rashbre central: frack

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


I used to advise some energy sector clients and this inevitably means hanging around in corporate entrance lobbies waiting to see individuals. One that particularly struck me was a lobby showcasing fracking and the extraction of oil from sand. I seem to remember it was a Canadian story and the walls of the room had a few pictures. 

Recently, I've seen Jacob Rees-Mogg break cover to smooth over the fracking story with oleaginous contempt for any challenges.  I remember being dismayed by those original lobby pictures I saw, so I wondered what 'levelling up' stories would now be applied to the UK. I see one right wing newspaper is saying how great it is that the north of England has so many fracking opportunities. The potential appeals to  'Red Wall' country?

The Cuadrilla maps don't quite tell the whole story though. By looking at a geo-survey of aquifers and shale it is possible to see that the target zones could drop right into the rich Tory heartlands of the south-east. One of those red squares appears to land on Guildford. Hold that thought.

I remembered the lobby depicted activity around Alberta, so I thought I'd take a look at how things are going. Here's a picture of the effect around an oil sands bitumen recovery site.

An example mine would produce 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen at its peak, cover 24,000 thousand hectares and — during its 41-year lifespan — tap into reserves in the neighbourhood of 3.2 billion barrels. 

The bitumen requires processing to turn into oil, although some places directly burn the bitumen to generate power. It is all a messy business. 

I haven't mentioned the shale gas yet, which is a euphemism for methane/methanol and is the other main target of the frackers. Hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – is the process used to extract shale gas. 

Deep holes are drilled down into the shale rock, followed by horizontal drilling to access more of the gas, as shale reserves are typically distributed horizontally rather than vertically. Fracking fluids containing sand, water and chemicals are then pumped at high pressure into the drilled holes to open up fractures in the rock, enabling the trapped gas to flow into collection wells. The drillers explain that it entirely safe, aside from the occasional accidental fire.

From there it is piped away for commercial use. Methane is 25 times more toxic to the environment that carbon dioxide, so we don't want any of it to escape.  

This is another messy business and incorporates a few extra pipes and gadgets.

If all goes well, then there's money in that there Red Wall. 

If it goes wrong, we could see a few earth tremors or even some light flooding of the landscape - just like in Alberta.

A steady flow of oil leaking from the ground across four well sites includes the latest covering up to 40 hectares, according to the Alberta Energy Regulator. No one knows how to stop the leaks, which are ongoing.
Above ground the search for sites continues...

But Rees-Mogg insists it is all okay.  Is this what was meant by levelling?

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