On 27 October 2018, Daily Mail’s Mail Online published an interview with the Commissioner for Shale Gas, Natascha Engel. The interview cast an, err, “interesting” light on the insight she brings to her new job.
You can see the full article by clicking on this link, but here we examine what she says in a little more detail.
“The decision by energy firm Cuadrilla to halt operations at its site near Blackpool after a tremor of 0.8 magnitude on the Richter Scale showed the safeguards were working”, she said.
‘After the tremors in 2011, a very strict traffic light system was introduced – far stricter than anywhere else in the world. The only other country as strict as we are has set the pause button at 1.5 because even that can hardly be felt on the surface.’
The so-called “pause button” in the UK is set at 0.5ML (Local Magnitude). So how come “the only other country as strict as we are has set the pause button at 1.5”?
It is fatuous to say that 1.5 magnitude “can hardly be felt on the surface” because that would depend on how far below the surface the tremor orginates: if a tremor of let’s say 2.0 magnitude originates at, say, 1000m below the surface it would be more likely to be felt at the surface than a tremor of equal magnitude originating at 3000m.
But the problem is not so much whether these tremors can be felt at the surface so much as what is happening below the surface. The seismic activities can potentially weaken existing geological faults, making more (and bigger) tremors more likely as the process continues and goes on; and they can also threaten the integrity of the drill casings, all of which which would increase the possibility of fugitive gas, fracking fluids and chemicals escaping out into the surrounding rock.
But it’s not just the corrosive chemicals that the fracking companies are injecting which could escape as a result of seismic activity caused by fracking; there are also chemical substances which are inherent in the shale rock itself, such as selenium, molybdenum and arsenic (all of which are found in exceptionally high levels in the UK’s Bowland Shale deposits, which is what the fracking industry is interested in*) which could also possibly escape in potentially highly toxic quantities into our aquifers and environment; and radon which is found in the overlying coal seams and could also potentially be accidentally released.
If that any of that happens, and these chemicals start seeping up through the existing faults, then nobody knows where they could end up.
Yes, we mean that quite literally, nobody knows where they could end up. Not Cuadrilla, not INEOS, not IGas, not UKOOG (UK Onshore Oil & Gas), and certainly not Natascha.
Francis Egan, the CEO of Cuadrilla, who have recently started fracking in Lancashire, wants the “pause button” to be re-set by the Government to as much as 2.0ML. Because of the way the magnitudes are calibrated, this represents an increase of 40x the current permitted level. Cuadrilla is the company who have recently begun fracking operations near Blackpool, where no seismic activity has been recorded – none whatsoever – in over a century; yet in the first three weeks or so since fracking commenced, 32 seismic activity events were recorded, resulting in work having to be “paused” for 18 hours on several occasions.
“Speaking a day earlier, Miss Engel used her first interview as ‘Fracking Tsar’ to accuse anti-fracking protesters of trying to ‘scare the living daylights’ out of people and criticised Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.”
‘They paint themselves as being like local worried citizens,’ she said. ‘In fact they are using anti- fracking campaigns to stifle rational debate and boost their profile and funds.’
Although we have the broad support of organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, the vast majority of anti-fracking protestors really are local worried citizens. They are members of local groups such as CADAF & Eckington Against Fracking. They are residents of the communities most likely to be directly affected by having fracking imposed on them.
The truth is that it is the fracking companies themselves who “scare the living daylights” out of people: that is why those people have organised themselves into groups to oppose fracking.
The suggestion that organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace “are using anti-fracking campaigns to stifle rational debate and boost their profile and funds” (or that campaign groups would allow themselves to be “used” in that way) is a scandalous accusation and might even possibly be seen as slanderous or libellous.
“Miss Engel, 51, who is paid £48,000 a year, said she hopes to counter ‘disinformation’ about fracking.
“She plans to visit residents in areas where the controversial method of extracting shale gas is proposed and hold meetings in their homes ‘away from the ‘screaming and shouting at public meetings’.”
When the job of Commissioner for Shale Gas was initially advertised, the Government said it was a two-year appointment for “up to” eight days of work a month:
Over two years, that’s a total of just 192 hours!
How many residents does she think she will be able to visit in their homes in 192 hours?
Although her Job Description includes a brief to meet and engage with local communities, this comment shows that Ms Engel has no intention of doing any such thing. She has already insulted the people of North East Derbyshire – her former constituents – by saying publicly that we do not turn out for meetings, that we just sit back and wait for something to happen. But clearly, it is she, not us, who does not want to get involved in public meetings.
“Miss Engel says fracking could help meet our carbon reduction targets, create tens of thousands of jobs, solve Britain’s energy needs for 50 years and generate enough cash to ‘solve the social care crisis and save the NHS on its own’.”
Fracking has been extensively researched and reported on by scientists and other academics for many years. Every single report they have published has said quite clearly and catagorically that fracking not only will not, but it cannot, “help meet our carbon reduction targets”. Even the Government’s own Agencies have produced reports which agree. In fact, not one single credible report has ever supported this claim. It is nothing more than unsubstantiated rhetoric on the part of Government Ministers and the Oil and Gas Industry.
The truth is that methane emissions (the energy producing element of shale gas is methane) – whilst admittedly releasing less Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere than burning coal – are far more damaging to the environment; methane is roughly 30x more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas:
As for jobs, the on-site jobs created by fracking would be likely to be highly-specialised and involved in the actual drilling process itself. Companies such as INEOS, iGas and Cuadrilla will almost certainly be employing staff who have previous experience. The only new jobs which will be created in any numbers are most likely to be HGV drivers who will be needed to transport the vast amounts of water and fracking fluids needed for drilling and the removal of waste fluids away from the drill pads: and these are most likely to be contracted-out to companies based away from the proposed fracking sites.
Fracking could “generate enough cash to ‘solve the social care crisis and save the NHS on its own’.” REALLY? This is clearly a fantastical, desperate straw-clutching claim. We note that no sums or figures are presented to try to substantiate this outrageous statement. Surely Ms Engel cannot seriously think that anyone would swallow that whopper!
“She first investigated it when drilling was proposed in her former North East Derbyshire constituency.
“‘Mothers who had heard scare stories would be in my office weeping, saying their children were going to die,’ she said. ‘They’d been told flames would leap from kitchen taps, their houses would collapse in earthquakes.’
“She was so alarmed at the level of fear that she set off to find a fracking site in Yorkshire.
“‘When I drove there I could see a huge steel rig and garish piping in the distance and thought, “Blimey it’s massive,”’ she said. ‘It turned out to be Flamingo Land, a theme park! The “rig” was one of the biggest rides in Europe. The fracking site was so small I drove past it.’”
It’s understandable that, if the claim were true, Ms Engel would not want to disclose who these “mothers” were.
But the rest of the story really is stretching the imagination.
We can perhaps assume the fracking site she set out to find was most probably KM8 at Kirby Misperton, near Malton in North Yorkshire. But does she honestly think that we can believe that a supposedly intelligent, University-educated person (she has a Masters’ Degree) can mistake a Flamingoland joyride for a fracking rig? Even if that part of the story is genuine, her claim that “the fracking site was so small I drove past it” clearly shows that there obviously wasn’t a fracking rig in position at the site; thus rendering the entire story totally pointless, especially since no fracking has yet taken place at the KM8 site!
It beggars belief! Or maybe it’s just a weak attempt to inject some humour and show herself to be human and approachable?
Either way, it’s a disgraceful attempt to make light of people’s genuine concerns about fracking and to try to dismiss them as being unfounded and unworthy of attention.
Remember that Ms Engel is being paid £48,000 a year for “up to” eight hours a month?
That works out at a whopping £500 an hour!!
You’d think that, for that money, she’d be able to come up with something better than this!!