Fracking: Is shale gas under your land?

  • If you own land, you do not own the mineral rights, including shale gas, under that land.
  • Exploration for shale gas goes straight down maybe over 2,000 meters.
  • The laterals, where the fracking takes place, may go out 10 km.
  • Parliament’s job is to decide what is best for the nation, including our children and the national debt.
  • Population grows every year and we need more energy.
  • The UK has the best environmental  policing capability in the Environment Agency and the BSSS in the world.

By Bill Butterworth

18 January 2015

Sunset off roundway hill

Inevitably, the sun sets on the old way of life. We need energy to cover population growth and increasing demand. At present, the only prospect of home-produced energy which is big enough to crack the problem is shale gas.

In many countries, including the USA, if you own a piece of land, then you also own the mineral rights (including oil and gas) under that land. In many more countries, that is not the case; the government owns the mineral rights. That applies to fracking for shale gas in the UK. That is just the way it has been for centuries and it will not change. So, what should the landowner put time and effort into if someone else wants to search for, and find, shale gas by drilling from another site under his/her land? Why should the rest of us be concerned?

Deal with the general concerns first. Under the technology which will be employed in the UK, one central drill “top” hole will go down maybe 2000 m and then the laterals may well curve down some more before running horizontal up to 10 km ( over 6 miles) and there might be a dozen laterals from one central drill platform. This, at least, is a blessing; one drill hole and service area will serve an approximate circle of up to a radius of 10 km. That is over 11,000 ha or over 28,000 acres.

This, then, is a two-edged sword.

If you own the land on which the central services hole is drilled, you get the money for drilling and disruption. However, the area to be drilled under will involve many landowners, maybe hundreds, even many thousands if domestic households are involved.

All of this gives government, the drilling companies and their investors a problem. If there is a leaning towards making a contribution to the local community, which there is, then how is it possible to put a limit on those contributions so as to avoid making the whole operation uneconomic and still maintain local community support?

This, in turn, raises another question. The objectors have, in our great democracy, every right to object. Indeed, the Friends of the Earth took the Environment Agency to court and managed to convince the Judge to rule that under European Law, what comes out of the hole has to be treated as Mining Waste. That, in its turn, makes dealing with the waste more expensive. No doubt, the objectors want to make it all so expensive that the drillers go away.

Well, again, there are consequences and a conclusion that there is some twisted thinking.

  • We live in the oldest democracy on earth (with the notable exception of ancient Greece). We elect MP’s – Members of Parliament who are delegates and not representatives. We send them to parliament to debate the options, come to a conclusion and then pass appropriate laws. They act certainly for the majority but also to think ahead and “do the right thing”, even if it is unpopular with some of the electorate.
  • If parliament decides that shale gas development is the only way to crack the national debt and take that burden off our children, then that is democracy at work.
  • If they do decide to allow and encourage shale gas development, then they must also ensure that we get the safest way possible at least cost. If that means altering the law to allow what comes out of the hole to be dealt with in a particular way, including changing from the Mining Regulations, so be it. Being expensive in order to try to discourage the drillers is not the right way for a democracy to work; it is either right or it is not. If it is right, do it at least cost for everyone’s benefit including the environment.
  • How do we take care to ensure that this is done right environmentally? Simple. The best, most professional, most independent, most credible, most trustable people in the world, repeat in the world, are the Members of the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS), most of whom are researchers and Professors in university Departments of Soil Science in the UK and some of the very best overseas. If they were employed to monitor shale gas operations and, for the sake of argument, even one was less than professional, the rest would not stand for that; he or she would get sorted out very quickly.
  • Just one proviso; if shale gas did happen, and if the BSSS were monitoring, then the taxpayer pays them, not the industry. The industry would pay its taxes in the normal way – as decided by parliament.

You don’t like this logic? Well, maybe you know something I don’t (which is quite likely). However, the UK has a net population grown, mainly because of immigration, of around a quarter of a million people a year and they all use energy. if we make life too difficult for the drillers and their investors, they will just push off to China. Then the national debt would stay longer, even grow and British industry struggle a bit harder. At best, shale is a “transition” fuel which is there to buy us time and stop importing energy from overseas and, instead, invest the cash in research to find genuinely sustainable, home-based power supplies. As the American singer, Eartha Kit once sang, “An Englishman needs time”.