Category Archives: Fracking

Truth Politicians and Media


It is not just politicians, the tabloid press and media all do it; distort the truth far enough and it becomes a lie.

In the 24th June issue of New Scientist, a comment column observed “In this post-truth world …….. the power of facts is in retreat from public discourse”.

This is a potentially shattering observation in terms of not just the drowning of common sense but, quite likely, of the survival of the human race. Now, more than ever, science has to sell itself against attack by vested interests using social media.  Let us look as some examples.

  1. “Agricultural spay chemicals are dangerous and should never be used.”  It is true that they are dangerous and so is starvation.  Could we have a balanced, fact-based discussion?
  2. “Shale gas exploration is dangerous and will damage the environment and threaten our children’s health.” It is certainly true that shale gas exploration has risks and when we run out of energy to heat people’s homes, people will die. Could we have a balanced, fact-based discussion?

Why is it that we as a society vote into power politicians who distort the truth?  Why is it that we do not educate the next generation to NOT allow social media to distort the truth about events of every day?  Science is, or should be, fact-based common sense.  So, all scientists, do not distort the truth; tell it how it is.


Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd., 10 August 17


Shale gas means Brussels is less important

Those who argue that there will be a recession if the UK leaves the EU, may be right for both the UK and the rest of the EU.  Certainly, there will be uncertainty for a while – so will there be if we stay in. The uncertainly if we stay in will be as to how long it will be before the EU will collapse under the weight of corrupt and stifling bureaucracy.        Brexit, however, will not bring a recession in the UK if we have shale gas. The Planning Committee of the East Yorkshire Council had the common sense and courage to give the green light for shale production and this means that Brussels and Mr Putin (there is evidence he funds the anti-fracking groups) have much less power over us. That plus less bureaucracy in the UK would breathe new life into the UK economy.

Bill Butterworth     Land Research Ltd    24 May 2016

Shale and pollution – the top hole

Euope ast might 2

The EU plus a bit at night. Some believe we can deliver this sort of consumption of energy with what they call “renewables”. Maybe but not yet, we need time to develop sustainable renewables – we have not got enough yet.

Does the well leak?   The answer, surprisingly to some, is yes it does. However, if the drilling engineers know what they are doing, leakage occurs where they want it and only where they want it.

The top hole does not leak simply because it is steel pipes surrounded by concrete with each phase pressure tested before drilling proceeds to the next stage. This is serious stuff because if any stage fails, then the whole well is almost certain to be abandoned and many millions of £ Sterling.  However, to proceed and have a failure later on would be even more expensive.

Depending on the strata drilled through and the ultimate predicted depth, the vertical shaft may go down more than 1000 meters before it starts to turn in a gigantic letter “J” and then running as a lateral following the shale seam which may or may not be near horizontal. Now here is another difference between the original drilling in the USA (where each vertical well had only one lateral and maybe only one mile long) and here in the UK (Where we will drill up to a dozen laterals from one vertical well hole and each lateral may be up to 10 kilometers long).

Returning to leak risks, one of the functions of the drilling fluid (with its primary function to lubricate the drill bit that does the cutting of the rock) is to seal the hole left by the drill.  Seal, that is, where the drilling engineers want to seal (which is the vertical or top hole). In the laterals, the design wants leakage but into the hole, ie. This is where the gas comes in.

Shale gas & pollution – what goes down the well.

Bentonite dispensing

Dispensing Bentonite into the drilling fluid of a deep drilling operation. Just how environmentally friendly is this?

There are two things that can be said about shale gas and pollution.  The first is that there is a lot of rubbish, some deliberately so, talked about the dangers of drilling for shale gas.  The second is that all, repeat all, activity (and, indeed, all inactivity) has its dangers.  Basically and first of all, the dangers of pollution depend on the mechanics of the drilling operation first and the strata drilled through. Secondly, what gets put down the hole and what is done with what comes out. Over the next few weeks, this blog will be looking at some of the experience – here and overseas.

For starters, what does and does not go down the well at drilling?

Nobody ever puts radioactive material (such as Radon gas) down the well. Not ever, under any circumstances.  Historically and possibly in the USA, oil-based drilling fluids were used.  Here in the UK, the drilling fluids are normally water-based.  Some are even drinkable. Bentonite is often added.  This is a natural clay and you can eat it.  (You would quickly become constipated if you ate much but it isn’t toxic.)

There are other additives that are sometimes added but by no means always.  Sometimes, because of high temperatures, pesticides may be added but, in the UK, these are added under strict controls which demand a high degree of environmental friendliness and lack of persistence. Many thousands of gallons of water are pumped down these wells and that frequently gives rise for concern.  In the UK, there are controls which limit what happens and there is a major concern by the industry to recycle water and new technologies are being developed to help this.

Questions to ask;

  1. What does go down the well and what happens to it down there?
  2. How much water is used and where does it come from?
  3. Is there an independent body monitoring what goes on?


Bill Butterworth  3rd January 2016

Next week;  What about leaks from the system?


Shale gas, correlation and earthquakes



There is a bridge between earthquakes and shale gas exploration – but exactly where and what is that bridge?

“Correlation is not evidence of connection or causation.”

 Sorry, this is a bit long but it is intended to put a balanced view about the complexities of the hot and moving inside of the living earth which is 24,000 miles round at the equator.

A special report on Sky News UK, 19 April 15, looked at a relationship between fracking and earthquakes in Texas. That report portrayed Professor Brian Stump, SMU University, Dallas, quietly saying that “there is undoubtedly a correlation between fracking and earthquakes”. The professor is an acknowledged expert seismologist. Not taking his statement seriously would be foolish.  However, what does it mean?

Many years ago, when I was a student learning about statistics, it was pointed out that there is a correlation between the divorce rate in the UK and the rate of importation of wooden rolling pins. The point is that it is not difficult to find sets of figures which have similar patterns and therefore appear to be related.  They might be.  They might not be.  What the word “correlation” does is to alert that there might be a relationship.  To establish that there is a real connection, there has to be a logic or understood mechanism and there has to be evidence. When I used to do a great deal of work as an expert witness in court, if I wanted the judge to believe me, then I had to state a clear opinion, give  a common sense explanation for that view and show evidence that is was true.  The essence of scientific thinking is to have a hypothesis, have a logical explanation, and be able to test to provide evidence.  Frankly, Professor Stump is dramatically more competent than I to comment or test that correlation.  Nevertheless, I am left wondering and it may be that this is so complex, or at least so variable from one location to another that we will never be able to be definitive.  It seems logical to observer that there are, from time to time, new areas of seismic activity where none had been recorded before.  These may be that nobody had bothered recording before (so there was no record) or they had recorded no activity but, all of a sudden, there was some – that may be due to the earth itself which is still very hot at its core and still cooling. So, if there was  a situation where in the USA, as Professor Stump observed, adequate records showing more seismic activity after shale fracking than before, it may have been due to that fracking, it may not. Until more is known, it seem to me that the following is a reasonable position to take.

The first shale gas well drilled in the UK was near the Northern seaside resort of Blackpool.  There were reports of earthquakes and the drilling of the shale well was immediately blamed.. You don’t have to be a qualified seismologist to understand something about fracking and earthquakes. Consider a few billion tonnes of rock a mile or two below the surface and put some water under pressure into a crack in that rock.  Mostly it is not necessary but suppose also that you stick in a small explosive charge. What does common sense tell you is going to happen?

For those old enough to remember the cold war between the West and The Soviet Union, each testing bigger and bigger hydrogen bombs usually below the ground, they may remember that there was a fear that we might crack the surface of the earth’s crust. These weapons were hundreds, even thousands of times larger than the bombs dropped on Japan during the Second World War. Hiroshima’s bomb was around 15 k tonnes   (equivalent to 15,000 tonnes of TNT explosive) and the USSR’s largest 50,000 k tonnes.  In the case of fracking for shale gas, we are not talking of tonnes of explosive, more of kilos and iit maybe that no explosives are used, just high pressure fluids, mainly water

The process of fracking always uses water under pressure. Sometimes it uses small charges of explosives – we are talking kilos, not even tonnes of explosives against millions, or even billions, of tonnes of rock.  Blackpool has always had earthquakes. These have been noticeable maybe 2 or 3 times a year but never done any damage.  Millions, even trillions, of tonnes of earth’s crust is under tension and stress and, occasionally, it moves a bit.  Now, if that tension and stress was on the edge of moving and causing a detectable quake, what fracking might do is trigger the quake which would have happened anyway. More than that, what the injection of fluids are more likely to do is lubricate the movement which was about to happen anyway and make a series of short movements which would reduce the effect of the quake. Blackpool might well have less detectable earthquakes, not more.

Sensibly, we do need Professor Stump and others to keep an eye on this and keep investigating.  Nevertheless, at present, the evidence we have is that this is, at worst, not a serious risk of earthquake damage in the UK.

Bill Butterworth  7 November 15

Next week; Shale gas exploration and pollution.

Shale gas – good or bad?

There are some who will find it worth some remark, at least, that in a blog which is generally concerned with sustainability and with renewable and sustainable fuels, shale gas is included. There are very few really black or really white situations in the real world – or universe for that matter.   Shale gas is a hydrocarbon fuel. When it is used as a fuel, it burns up the Oxygen we breathe and locks it up as Carbon dioxide and that will increase global warming.  No doubt about it, that is a “black” mark and unavoidable so.

It has also to be observed that shale gas has a number of “white” or plus features.  Firstly it has what engineers call “a clean burn”.  It does produce Carbon dioxide when it is burned but very close to nothing else. Most of the other hydrocarbon fuels are “dirty” burn, i.e. they certainly produce Carbon dioxide but also other materials which are environmentally damaging.  Older diesels do produce much heavy hydrocarbon and particulate (“sooty”) emissions which can and do damage human health.  Diesel engines have had some bad publicity recently but have actually improved enormously since around 2005. The Euro 6 engine is a new EU standard, compulsory on new diesel cars by 2017, will make emissions and performance even better.   Petrol is better but nearly twice as much Carbon dioxide per mile or kilowatt of energy produced. Relating these to other fuels we use (but not usually in cars!) – Coal is generally worse. Brown coal as widely burned in China, worse still.

A “Dash for shale” would mean we could put the gas straight into the gas grid and fill up a car fuel tank and run the engine off shale gas.  That would mean very low emissions harmful to human health and better engine performance and life. So, as ever, there is a trade-off.  Shale gas in vehicle engines would be better in many ways than current fuels but it is still a Carbon dioxide producer.  What that would do is help pay off the national debt (somebody has got to make a proper start), and clean things up a bit while we take maybe a generation to change fuels to truly clean fuels which do not contribute to global warming.

Bill Butterworth  25 October 2015

P.S.  Generally, I plan to post a Sunday blog on shale gas with  and environmental, waste or food piece on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Shale gas; is fracking sustainable?

Winchester 1

This water meadow close to Winchester cathedral has changed little in 1000 years. There is shale gas below it. Should we extract the gas? What are the risks? Can we manage those risks?

Bill Butterworth 18 October 15

Britain could lead the world on delivering safe shale and the UK (England, N Ireland, AND Scotland AND Wales) has always been in the forefront of engineering.  Why should we bother? For two reasons; selfishness and responsibility. Selfish? When the lights go out, so does nearly everything we depend on; central heating, police computers, the City of London; car and truck fuel pumps, water mains pumps, hospitals, everything. This is not a question of “if”, more of when – we are short of power. Responsibility? Well, the UK has some of the best brains and applied technologists in the world and, if we are able to deliver safe shale, then we have a professional responsibility to actually deliver it to the wider world. Can it be delivered? Unequivocally, yes.

Firstly, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 says “there must be no risk to human life, wild life or the environment”.  There is, in this universe, no such thing as “no risk” except perhaps in the mind of the insane. The real question in life is quite simple; have we identified the risks, all of them, and do we have in place adequate monitoring and control measures that we can trust?

I certainly don’t know everything I need to know on this subject but, as best I can, I plan that each Sunday will be my responsible shale day. I will update this blog, looking at the risks one by one on a science-based, factual basis, honestly and professionally.

If you are really worried about global warming, try reading my book,  “Reversing global warming for profit” published by MX Publishing and available from bookshops or on line from Amazon.