Monday, 31 August 2015

Dear Graham Stewart MP, from a retired engineer

Dear Graham,

I am writing to you once more about fracking, because the situation has now become even more urgent and threatening to residents of East Yorkshire. The recent Government issue of drilling licenses and the 2nd tranche of licenses to be issued later this year have now the potential to turn our lovely countryside into a widespread industrial area. If you think this is an exaggeration, please consider what John Dewar, the chairman of Third Energy revealed about his fracking plans for Kirby Misperton. His most conservative estimate for drilling is 19 well-head sites each with 50 wells.The newly revealed license to Cuadrilla for drilling area SE95 which encompasses the villages of Wetwang, Tibthorpe, Bainton, Kirkburn, North Dalton among others, as you are aware, is very rich farming land and beautiful scenery. This will be the first East Yorkshire area to be subjected to an application to frack. The later tranche will cover many more areas of East Yorkshire, many abutting your constituency boundaries. Each will have the potential to spawn multiple drilling sites, with consequent disruption by convoys of vehicles on narrow roads, the potential for leakage, spillage, light and noise pollution, water contamination and emission of fugitive methane.

It will, of course, be argued that we will have the best ever "gold standard" safety procedures in place to ensure that no untoward accidents can occur. But even the professional report on which the Government bases its assertion that fracking is safe, qualifies that by saying " if the most rigorous safety standards are in place". As a retired engineer myself, I consider that no new or existing technology can be 100 % safe or could be so efficiently controlled. Moreover, the safety procedures currently in place for fracking are based on older drilling technology. The two agencies charged with overseeing safety have as yet no experience of overseeing the new fracking techniques. Both agencies have also experienced personnel and budgets cuts under the Government's economy measures. It will not be surprising if they will suffer further cuts when the Chancellor delivers his budget in September to achieve further savings of £12 billion. It is highly likely that the outcome of weakening these agencies would be a resort to more self-regulation by the oil and gas industry, not known for its unblemished record in this regard.        

Let's be clear on the terminology, because some from the industry and pro-fracking lobby would have us believe that fracking is a well-tried, risk-free technology. What Cuadrilla and other oil and gas companies will be doing is "unconventional on-shore high-volume hydraulic fracturing", a technology that has only once before been used before in the UK, by Cuadrilla, which resulted in an earthquake, fracture of the well casing and abandonment of the well. There is also mounting evidence from the USA and Australia, for anyone who cares to look, of the health and environmental impacts of fracking there, where the industry is far less constrained by lack of space. Yes there are some exaggerations and misleading reports (as there is also misinformation from the pro-fracking industry), but applying a severe filter to the information available still leaves very strong and disturbing case that fracking has a devastating effect.

Another misleading tactic by the proponents of fracking is to restrict their published estimate of the impact simply to the effects of a single initial exploration well, ignoring the likelihood that, should the shale prove productive, plans to expand to large scale exploitation would follow and be even more difficult at that stage for local planning authorities to refuse. Multiple drilling sites, similar to those already proposed by Third Energy at Ryedale, would eventually spread over a huge area of East Yorkshire, wherever the shale is found to be productive. As each well quickly exhausts its potential, more wells are necessary to produce enough gas to continue the supply. The many areas already proposed for licensing can be seen from the published maps, which no doubt you have already seen.

I am therefore asking you once again to consider the process of grotesque transformation of our countryside that could be initiated once the first fracking well is approved, and to join your Conservative MP colleague Sir Greg Knight in opposing the industrialisation of this beautiful area.