitable consequence of exploiting unconventional gas resources.
All burning of natural gas produces carbon dioxide and though it is true that gas burns with lower emission than coal, for the total global warming potential the leakage of unburnt methane, a much stronger short-term greenhouse gas, has to be taken into account.  There has been insufficient monitoring of methane leakage from fracked wells and the whole gas distribution chain but a paper published last year, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” (David T. Allen, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304880110) shows that it is quite wrong to regard shale gas a some kind of ‘clean’ substitute for other fossil fuels.
As the dangers of climate change become apparent to legislators, the exploitation of fossil fuels is likely to be prohibited, leaving the currently hyped carbon bubble as a stranded asset.  Why then is fracking being pursued?  The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee wrote in the March 2014 the ‘Green Finance’ report: “...the transition to a low-carbon economy will require investors to take account of the reality of a carbon-constrained world. This shift is happening, but there are obstacles to overcome—stock markets are currently over-valuing companies that produce and use carbon”. 

A case which illustrates this issue can be found here in the East Midlands: There is a geological basin called the Gainsborough Trough that contains a great thickness of shale, the same formation as is found in Lancashire. It is likely to contain gas that might be released by fracking.  A small company, Egdon Resources, holds the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) for part of this area.  Last year the price of its shares was around 10 pence.

In January 2014 the French company Total announced they would buy into the work that Egdon were planning. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, came went to Gainsborough to welcome the plan. Egdon’s shares went up to about 30 pence. Those of Egdon’s directors with substantial holdings of their company’s shares became very rich people almost overnight, though not a single cubic foot of gas had been produced.  It can be argued that it is, currently, possible to make a lot of money in the industry, not by producing gas from the shale, but by convincing investors that there is money to be made in the future. 

Total only committed to spending €20 million. For a company whose sales in 2012 topped €200 billion, that sounds like the sort of cash that might be found down the back of the boardroom sofa and the brand recognition from the Prime Minister is likely to have been useful with fracking banned in their native France.

Some of Lincolnshire’s largest nature reserves lie in the area with fracking potential but Paul Learoyd, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said "I do not envisage any circumstances where Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust would permit fracking or any other fossil fuel extraction on land under its control."

Some of the communities earmarked to host these kinds of projects have begun to form their own solutions. Residents of Balcombe, the Sussex village which has been the focus of mass anti-fracking protests, have formed a co-operative solar energy project. With a view to capacity increasing, REPOWER Balcombe aims to start by supplying 7.5% of the village's power demand.

Despite recent arguments that fracking will lessen Europe's energy reliance on Russia, it seems unlikely that much gas will ever be produced from UK shale by fracking.  If gas is produced then catastrophic climate change will become ever more certain.  However, Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, believes that we will see a “low-carbon world”.  She told  New Scientist in March: "carbon neutrality is going to be so standardized that you will look at anything that is not carbon neutral and go, ‘where the hell did that monster come from?’ It's exciting."

This article was first published in Transition Free Press.