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Impacts of offshoring gas supplies

07 November 2019

THE UK will import 72% of gas requirements by 2030 and liquifying gas for import is hugely energy intensive, so importing our gas requirements increases global carbon emissions, explains Miles Hillman of Fosse Liquitrol.

Twin allies: Natasha Engel, Shale Gas Commissioner 2018-2019 and Greta Thunberg of Extinction Rebellion fame. From different ends of the red hot debate on climate change, they both understand that offshoring of carbon emissions may polish politician’s green credentials but it does not reduce global emissions (1) (2).

The government has understandably introduced a moratorium on gas fracking whilst it has marginal seats to lose in areas potentially affected by fracking in the coming election.

The subsequent decisions will be difficult. Do we accept increased global carbon emissions as a price paid for environmental disturbance in the UK? What are the likely levels of environmental disturbance? What levels are acceptable?

The impact of offshoring

Both Engel and Thunberg have stated that the 43% reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions promoted by the Committee on Climate Change and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy since 1990, was actually nearer a 8% decline in carbon consumption if offshoring of British industry is included. 

Engel attributes the closure of Redcar Steel Mill in Teesside with the loss of 2,000 jobs and the replacement of British coal with a five-fold increase in imported Russian coal to offshoring to countries with higher carbon emissions and no carbon taxes (1).

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of our energy is used in transport and manufacturing, not electricity generation – the only sector where emissions reductions are typically promoted.

Source: (3)

Increase in carbon emissions from imported gas

Offshoring results in higher carbon emissions.   Liquified natural gas (LNG) which will need to be imported from the USA and Qatar to meet our gas requirements for the next several decades, has far higher carbon emissions than home produced gas. LNG needs to be cooled to minus 168 degrees and shipped in refrigerated tankers before regassification in the UK – an energy intensive process. 

What are the UK environmental issues caused by fracking?

Earthquakes causing damage to property, potential ground water and surface water pollution, lorry movements and noise are the major causes of concern to local residents.

Ground movements caused by fracking compared to those from other industries.

Following seismic events in 2011 that were connected to shale gas exploration, the Government introduced regulations to mitigate these risks. A ‘Traffic Light System’ was introduced to monitor real-time seismic activity during operations, with a clear framework for stopping operations in the event of specified levels of seismic activity. Following a seismic event of magnitude 2.9 on 26th August 2019, hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road was suspended by the Oil and Gas Authority. While seismicity was at a level below that at which significant damage is expected, seismic activity at this level did impact local communities and was clearly unacceptable.(4)

Construction work, mining and digging tunnels, shafts and basements always cause small movements in the ground. The most commonly accepted measure of ground movement as an indicator of damage potential is the peak particle velocity (PPV). The British Standard, a part of the BS 7385 series, gives guidance on the assessment of the possibility of vibration-induced damage in buildings due to a variety of sources (5)

Using data collected by Cuadrilla and the BGS, it can be demonstrated that ground motion levels from the 2.9 seismic event magnitude were well below those that would cause cosmetic damage to buildings and below those tolerated by British Standards for quarrying and blasting industries.(6)

Ground and Surface Water protection.

Experience from the USA indicates the major threat to ground water comes from surface spills where large volumes of contaminated flowback water is handled.

Unlike the USA in North West England, it rains a lot. Any contaminated water may pollute surface water. 

The Environment Agency has developed stringent Technical Guidelines for onshore shale gas to prevent the pollution of groundwater, far more strict than any guidelines used in the USA or in UK oil refineries, or the chemical or construction industries. The guidelines for the containment of surface spills require three levels of bunding and all the rainwater and any liquid discharges from operations passing to an interceptor. During hydraulic fracturing operations and in the event of any operational spill the interceptor vales are closed and whole site contains all the liquid. Failure to adhere to the guidelines means no Environmental Permit for the site.

Lorry movements and noise

Like any infrastructure development, construction of the sites and then hydraulic fracturing may take 6 months to 2 years. Production then may continue for up to 20 years without significant lorry movement.

Conclusion

The government’s moratorium on fracking will be maintained until compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity. (4)

Will the government assess the evidence in relation to the increase in global emissions from imported gas and in the context of environmental standards applicable in all other industries?

Sources

  1.     Natasha Engels in the Times 28th June 2019
  2.     Climate change: Is Greta Thunberg right about UK carbon emissions? By Rachel Schraer BBC Reality Check 26 April 2019
  3.     Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-trends-june-2019
  4. UK Government hydraulic fracking moratorium https://url6.mailanyone.net/v1/?m=1iRYV0-000AFu-51&i=57e1b682&c=x4xLELfK2N6mjdHrO5aU7rmmmSfEFtHkARTzQHAEfcKs-uvv-ojNWiuVMsg6FhsAqCankhk-yGqZQxyQzrWggvIguPoJ3YrV_IPkjjawj5kfR5gfFExlfXJQm093L5k-OrZs8u-YDWSDFuJD8MkqAFEgeQBzsbtDPVFhCE0andJQa6QjfZrD28ST7SQL4ltKyq3jEzfCoEMG03pduLi_W4Et7cAQ7TRfboiu82kKE3y0nBlI6nxJJyPvwQ42c-9y
 
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