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20110420-'Gasland changed everything' – fracking firm battles to woo English villagers

20110420-'Gasland changed everything' – fracking firm battles to woo English villagers

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Published by: Schaliegas on May 02, 2011
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'Gasland changed everything' – frackingfirm battles to woo English villagers
Cuadrilla Resources has arrived in northern England to exploit thegas reserves, but it must win over the worried locals who haveseen controversial US shale gas documentary, Gasland
Fiona Harvey 
in Singletonguardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 April 2011 17.41 BST
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The drilling rig of Cuadrilla Resources near Blackpool, Lancashire. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
From the outside, the UK's second shale gas drilling site looks surprisingly small – a 30metre-high white tower that houses the drilling equipment, and about 20 huts – eachabout the size of a shipping container.It is also unnervingly quiet. On a bright spring morning, in the lane just a few yardsfrom the gate, the silence is unbroken except by birdsong.The entire site is lined with tough plastic several feet underground so that the surfacerainwater cannot permeate. "Nothing can escape," says Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, the UK-based shale gas company that is hoping to exploit gasreserves in the north of England. Within a few months, not even this will be visible. If gas is found, and the fracking process begins, then the drilling equipment will be movedto another site, the wellhead will be capped with extraction equipment about 6ft (1.8m)in height, and a tall hedge will hide it from view. No one should know it is there.Miller is here to speak to a group of local people invited to discuss their concerns aboutthe site. He wants to show off the many safety features of the site, the lack of dust andnoise, and most of all distance himself from the many recent horror stories from the USon shale gas "fracking" – short for hydraulic fracturing."Gasland [the US feature documentary about shale gas] really changed everything," saysPaul Kelly, communications adviser to Cuadrilla. "Before that, shale gas was not seen asroutinely controversial." The film showed terrifying examples of what can go wrong when shale gas drilling and fracking takes place – leaks of methane from under theground, contamination of the water supply and the soil, the danger of explosions.Hundreds of people in the US are reported to have been affected by pollution, have had
'Gasland changed everything' fracking firm battles to woo Eng...http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/20/gasland-sh...1 of 302/05/11 10:28
 
their health ruined, and lost their houses or jobs as a result of the problems there.Scenes that show residents able to set fire to their water supply because of methanecontamination are the new face of shale gas exploration. A couple of the locals mention that they have seen Gasland and are concerned that theproblems it demonstrates will be replicated here in Singleton, an English village sopicturesque it has been made a conservation area. A quaint half-timbered old building, bearing the legend "fire engine'', greets the visitor at the entrance, with quiet lanes andleafy gardens surrounding a mixture of cottages and converted barns, with a sprinklingof more modern housing. The drilling site is well within view of the houses, just a few hundred yards from the village church and primary school.But Miller is quick to play down the experiences reported from the US. He goes intodetail on the sorts of safety measures to be included, including three layers of pipecasing between the 914 metre (3,000ft) drill shaft and the aquifer it passes through(which is saline, so not used for drinking water in any case), and a gas-sensing andshut-off system to prevent leaks.Only three chemicals – a polyacrylamide lubricant that is commonly found in cosmetics– hydrochloric acid and a biocide used to purify drinking water will be used here, hepledges, unlike the hundreds that can be used in the US. In the course of its life, this siteis likely to require about five Olympic swimming pools of water, about a quarter of  which will be returned to the surface quickly, cleaned and recycled. The rest will seep upgradually – and safely – over about five or six decades, he says.The equipment here isalso superior to that used by what he calls the "bad apple companies" in the US whomMiller blames for poisoning the public image of shale gas. "It has added about 20% toour costs, but we wanted to be able to show people that we are doing this properly andresponsibly," he says.Something that did shake local people's faith in the plant was an earthquake on 1 April.The tremors were centred remarkably close to the village, and woke many people in thenight with a bang. Miller is unfazed, reassuring people that the minor degree of drillingat the site - where fracking has not started yet - could not have caused the quake. Mostpeople seem satisfied with his explanation.Cuadrilla has two operational drilling sites with permission for another four. If gas is found, it may expand to six to eight persquare mile over the area it has licensed for exploration. The company is being closely  watched by the government, green campaigners and other companies that want toexploit the UK's potential shale reserves, which are concentrated in the Lancashireregion.It is certainly the case that the company, which is UK-owned and headquartered(although Miller is American), is coming under much tighter regulation than prevails inmany US states. The UK's Environment Agency is monitoring the chemicals used andthe processes at every step, as is the local council. In the UK the underlying rocks belongto the queen, meaning the crown estate must get involved, too.For the cash-strappedlocal council, Cuadrilla's development offers the chance of new jobs and a new source of income. The company employs about 70 people directly at present, but its activities alsohave a knock-on stimulus effect on the depressed local economy.The villagers seem broadly impressed with Miller's explanations. "They offered us a lotof reassurance – I do feel happier about the safety side now," says Geoffrey Pilkington, alocal property owner. "To some degree, they have allayed my fears," adds John Ashcroft, who is retired. "And we have to be careful not to be hypocritical – we all have gas centralheating."In fact, the main concern among villagers appears to be not the safety but thedevelopment on what they thought was greenbelt land. "The first we knew was when itstarted going up," says Caroline Murphy, an artist and designer. "We live here becauseit's a beautiful village with beautiful countryside, and now it looks like an industrial
'Gasland changed everything' fracking firm battles to woo Eng...http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/20/gasland-sh...2 of 302/05/11 10:28

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